Who's In It: Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Oscar Steer, Asa Butterfield, Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Ewan McGregor, Ralph Fiennes
The Basics: It's World War II and an adorably cozy British countryside farm is being tended by an overwhelmed war wife (Maggie Gyllenhaal, doing a really decent generic British accent, and that's a trick that's usually the downfall of American actors) whose man (Ewan McGregor, in the movie for about two minutes) is off fighting against the unnamed bad guys. She's overwhelmed because her three children are badly behaved and their two visiting cousins are even worse. To the rescue comes magical Nanny McPhee, a warty, snaggletoothed Mary Poppins with a quiet voice and a big bad discipline stick. No, nobody gets beaten. The stick just sends out "become well-mannered or else" vibes, forcing the kids to obey against their bratty little wills. Parents worldwide dream of this thing being actually for sale somewhere.
What's The Deal: For Americans, England is an exotic foreign land full of stuff that's tweedier and fancier than just about every single thing in the United States. And because of this we let them get away with it when they indulge in silly stereotyping and cliches about their own history. We especially let them get away with it when it's a movie for children. And if you hadn't already guessed from watching the TV ads--the ones where the digital piggies perform a synchronized water ballet--this is a children's film. It's pretty much the same plot as the last Nanny McPhee movie, with unruly tweens learning how to be good and how to help others in trouble when they need it, but you won't mind the repetition. It's pretty sweet, more funny than not, suspenseful if you're six years old and even kind of moving if you find yourself in the position of being the grown-up along for the ride.
A Thing About Comedy That All Kids Know: Poop, burps and farts are hilarious, a necessary ingredient in the comedy recipe. And this movie, as if to combat all the tweeness going on, is as scatological as you could ask for without it turning into Monty Python's Meaning of Life. There's a belching bird whose talent for eating all the wrong stuff becomes a plot point, some funny dialogue about farms being "the land of poo" and farm residents being "covered-in-poo people." But nothing can prepare you for venerable actress Maggie Smith's proudest screen moment ever... sitting on a pile of cow dung.
Adults, Blink And You'll Miss: A split-second shot of the pig balloon from Pink Floyd's Animals album cover surrounded by others of more conventional shape drifting around some smokestacks. What you won't miss (can't miss, really) is the suggestion that, as a parent, you're sort of doomed unless you've got a supernatural lady to bully your children into behaving more like human beings and less like feral night creatures. Of course if your kids are little enough you can always lie to them and tell them that the real Nanny McPhee is going to come over and make them be good. That'll work at least once or twice before the get wise.