Who's In It: Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Rhys Ifans, Maggie Smith, Sam Kelly, Ewan McGregor, Ralph Fiennes, Oscar Steer, Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods, Eros Vlahos, Rosie Taylor-Ritson, Sinead Matthews, Katy Brand
The Basics: In WWII era England, a frazzled farmer's wife (Brit-accented Maggie Gyllenhaal) is at her wit's end juggling three kids, their spoiled city cousins, an oily brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans), and the demands of running the family farm while her husband is away fighting in the war. Enter Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), magical tamer of unruly tykes and chaotic households, to teach the tots five important lessons and quietly oversee everyone's personal growth with that no-nonsense way of hers.
What's The Deal: Whimsical, heartwarming, and a tad bittersweet, Nanny McPhee's return to the big screen is a solid follow-up to the 2005 film that first introduced the magical nursemaid. Directed briskly by Susanna White (Bleak House, Generation Kill) this country fable balances wondrous imagery and assured performances with an emotional heft that feels at times a bit too intense for little ones (be prepared to answer questions like, "Mommy, what's 'killed in action' mean?"). But the complexity of that balance is precisely what makes Nanny McPhee Returns so compelling; it's playful but doesn't pander, it's fantastical yet grounded, and best of all, it'll have adults and children alike enthralled from start to finish. And lest you worry, fear not: There are poo jokes aplenty.
The Lessons Kids (and Hopefully Some Adults) Will Learn: How to share, stop fighting, help one another, have courage, and "have faith," in a nonspecific, not necessarily spiritual kind of way. Also: that gambling is bad, that borrowing clothes without asking is inconsiderate, that sometimes other people have it way worse than you do (so stop complaining), and that if an unexploded bomb lodges itself on your property, the obvious choice to diffuse it isn't a grown-up but a 10-year-old with a tool belt. Naturally.
Things About Nanny McPhee Returns That'll Put A Smile On Your Face: The litter of synchronized swimming piglets and the CG baby elephant so adorable it gives Dumbo a run for his money. Ewan McGregor's emotionally manipulative but nevertheless tear-jerking cameo appearance. The quiet, confident way Nanny McPhee allows her charges to grow on their own, the way the best teachers in the world do. The sly, sweet callback to the first Nanny McPhee that ties both films together.
Who We Really Have To Thank For All Of The Above: Star Emma Thompson, who scripted both Nanny McPhee and Nanny McPhee Returns based on Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda books.