Emma Thompson as Nanny McPheeFor those of all ages who enjoyed the first chapter, Nanny McPhee Returns is more of the same with a new family in a different decade.

Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson) arrives to help an extremely stressed young mother, Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is trying to run the family farm while her husband is away at war. Adding to her troubles, Isabel’s brother-in-law (Rhys Ifans) is trying to convince her to sell the farm so he can settle his own debts. Nanny uses her magic to teach the woman’s three children (Asa Butterfield, Lil Woods and Oscar Steer) and their two spoiled cousins (Eros Vlahos and Rosie Taylor-Ritson) five new lessons and help them get their lives back in order.

The children are always the stars of these films, making it incredibly important they be casted well; a child who is over the top or annoying could ruin the entire picture. However, having been blessed with Freddie Highmore to lead the brood in the first film, filmmakers had set the bar high. Thankfully, the fresh group of children here are excellent. The city kids are just snobby enough to be amusing without being unbelievable. The other children are afforded the opportunity to be more natural than their cousins, which requires less tact but is done equally well.

The adults in the film are the supporting cast with the purpose of getting the kids to the next act. Nonetheless, they still leave their own lasting impressions. Gyllenhaal exudes warmth as she unfailingly loves her family unconditionally. Ifans, on the other hand, is comically conniving with no one’s interests but his own at heart. Equally entertaining are “the lady heavies,” who appear sporadically to convey some ridiculous punishment only to disappear minutes later. Thompson’s revival of her character remains flawless as she balances on a seesaw of discipline and kindness.

The film gets off to a bit of a rocky start, optioning to jump from one childish incident to the next. They appear to have taken a page from advertisers’ books, relying heavily on the cuteness of magic-infused piglets than the actual story. However, the character development after these scenes is wonderful. The lessons take somewhat of a backseat to the family’s personal goals and their teamwork is quite enjoyable.

This is a family series that continues to be fun for kids and adults alike – as evidenced by the age range of the laughter in the theatre.

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