Probably the most refreshing thing about 'Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang' is its very quaintness. Like some 'Famous Five' story of yore, this childhood adventure hits the right note in teaching young 'uns important life lessons. Unfortunately, though, its pretty slim pickings for any adult roped into bringing them along.
Mrs Green (Gyllenhaal) is badly in need of a helping hand. Her husband Rory (McGregor) has been called away to war and her three children, Norman, Megsie and Vincent, who help run the Green farm, constantly fight with each other and mess up the house. Her brother-in-law Phil (Ifans), who owns half the farm, wants to sell to pay off a gambling debt and get the local heavies, Misses Topsey and Turvey, off his back.
If all this wasn't enough, Mrs Green's well-to-do niece and nephew, Celia and Cyril Gray, arrive from London and instantly take a dislike to the farm and begin fighting with their newly-acquainted cousins. What Mrs Green needs is a nanny, and not just any old nanny.
On cue Nanny McPhee (Thompson) arrives, all snaggly teeth and moles and sets to work setting everything, well, er, right. It's just in the nick of time, as Phil steps up his efforts to get the farm back, and with no sign of Rory returning from the war, Mrs Green will need all the help she can get to stop her losing everything.
'Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang' doesn't exactly square the circle with such a predictable plot. However, with Pixar and now 3-D having cornered a fair share of the children's movie market, this old-fashioned if somewhat well-worn tale of children learning to accept each other, share and work together has a lot to offer as an alternative.
A strong moral message and a sparing use of CGI mean that '...the Big Bang' has a distinctly nostalgic feel to it. The children eat jam (rationed because of the war) and there's not a TV in sight. There's still a lot here to keep the kids entertained, though, and synchronised swimming pigs, baby elephants and flying motorcycles should all combine to keep them from squirming in their seats for the 109 minutes.
With such big names as Gyllenhaal, McGregor, Ifans, Fiennes and a delightfully wonderful cameo by Bill Bailey as Farmer MacReadie, the pedigree of the cast is never in doubt. The only disappointment, then, is that there is nothing really for the adults to get into. Apart from Bailey's brief cameo, funnier more because of his delivery than anything else, everything here is aimed at the kids. True, children's movies are aimed at children, but it can help if a chaperone gets some enjoyment out of it too.
Delightful though not exactly daring, '... the Big Bang' is a nice choice to bring the kids along to on a rainy afternoon over the Easter holidays; but just don't expect too many chuckles yourself.