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Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang

"Nanny McPhee Returns, " an enjoyable, if occasionally over-produced sequel to the 2005 film, offers many pleasures - from pigs that do synchronized swimming to a cast of some of the best actors around.

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There are mature themes about the possibility of losing a father in war, and magical Nanny McPhee (Emma Thompson), with her facial warts, bad teeth, black garb, thudding cane and burping crow companion, could scare some kids 6 and younger.

Isabel (Maggie Gyllenhaal), a harried World War II-era British mother, is at her wits' end. She's trying to keep the farm afloat, work a day job, and care for her three unruly offspring - Norman (Asa Butterfield), Vincent (Oscar Steer) and Megsie (Lil Woods). Her husband (Ewan McGregor) is a soldier and hasn't been heard from. Her brother-in-law Phil (Rhys Ifans) has gambling debts, and hit women are threatening to take his kidneys. He wants Isabel to sell the farm so he can get some cash. The children's spoiled London cousins Cyril (Eros Vlahos) and Celia (Rosie Taylor-Ritson) show up and the five kids declare war on one another, which is when Nanny McPhee appears. Her five lessons - to stop fighting, to share, to help one another, to be brave, and to have faith - are gently taught and offer adventures, too.

The bottom line: The fear of one's father being killed or missing in action is a central theme, though "Nanny McPhee Returns" does not really show war. There are no bombed-out buildings or injured people. However, an unexploded bomb does land in the wheat field. It is played for comedy and the bomb looks like a large toy. Still, tension mounts until the kids (and Nanny McPhee's crow) defuse it. There are many, many jokes about barnyard poo. Phil also gets a good comeuppance.

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