Skip to main content

Nanny McPhee

I'm not going to tell you whether to watch it or not, because it's the kind of movie that only appeals to a certain type of person. If you are offended by vulgar humor, a witchlike nanny, gruesome and exaggerated characterizations, revolting sight gags, randomly lovely scenes, and the moral ambiguity (and innuendo) of recent movies such as Peter Pan and Finding Neverland, you will not like Nanny McPhee. Reasons to watch it begin with Emma Thompson, end with the artistic final credits, and encompass such remarkable elements as the absolutely stunning design (the vibrantly colored house and clothing contrast with Nanny McPhee's black garb and the snow-in-August wedding scene), the bizarrely satisfying British humor, and the fairytale plot. I loved it, and berated myself for loving it at the same time.

The puzzling paradox of children's movies that shouldn't be shown to children has been turning in my mind ever since my friend and I left the movie theater last night. Peter Pan and Nanny McPhee go in that category. Now draw a Venn diagram in your head, linking Nanny McPhee with Finding Neverland, a movie about parentless children in Victorian England; Finding Neverland should of course be classed with Peter Pan; draw a circle around Finding Neverland, Dear Frankie, Nanny McPhee, and Second-Hand Lions (parentless children learning to cope with life); factor in Holes (which fits with all the movies about coping, but whose protagonist has two parents).

All of these movies, to a greater or lesser degree, have a distinctly fatalistic quality. The plots are so tight that they result in a simple formula: everything that happens + everything else that happens = meaning. If the scullery maid is reading a fairytale at the beginning of the movie about a prince who marries a plowgirl, then be assured that the scullery maid will marry a rich man by the end. Although comforting in that no stitch is dropped, the plots are almost mechanistic. If a child is angry at his father, you have only to help the child realize why the father behaved the way he did for the child to become sweet as a lamb. No room is left for children to be just plain perverse. What would happen if the children in the movies didn't accept the grownups' coping mechanisms? What if little Peter in Finding Neverland stubbornly refused to believe that his mother was floating about in Neverland after she died? What if little Frankie became an axe-murderer? What if the protagonist of Second-Hand Lions kicked his mother in the head?

Victorian children's literature (such as Alice in Wonderland), for all its flaws, at least reflected life's seeming randomness. And before that, fairytales did the same. What we have now is brilliantly executed movies that imprison their child characters in terrifying worlds that only become bearable when the children learn the magic formula. And that is, I think, precisely why I would not show most of these movies to children. I can appreciate the difference between a comfortable, predictable world that I wish existed and the world that really does exist, but it's unfair to expect children to realize that difference. It's unfair to bill movies as "for children" when they are really for adults who wish that life made sense.


Bekah said…
Hey, it's Bekah...Katherine sent me your link and said it was funny...I've only read one post so far, but definitely agree that this blog is a great read! :)
Lee Ann said…
Thanks Bekah!

Popular posts from this blog

A Farewell to Fresno

A few weeks ago I made a decision that had been coming for a while. I am going to move to Albuquerque, New Mexico, this fall.

When I initially moved to California, I didn't expect to remain permanently. I just needed a place to land that wasn't the East Coast, and I planned to explore as much of the West as I could to determine where I might want to settle longer-term. And now it's happening! For my friends and readers who like to know what I'm up to and why, here's a Q&A.
Why did you choose Albuquerque? To begin with, my address will have two Q's, three U's, and an X in it. OK, that's not my main reason but it's a good one.

My biggest reasons for choosing this location are my physical and emotional health. I've noticed that I feel better, physically, in very dry climates and at high elevations. Albuquerque is in the high desert, a good seven thousand feet up. It's full of sunshine and surrounded by stunning scenery, which should help me…

Lyme Recovery, Seven Years In

When I first got my Lyme diagnosis, I went to the library and borrowed all the books on Lyme disease I could find (there were only three, if I recall correctly). One book was the personal account of a woman whose undiagnosed Lyme crossed her placenta and infected her unborn son, who later died in childhood after horrific symptoms. That book and a second featured images of magnified ticks, and I would peek through the pages taking care not to accidentally touch the photographs. I realized I might never have children. I returned the books to the library.

The third book was Biography of a Germ by Arno Karlen, a scientific essay on the Lyme spirochete. I didn't finish it because I took it back to the library as part of my stop-scaring-myself-silly dragnet. But I remembered it fondly. The author methodically explored the Lyme bacteria, Borrelia burdorferi, as an organism in its own right, a marvel of evolutionary survival that relies on a complex chain of ticks, small ani…

How to Waste Time When You Could Be Watching a Zombie Movie

Today I read one of those horrible articles that the internet seems to have been designed for, consisting of 40 tips for becoming as successful as the author: "How to Live a Full Life (and Leave Nothing on the Table) by 30." Yes, that's really the title. Normally I wouldn't publish a blog post in response, but because I managed to Come Down with a Chronic Illness (and Achieve Basically Nothing Else) by 30 and Am Currently Feeling the Aftereffects of One of the Treatments I Periodically Take, Which Causes Me to Feel High and Lose My Inhibitions, I'm just going to go for it. (Author's point #33: "Seriously, You Can Do Whatever You Want." Why thank you, young man, I think I will!)

The author's name is Ryan Holiday, and he has published several books. It sounds like he is also very wealthy, because note point #15, "Sooner Is Not Better," where he says he had a weird goal of becoming a millionaire by 25, but it didn't happen until after