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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What’s behind the title change for ‘Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang’ for North American audiences?

This past Easter, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang opened big in U.K. cinemas. Not just really, really wide — on more than 500 screens, which is as big as a movie release gets in the U.K. — but also earning a hearty £2.59 million. The film is still clinging to a few screens in the U.K., even though it’s now available on Region 2 DVD, and has earned a tidy £16.5 million over its theatrical run.

Now, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang is set to open in the U.S. and Canada… though its title has mysterious changed to the considerably less charming Nanny McPhee Returns:

Universal tells me that it’s merely a matter of the new title being considered better for a domestic audience. But that doesn’t ring true to me. Nanny McPhee Returns is pretty blah. What could be wrong with Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang?

What’s behind the title change for Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang for North American audiences?

The only thing I can think of — and it sounds ridiculous, but these days, ridiculous has replaced rationality for an awful lot of people — is that “the Big Bang” has connotations of, you know, sciencey stuff that contradicts the Bible. Did Universal anticipate Christian fundamentalist outrage over a film that would indoctrinate kids into believing that the universe is more than 6,000 years old (even though Nanny McPhee 2 goes nowhere near any such subject matter)?

What do you think?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Admittedly, I’m not a parent, nor do I have any siblings that would’ve been interested, but I feel like the original was very under-the-radar, and it was also five years ago. I think Universal changed the title just to emphasize/remind people that this is a sequel, and that kids should convince their parents to go rent/buy the original before seeing this one.

  • JoshDM

    Title associated with photo, first thing I thought of was Chitty, Chitty. My $.02

  • Enthusiast

    Tyler I like your explanation but it’s woefully naive. The Christian fundamentalists in this country are a huge demographic that tends to move as a group. They are specifically opposed to anything to do with evolutionary theory, of which they think the Big Bang is a part. The removal of that phrase from the title is just good business on Universal’s part. They’ve been through this before with Madonna’s endorsement of Pepsi and their release of Last Temptation of Christ.

    The entire fundamentalist mindset is one of us (the righteous children of god who see the truth others miss) versus them (godless heathens, pretend Christians, pretty much anyone who doesn’t toe the line).

    From here: http://bit.ly/bFVl7d

    “Applying this biblical strategy to popular film and music, through Christian close-reading both adults and children can discover the true anti-Christian messages nefariously hidden in popular culture. ”

    In other words: You can’t rely on your own sinful mind to interpret popular-culture, we’ll help you see how evil it really is.

    Ever seen Jesus Camp, that’s just the tip of the indoctrination iceberg?

  • bitchen frizzy

    I also immediately made the association with Chitty, Chitty. And with Mary Poppins, and Bedknobs+, for that matter. Then there’s the TV show called “Big Bang Theory”.

    The phrase “Big Bang” in the title is kind of wtf, on top of all the other derivatives and ripoffs. “Nannie McPhee Returns” more straightforwardly conveys that this is a sequel to a previous movie with the same character.

  • Althea

    Surely it’s just so the title won’t make people think it’s capitalizing on the incredibly popular “The Big Bang Theory” on TV. And, yes, it does look like “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” on the poster. Both good reasons.

  • MaryAnn

    FYI, *The Big Bang Theory* is also on British TV, and is relatively popular there. So if confusion is a concern, that probably should have been a concern in the UK, too.

  • Althea

    You’re talking about Hollywood folk. They don’t think like the rest of us.

  • Interesting. In addition to the title change, the American poster also omits the partially buried bomb in the foreground – presumably the source of the “Bang?” – and changes the night setting to day. Possible reasons . . .

    (1) Fear of outrage over the depiction of children in danger from explosives. American parents won’t tolerate any suggestion that children should be near anything dangerous, ever. (Come to think of it, I’m surprised they didn’t Photoshop in some bicycle helmets for those kids while they were at it.)

    (2) Fear of backlash over Emma Thompson harboring WMDs and subsequent calls for war on Great Britain.

    (3) Complete lack of faith that American audiences could understand anything clever, or even comprehend that it’s a sequel to “Nanny McPhee,” despite the presence of her name in the title and the same actress on the poster. (This would also account for the change of the wittier slogan “You’ll believe pigs can fly” – admittedly a reference to a film that came out decades before the target audience was born – to the fairly stupid “Who’s Your Nanny?”)

  • Well, just look at that poster: it also mentions “The magic’s back!”, another emphasis that this is a sequel.

  • I suspect it’s a combination of Hollywood being afraid of/pandering to creationists, and pandering to the sort of parents who object to “bang” because it’s a sexual euphemism. Most of whom are probably also creationists.

  • Thank heavens for Froborr – I thought I was just being a Benny-Hill, double-entendre-fixated Brit.

  • pandering to the sort of parents who object to “bang” because it’s a sexual euphemism.

    Indeed. Especially since we all know that “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was a pornographic film with an emphasis on double anal penetration. What decent parent would expose their precious miracles to such filth? I get the vapors just thinking about it.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Nah. The creationist argument doesn’t fly. Marketing this movie to creationists that would refuse to let their children see it on account of the phrase “Big Bang” is a lost cause anyway. Those same parents wouldn’t let their children watch because the movie has magic in it, no matter what the title.

    The assumption many are making here is that the British marketing was perfect, and any change must therefore be for the worse, from a marketing standpoint. Maybe Universal redid the poster and title – yes, dumbed it down, as it were – to make it more accessible and understandable to children? Wouldn’t that make sense?

  • The assumption many are making here is that the British marketing was perfect, and any change must therefore be for the worse, from a marketing standpoint.

    I don’t think that’s the case. I see the change as rational from a marketing perspective: America has a higher percentage of creationist idiots than Britain, so the American marketing campaign has to take that into account.

  • I don’t know the reason — many of the postulations from those here sound plausible — but whatever it is, I’m upset because now I can’t call my Mary Poppins sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.” :-)

  • bitchen frizzy

    Maybe Universal is that stupid and kneejerk. Found this snipped of an Emma Watson interview at moviesonline.ca:

    Q: Initially, wasn’t this called Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang? Why the name change? And also, given the huge box office success of the original, why did you choose not to use Kirk Jones who directed the first one?

    EMMA: No, we asked Kirk because that’s etiquette anyway and we’d have loved him but he was just about to make a film with Robert De Niro and said “I’m sorry, I can’t” and we said “Oh, okay. You’re gonna go work with Robert DeNiro.” So that was that. And Nancy McPhee and The Big Bang, the Americans felt that that might be misconstrued by some people because the big bang could refer to something other than, for instance, an explosion. I don’t want to go into it farther. I’m sure you can extrapolate the necessary information. So it went to Nanny McPhee Returns which I think has its own pleasant ring. It’s a bit boring but nevermind. I don’t mind.

    Awfully silly reason to change the title, if she’s right about the reason,since as I said the use of magic in the movie writes off the rabid creationist audience anyway.

  • Bear in mind that these are the same idiots who reject Einstein’s Theory of Relativity because it has the word “relativity” in it, which, to them, means it must have something to do with Moral Relativism.

    http://www.conservapedia.com/Counterexamples_to_Relativity

    … buncha fucktards.

    7

  • Hating any reference to the Big Bang Theory because the theory is seen as anti-Christian seems ridiculous due to the fact that the Big Bang Theory was itself first created by a Catholic clergyman. Thus, I blame this whole mess on the ancient American tradition of–you guessed it–anti-Catholicism. ;-)

    Of course, if the British filmmakers had really wanted to yank some fundie’s chain, they would have called it The Passion of Nanny McPhee. If not In This Cane I Conquer

  • Jurgan

    I thought the Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang idea as well. Though I’m much more annoyed by the obnoxious “Who’s Your Nanny?” tagline. Then again, I’m kind of a fan of stupid movie taglines (just look through the horror section of any story- it’s hilarious). I can’t imagine they needed to add “returns” to make it clear it was a sequel, as no one’s yet been confused about the Harry Potter movies.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Well, they ain’t overfond of Catholics, either. I remember their moral angst over endorsing Last Temptation because Mel Gibson is a papist.

    Nanny McPhee and the Art of Motorcycle Mainenance?

  • {-*sigh*-}

    You are assuming studio types have been exposed to scientific and/or rational thought.

    How long have you been doing this?

  • MaryAnn

    parents who object to “bang” because it’s a sexual euphemism

    Okay, but that’s true of British slang, too, isn’t it?

    Ditto the possible confusion with *Chitty Chitty Bang Bang*: they know that movie in the U.K. too.

    So what it comes down to — whatever the reason for the change — is either that American audiences are perceived to be stupider and more knee-jerk than British audiences, or American audiences actually *are* stupider and more knee-jerk than British audiences.

    Neither is a pleasant idea.

    How long have you been doing this?

    Is that directed at me?

    I’m not assuming studio types are rational. But I do think it’s interesting to explore the reaches of their irrationality.

  • Dokeo

    @ bitchen frizzy:

    I interpreted Emma Thompson’s remarks as supporting the sex-innuendo theory. Given her outspoken nature, I think she’d probably be more specific if the change was made to appease the fundies. But given that she’s out there marketing a children’s movie, she really can’t even mention sex.

    pandering to the sort of parents who object to “bang” because it’s a sexual euphemism.

    Indeed. Especially since we all know that “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was a pornographic film with an emphasis on double anal penetration.

    Wow – never actually seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it’s *definitely* going onto the Netflix queue now!

  • Orangutan

    Indeed. Especially since we all know that “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” was a pornographic film with an emphasis on double anal penetration.

    Wow – never actually seen Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it’s *definitely* going onto the Netflix queue now!

    Jesus, and I thought the Child Catcher was disturbing BEFORE this whole conversation. /brainbleach

  • I always thought there was something a bit off about that Truly Scrumptious character myself…

  • Someone has to say it:

    “You’ll find a slight squeeze on the hooter an excellent safety precaution, Miss Scrumptious.”

  • This discussion has reminded me that Americans got Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone. Am I correct in thinking that was just because the Powers That Be thought that US audiences get turned off by a movie with the word “philosopher” in it?

  • Isobel

    Didn’t America get Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, rather than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, like we did?

    @ Stuart – that’s what I read, that they didn’t think the US audience (of either the books or the films) would know about the Philosopher’s Stone.

  • Pedro

    I think it’s rather more simple:

    “To bang” is one of the many methapores for “to have sex with someone”. Hence “the Big Bang” would connotate…

    …yeah. Stupid, but plausible.

  • Didn’t America get Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, rather than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, like we did?

    Isobel, the Ninja Turtles started out as an American comic book, and I believe they’ve always been “Ninja” Turtles here.

    According to Wikipedia, they were changed to “Hero” Turtles in Europe because of local censorship laws.

    Hey, it’s not always just America that does the stupid, silly things, you know. ;-)

  • Boingo

    “Big Bang?” I like it. Sexual connotations, but kinda
    cute.

    Still, I can hear the kids in the back of the station
    wagon saying ” … Big Bang, Big Bang,” and parents
    feeling uncomfy.

  • @Boingo: Yeah, but it’s the parents who would be made uncomfortable. How many young kids are aware of the sexual connotation of “bang?” (Of course, it’s the parents who are buying the tickets.)

  • Ann Elise

    If the title and advert changes were done to avoid alienating the Evangelical Christians, then adding, “the magic’s back…” would defeat that end. As I recall from “Jesus Camp,” the Harry Potter books are another set of magical stories fundamentalists hate because sorcery and magic, even of children’s stories are associated with the devil.
    If “The Big Bang” was changed to remove sexual connotations, I’m astonished to see in the U.S. poster the glib, “Who’s your Nanny?” as a play on the overtly sexual glib phrase, “Who’s your Daddy?”
    “Daddy” references are creepy enough in porn and other male dominating scenarios, it’s quite horrible to add a joking spin of that in a children’s movie poster.

  • bitchen frizzy

    Yes, but as someone alluded, it’s too much to expect Universal to act with complete logical consistency.

    (By “Last Temptation” above, of course I meant “Passion”. Stupid mistake.)

  • Liz

    I watched this movie on a flight back to the US. I’ve got one of the dirtiest minds imaginable and I didn’t make a immediate connection to the sexual connotation of the word “bang,” probably because it was advertised as a kids’ movie. I attribute the title change to the fact that mainstream American audiences would make that connection and that ultra-conservative parents would bar their children from seeing the movie and refuse to, say, read the movie’s synopsis out of spite.

    Or it could just be that America is obsessed with the idea of sequels, even though this movie is more a recurring character having another run-in with bratty children.

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