Seriously other movie critics, where’s your sense of fun? I went out and watched Night at the Museum and had a good time, only to come home and read the critical mass of an outraged cabal of elitist film writers. Is it going to get any points for originality or win any Academy Awards in any category? Probably not, but since when does that stop you from enjoying something that’s clearly made with a lot of heart. It reminds me of all the hate for Stephen Sommers’ version of The Mummy, before the critics learned to “relax”, which unfortunately gave Sommers the license to make Van Helsing.
Director Shawn Levy to the contrary has nowhere to go but up. He’s the masterful auteur of such underwhelming remakes as Cheaper by the Dozen and The Pink Panther; so standing in the light of what’s come before, Night at the Museum is the artistic equivalent of the original Star Wars trilogy. And instead of a tired, old Steve Martin, Levy has Ben Stiller in his corner as a hapless night watchman at New York’s Natural History Museum. Of course, hapless would be all the qualification necessary if it weren’t for the fact that everything in the museum, from the stuffed animals to the mannequin replicants of famous historical figures, comes to life when the sun goes down.
Adding a touch of class to the film is Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs as the retiring guards who have more than the secrets of the museum up their sleeve as they sit back and watch Stiller’s Larry blunder his way through his first night on the job. In the miniatures room the cowboys (led by Owen Wilson) fight the Romans (led by Steve Coogan). In the Hall of African mammals a devious monkey constantly makes Larry’s life miserable by stealing his keys and the Huns led by Atilla (Patrick Gallagher) run through the museum unchecked. Larry’s only ally is Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), who’s help will only go so far as to inspire Larry to greatness because Roosevelt’s too busy ogling Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck).
The kids will definitely like this one. It’s impossible not to enjoy the sight of Ben Stiller running from live dinosaur bones or the barbarian horde or trading slaps to the face with a monkey named Dexter. The visual effects are fairly well done, even though there’s nothing flashy or terribly original; we’ve all seen Dinosaurs (Jurassic Park), we’ve all seen little people interact with giants (Gulliver’s Travels) and we’ve all seen animals run down clueless city dwellers (Jumanji).
The saving grace is that there’s a great deal of affection shown for the concept and a soft ball pitch to the kids in the audience that learning can be fun. In order to adjust to his job, Larry hits the books and reads up on how Atilla the Hun was superstitious and surrounded himself with magicians for example. Larry then uses ingenuity and MacGyver-like improvisation to tame the beasts and the beastly inside the museum; the lesson for the kids is that knowledge pays and research is how you get it. Not a bad thing to teach the young people out there.
Night at the Museum is tons of fun and it’s too bad that other people who shall remain nameless couldn’t get a handle on that. I can say without hesitation or reservation that this is something that the entire family, from the adults down, can enjoy. And how often can a film make that kind of claim nowadays?