Children’s movies nowadays are sadly lacking in the originality that inspires the imaginations of their audience. If I see one more CGI talking animal movie (I’m talking to you Beverly Hills Chihuahua) I might just give up on the live action family genre all together. Rarely however, a film comes along that ignites a sense of wonder and adventure that can be both funny and entertaining. The first Night at the Museum had just that, clever and fun characters in a story I would have loved when I was a child.
Now we have the inevitable sequel, Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian. Like the first, the film follows one time museum night guard Larry Daley (Ben Stiller), who now runs a highly successful business of his own. When his museum friends, the actual exhibits which come to life in the evenings, are moved to storage in the Smithsonian National Archives, Larry takes flight to D.C. in order to save them from their new surroundings. The idea of the Smithsonian exhibits coming to life promises a world of fun and excitement, and Night 2 delivers accordingly. From literal life like paintings and photographs including American Gothic, VJ Day in Times Square, and Litchenstein’s crying girl, to living renditions of the Tuskegee Airmen, Wright Brothers, and even Oscar the Grouch and Darth Vader, the film really takes hold of all the Smithsonian has to offer. The villain of the film, Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah is played amusingly over-the-top by Hank Azaria who channels a cross between Boris Karloff and Family Guy’s Stewie Griffin to reach comic delight. At one point Kahmunrah even uses Archie Bunkers chair from All in the Family as his throne, and Muhammad Ali’s fight robe as his cloak, further clever uses of actual Smithsonian exhibits to amuse the adults in the audience.
Stiller is only mildly amusing, as the content he has to work with is and should be much more conservative than with some of his other roles. The supporting cast is equally funny, employing quite an ensemble including Azaria, Jonah Hill, Ricky Gervais, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Christopher Guest, and the charming Amy Adams whose wonderful portrayal of Amelia Earhart adds heart and genuine compassion to an otherwise zany story. Battle of the Smithsonian is not without its fair share of lame physical comedy and distracting action sequences, but as a whole the film stands up to its audience. Imagination is the key to any family films success, and here is a clever success.