Sunday, June 17, 2007

Movie Review: A Night at the Museum

One of the best things about this movie is the chance to see Anne Meara (wife of Jerry Stiller and mother of Ben), Dick Van Dyke (who can still dance), Mickey Rooney, and Bill Cobbs. Those actors can still perform, still have energy and enthusiasm, and can still take a pratfall.

Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a single dad about to be evicted from his apartment. He is an inventor, a dreamer, but none of his ideas have worked out. His ex-wife (Kim Raver) is threatening to keep their son, Nick (Jake Cherry), from staying overnight with Larry because Larry has broken so many promises to Nick. She also has a new fiance, a highly successful bond trader.

Desperate, Larry goes to an employment agency. The only job he is even remotely qualified for is as a night guard in the Museum of Natural History.

There Larry meets Rebecca (Carla Gugino), a guide who is writing her Ph.D thesis on Sacajawea. Larry also meets Cecil (Dick Van Dyke), Gus (Mickey Rooney), and Reginald (Bill Cobbs), the three night guards who are being forcibly retired.

Cecil takes Larry on a tour of the museum and greets some of the exhibits by name. He also gives Larry a set of instructions, advising him to be sure to read it. "And don't let anything out of the Museum," he warns.

Of course, Larry doesn't. Until the T. Rex skeleton comes alive. Desperately, he calls Cecil who tells him, "Read the instructions!"

Larry does. The first one says, simply, "Throw the bone." Larry sees an enormous bone in front of him and throws it. T. Rex bounds off and fetches it, then drops it at Larry's feet, like an enormous puppy.

The secret of the museum is that everything comes alive at sundown. With the help of Theodore Roosevelt (Robin Williams), Larry muddles his way through. When Larry talks with Cecil in the morning, his advice is to "Read your history. It will help."

The second night, Larry thinks he is prepared. Things go well at first but ultimately chaos reigns as one might expect with a mix of cultures and animals from all different ages. Still, Larry manages to get almost everything back into place by morning.

However, when the fussy Museum Director comes in, he notices one of the Neanderthals is missing from his exhibit (he was caught outside the Museum at dawn and turned to dust) and fires Larry. Unfortunately, Nick has come by with some of his friends and witnesses the scene. Larry pleads for his job, the Director relents, Larry talks to Nick, and suggests they spend the night together at the Museum.

Of course, the exhibits don't come alive.

Nick is disappointed, once again, in his dad.

Larry is puzzled--why aren't the exhibits coming back to life?

The answer to that question lies with Cecil, Gus, and Reginald who have made a copy of the main key and have snuck into the Museum.

Will Larry keep his job? Will Nick respect his dad? Will the Cowboys and the Romans learn to get along? Will Dexter give Larry back his keys? Will Teddy find the courage to talk to Sacajawea? Will Larry find the courage to talk to Rebecca? Will she believe him when he does?

Gotta watch the movie.

I give this movie points for an imaginative use of setting and older actors. I've dragged my kids to the Academy of Science in Golden Gate Park, but many kids haven't been to an old-style museum. Maybe this will inspire some parents to take them. Some kids may want to know more about Teddy Roosevelt, Sacajawea, Manifest Destiny, Aztecs, Roman conquest, T. Rex, or Egyptian pharaohs after seeing this movie. Or maybe not--but this movie is a great tease for what kinds of knowledge lie in wait at a museum.

Summer is a perfect time for a field trip.

I also give this movie points for being family friendly. Larry, his ex-wife, and even her fiance, care about Nick. There is some "rude humor," but nothing I didn't hear when my boys were younger. Positive messages about following through and having courage. Perfect for a family movie night.

On the March Hare scale: 4.5 out of 5 Golden Tickets