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'Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again' Review: New Guard Harkens Back to the 90s
A live-action franchise gets an animated sequel that skews quite young.
Now Streaming: First published in 1993, Milan Trenc's picture book for children, The Night at the Museum, was adapted into live-action form by director Shawn Levy in 2006, starring Ben Stiller as a divorced father who becomes a night guard at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The eminently silly premise of Trenc's book, in which all the museum's exhibit dinosaurs come to life at night, proved to be understandably popular on film, pairing Stiller's broad comic hijinks with Levy's skills at staging inoffensive, broadly-appealing family entertainment. The film's success hatched two sequels; the latter of which, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, saw Larry, Nick (now a teenager), and some of the characters from the first two films as they traveled to London for another adventure.
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The newest Museum installment picks up the story with Larry (now voiced by Zachary Levi) about to depart for a new job at a museum in Tokyo, Japan. His job as a night watchman would appear to be easy to fill, except for the unfortunate fact that the exhibits still come to life at night. Thus, Larry hits on the idea of drafting Nick (still a teenger, but about to head off to college) to fill him for him over the summer, since Nick (now voiced by Joshua Bassett) is already aware that the exhibts come to life at night.
Young Nick, a perpetually clumsy lad, reluctantly accepts the job and is welcomed by old friends, including miniature cowboy Jedediah (Steve Zahn), miniature Roman general Octavius (Jack Whitehall), President Theodore Roosevelt (with Thomas Lennon, who co-wrote the first two live-action installments, voicing the live-action role played so joyously by Robin Williams), Shoshone explorer Sacagewa (Kieran Sequoia), and Joan of Arc (Alice Isaaz).
The inciting incident occurs when Nick fails to properly lock the basement door, inadvertently allowing for the return of Egyptian Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Joseph Kamal). Kahmunrah gains control of the magic tablet -- which allows for the exhibits to come to life -- and returns to his own era through a magic portal. The intrepid Nick realizes he must enter the portal in order to regain possession of the tablet and enable his museum friends to keep coming to life every night.
Disney began making live-action versions of their animated films with The Jungle Book in 1994, followed by 101 Dalmatians in 1996, but it was Tim Burton's 3-D version of Alice in Wonderland in 2010 that kicked off its current obsession with the possibilities of expanding their intelluctual property. After Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, it was decided that certain Fox franchise properties would next see life on the Disney Plus streaming service.
Out of that decision, we've already seen the reverse of what Disney did previously, turning a live-action movie into animated movie (Diary of a Wimpy Kid), making an animated sequel to animated movies (The Ice Adventures of Buck Wild), and now endeavoring to expand the Museum series with an animated sequel that harkens back to the 90s and its traditional, 2D style.
The visual aesthetic of the new film certainly marks a change from the "original" trilogy, which, while it already featured a good deal of animation, aimed to masquerade its animation as visual effects in order to blend more closely with its live-action. Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again looks more like a 90s television show, painting with primary colors and full-figured characters who could never be mistaken for anything resembling real life.
The effect is pleasantly nostalgic, if not particularly engaging, and certainly not compelling. It's the sort of thing that would probably go down easier as an episodic television show -- The New Adventures of Night Guard or something like that -- rather than a feature-length film.
Running just 77 minutes, the new film appears to be designed to run smoothly with ads, which is good news for those who have chosen its just-launched Basic With Ads plan. For new subscribers, it's not the first thing I would watch, but it's perfectly acceptable fare for nostalgic adults, budget-minded teens, and, probably s its primary target audience, young children. [Disney Plus]