It’s been quite an adventure for Larry Daley. Who woulda thought he could’ve risen from being a frowned-upon night watchman at New York’s famous American Museum of Natural History to almost being in charge of the place? Or at least he’s in charge of the museum’s amazing animatronics display that everybody’s raving about.
Of course, the truth of it is that there’s no animatronics involved in his presentations at all. No wires, strings or well-devised 3-D images either. It’s all brought about by the golden Tablet of Akmenrah—a long-ago unearthed magical artifact from Egypt that can somehow bring statues, figurines and T. rex bones to life every night with its mysterious powers.
But now the supernatural tablet is beginning to corrode for some reason. And Larry’s in a panic about what to do. With each new inch of gold-gobbling rust, his cast of moving and talking historical characters and big bony buds seems to be losing its collective life force.
Time to go back to the beginning. Not his faltering start at the museum two movies ago, but actually the start of the tablet itself. He’s going to have to find out more about the archeological dig that first uncovered it. And that will likely entail taking it to the British Museum of Natural History, home of Akmenrah’s mummified parents, Merenkahre and Sheoseheret. If he can magically bring them to life—along with every other artifact and fossil in that vast building—maybe he can get some good answers to his bad problem.
Larry makes that trip to Europe, bringing along some of his museum “friends,” including Teddy Roosevelt, Attila the Hun, miniatures Jed and Octavius—and Dexter the monkey. Along the way, they all make personal sacrifices for others. In fact, most of the enlivened wax characters willingly make a choice to aid one of their number even though it means they’ll permanently lose the ability to come back to life.
Larry also wrestles with choices that his high school-graduate son, Nick, wants to make. And even though he believes that some of the young man’s desires are misguided, he gives his advice and then steps back to support the young man no matter what he decides. Larry also has discussions with several of his nighttime pals about a father’s need to stay connected with his kids when they’re young followed by the difficult responsibility to, at some point, let children fly from the nest on their own. Larry and Nick ultimately both voice their mutual familial love.
You know about the tablet’s powers already. Now we learn from Merenkahre (who attests to being descended from the Sun God Ra) that he had the magical thing created in the temple of the Moon God Thoth to keep his family together throughout eternity. He and Larry talk of other gods and religions, and upon learning of Larry’s Jewish background Merenkahre blurts, “I love Jews! We had 40,000 of them as slaves.”
When a couple of British kids stare incredulously at Larry and his oddly dressed friends on a public bus, the tiny cowboy Jed says, “We’re just as God made us.” An old man at an archeological dig warns of an ancient curse.
Octavius talks of the rugged handsomeness of Sir Lancelot, causing Jed to shoot him a look of concern. Sheoseheret’s low-cut Egyptian robes expose her cleavage. A female security guard kisses a reanimated figure.
A dinner is demolished by reawakened wax dudes who smash tables, tumble around and wave weapons in the air. Several museum display cases are crushed to kindling amid the mayhem. Sir Lancelot batters a giant skeleton of a Triceratops and joins other characters in a slashing, sharp-toothed-jaw-snapping battle with a gigantic metallic snake-demon. Jed and Octavius run from a flow of burning lava in a miniature display of Pompeii. Somebody smashes through a glass window with his head. We see a number of once-lively wax characters begin to freeze up and, in effect, die.
Dexter repeatedly slaps Larry in the face.
One use of “d–n” and three of “h—.” We hear another exclamation or two each of “dang,” “heck” and “gosh.”
Nick and his friends have a party wherein lots of plastic cups with questionable contents are scattered about.
Turns out Larry didn’t even know about the party his son is throwing, much less give permission for it. (He surprises Nick in the middle of it when he comes home at 3 a.m.) The female British security guard talks of her boyfriend comparing her hairstyle to “golden pooh.” The monkey urinates on a fire, drenching Jed and Octavius in the stream. Larry breaks into the British museum.
Many younger film fans may by now actually think of New York’s real American Museum of Natural History as simply a fun movie set for a goofy film about wax figures magically coming to life in the dead of night. But of course it’s actually a well-respected museum that just happened to receive a healthy uptick in attendance once the Night at the Museum flicks started hitting Cineplexes.
To celebrate and tie into the movies’ fun-factor even more, the museum has even created a nighttime sleepover program—an exciting and informative excursion that lets curious kiddos roam the dimmed and mysterious hallways of history with flashlight and pillow in hand. And, in a sense, that’s what this third and concluding Museum pic becomes: A way for families to get together and have one last imaginative and giggling peek at historical figures who refuse to remains “just” stationary wax statues. It’s a Teddy-Roosevelt-meets-Sir-Lancelot-meets-Attila-the-Hun clash of “history” in a cartwheeling CGI-packed splash of silliness.
As a museum-package bonus, we get a light lesson about children growing into adulthood and needing to make choices for their own future. And there’s an encouragement for parents to not skim through the important moments of their kids’ present, a time that will all too soon become their past.
A postscript: Toward the end of the story, there’s a bittersweet convergence of art and real life as Robin Williams, playing the enlivened statue of Teddy Roosevelt, says his final turning-back-to-wax goodbyes. It’s one of the actor’s last onscreen performances, and it delivers a far more moving emotional impact than the movie’s creators ever could have guessed while they filmed.
Perhaps that’s the legacy of this and the other two pics in the Night at the Museum trilogy. For all of their slapstick dinosaur derring-do, urinating monkey nonsense, and inane sword-swinging, display case-smashing rampages, these pics have given us more fun and fond gather-the-kids memories than we ever would have guessed.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.