It's been three years since "Night at the Museum"—the original that found Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) learning how to succeed as a night guard in a museum where everything comes to life at sunset.
The entire gang is back for "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian," which shifts the action from New York's Museum of Natural History to the Washington Mall's collection of museums known as the Smithsonian Institution. Sequels rarely surpass originals, but "Smithsonian,"now playing, proves a worthy follow-up.
Larry, who in "Night" fancied himself an inventor, has hit pay dirt as "Smithsonian" begins. No longer a night guard, he hawks glow-in-the-dark flashlights with George Foreman (the first of several cameos to dot the picture). But Larry quickly learns that his old place of employment is changing—for the worse, it seems. Wax figures are being replaced with holograms, which means his old friends are being boxed up and sent off to Smithsonian warehouses for archiving.
That plan is of course foiled, and Larry must once again restore order to history come alive.
Back are Larry's friends and fellow stars from the original: Robin Williams as Teddy Roosevelt, Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan as Jedediah and Octavius, Dexter the monkey and more. They're still funny.
But joining the action this time are other characters of historical note: Ivan the Terrible (Christopher Guest), Napoleon (Alain Chabat) and Al Capone (Jon Bernthal). They play baddies taking direction from Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria), who wants that life-giving tablet from "Night."
Azaria is quite good as the pouty,lisped villain, and Amy Adams brings added punch as Larry's new sidekick: the pilot Amelia Earhart.
"Smithsonian," written and directed by the same guys responsible for the original, is, as you would guess, peppered with historical trivia. Kahmunrah relaxes in Archie Bunker's chair. Einstein bobbleheads help solve a riddle. Abraham Lincoln dispenses sage advice. Tuskegee Airmen help save the day. General Custer gets a second chance.
This time around, artwork comes alive and even provides entry to other historical periods. Some characters, like Capone, never shake off their monochromatic preservation, adding extra visual interest.
"Smithsonian" turns out to be a real plug for history—a "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" for the 21st century. A recent trip through Washington D.C.'s Reagan National Airport found ample promotion of the movie and museums, and the Smithsonian Institution's Web site offers a special section on the sites and artifacts featured in the movie.
If appreciating history is the first theme of "Smithsonian," then doing what you love is the second. Both are worthy topics, stuffed into a popcorn movie that both children and adults can enjoy.
Cliff Vaughn is managing editor and media producer for EthicsDaily.com.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild action and brief language.
Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Cast:Ben Stiller: Larry Daley; Amy Adams: Amelia Earhart; Owen Wilson: Jedediah Smith; Steve Coogan: Octavius; Hank Azaria: Kahmunrah; Bill Hader: General Custer.