Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again, out now on Disney+, plays it safe with the franchise formula, for better or worse.
In 2006, Fox released Night at the Museum, a fun comedy about a night guard named Larry Daley at the American Museum of Natural History who must come to grips with a magical spell bringing the objects in the museum to life every night. While perhaps not taking full advantage of its premise, a strong cast, solid visual effects, and a warm sense of humor and whimsy made it a box office hit and a pillar of nostalgia for a generation. However, diminishing returns with the sequels and the death of franchise mainstay Robin Williams cast doubt on the future of the series, and it lay dormant after 2014’s Secret of the Tomb.
Flash forward to the present day, where Disney has purchased Fox and is looking to revive some of their properties for their new streaming service Disney+. One of the properties chosen for a reboot is Night at the Museum. This new movie will be fully animated, have a whole new cast, and involve a whole new production team (although Shawn Levy, director of the first three movies, is an Executive Producer). The result is Kahmunrah Rises Again, a confused and muddled, but still faithful to its series, movie which will please some fans but may not make total sense to newcomers.
The story of this movie follows Nick Daley (Joshua Bassett), son of Larry (Zachary Levi), the protagonist of the live-action films. Larry decides to become a museum director in Tokyo, and leaves Nick in his position as night guard. Nick is already familiar with the living exhibits, but he must face his fears of the dark and general social awkwardness to do his job. Things take a turn when Nick also has to deal with the revival of Egyptian Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Joseph Kamal), the villain of the second movie Battle at the Smithsonian. As Kahmunrah once again attempts to open the doors to the Underworld to rule over the living, it is up to Nick and his friends to stop him.
Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again makes the transition to animation well from an aesthetic standpoint. The movements are all fluid with pastel colors adding textures. This looks and feels like a TV pilot, making the most of its decreased budget. Director Matt Danner used this style in his series for Disney+ The Legend of the Three Caballeros. In that series, the titular Caballeros explore various cultures, battle mythical creatures, and learn about world history. Having Matt Danner transition to this franchise was a good fit. He captures the same slapstick energy and even some of the suspense in his show to be brought to Night at the Museum, and it makes Kahmunrah Rises Again a visual spectacle. The last Disney Animated film to use 2D stylings was 2011’s Winnie the Pooh. The fact it has been so long may be surprising, but seeing this style brought back is a welcome change.
None of the original voices from the series return for Kahmunrah Rises Again, but their replacements all do the best they can. Thomas Lennon replaces the late Robin Williams as Theodore Roosevelt, the museum’s unofficial leader. While he sounds nothing like Robin, he is still able to provide the boisterous bravado and can-do attitude necessary for the role of one of America’s most beloved presidents. With the new voice actors, viewers can suspend disbelief enough to support the casting changes and follow them on this adventure.
While the visuals do sell the movie, most of its faults are in the story department. It recycles the same villain from a previous movie, and with it the same plot. Kahmunra still tries to bring new objects to life, still opens his portal, and some trickery and hijinks ensue before the day is saved. Once the second movie introduced the premise of bringing to life a new museum, every sequel followed. This does not have to be the only angle for an interesting new spin on this premise, however. A unique twist would have been to see how new objects adjust to being alive within the American Museum of Natural History, both in coming alive and relocating. The movie however does not try to integrate this and sticks to formula.
Even with a familiar plot, not much is done to give this movie an identity of its own. A new character named Joan of Arc (Alice Isaaz) is introduced, but she adds little to the plot and is given no introduction or backstory to justify her presence. Her main historical gimmick of hearing voices is only used twice for a quick joke and the characters continue their quest in spite of it. Plus, Joan’s inclusion gives other series regulars, like Dexter the Monkey (Dee Bradley Baker), little to do, robbing them of screen time which could be used to add jokes or further the plot.
Longtime fans may be a bit confused with the continuity of this movie. Nick still being in high school and the use of Kahmunrah as the villain seems to suggest it being in between the second and third movies. However, the presence of Laaa (Zachary Levi) as a character from the third movie contradicts this. The best estimate seems to in the three year period before the third movie’s epilogue, where Larry has gone back to school to pursue a new career and the museum is still adjusting after the transfer of Ahkmenrah to London. Most of this does not detract from the plot, but it can be odd thinking of how the last movie was about Nick leaving high school.
If you have seen one Night at the Museum movie, you have basically seen them all. They follow many of the same beats, same stakes, and use many of the same jokes. This one does little to reinvent the formula, but as a standalone piece it is harmless enough. At 100 minutes, it can feel a bit rushed, but still has some nice moments and above average animation for streaming exclusive project. Dedicated fans may enjoy it, but this mostly serves as a forgettable entrant in a long-dormant franchise with few new ideas to offer.
Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again is out now on Disney Plus.