- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 30, 2006

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Night at the Museum’

Rating: PG for mild action, language and brief rude humor.

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 8 and older.

*** (out of five stars)

Running time: 100 minutes

Common Sense review: Mostly cute and often spastic, “Night at the Museum” runs out of story early, then repeats itself for another 45 minutes or so. The premise is simple: In an effort to maintain contact with his son, divorced father Larry (Ben Stiller) needs to get a job. His life has been so “up and down,” as Larry puts it, that 10-year-old Nicky (Jake Cherry) is beginning to see his mother’s point, that dad needs to provide “stability.”

To that end, Larry applies to be a night guard at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. He thinks the job will be “ordinary,” so he doesn’t really listen when retiring security guards Cecil (Dick Van Dyke), Reginald (Bill Cobbs) and Gus (Mickey Rooney) advise him to read their handwritten instruction manual and follow the steps exactly and in order. When Larry falls asleep on his first night, he wakes to find that an amazing change has occurred: The exhibits have come to life.

Although the individual creatures can be entertaining, “Night at the Museum” is repetitive and too invested in its silly explanation of how the coming-to-life phenomenon came to be (something about an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tablet).

The movie, however, does promote reading, as Larry researches all his new charges in a bookstore.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that children definitely will want to see this much-hyped, effects-heavy adventure. The effects are good (the dinosaur skeleton is especially fun), but the plot is uneven and the action hectic, with some point-of-view camerawork that potentially could startle younger viewers.

The movie features spastic, cartoonish violence by the museum exhibits that come to life. This includes shooting (Civil War soldiers), explosions (miniature cowboys and miners), poison-dart-shooting (miniature Maya), chasing and hunting (dinosaur skeleton, lions), fighting and car-crashing. Weapons include arrows, swords, guns, catapults, spears and axes. There’s a repeated joke about Attila the Hun’s preference for ripping off victims’ limbs. Larry repeatedly disappoints his son (who acts sad) — until the end, when the boy is impressed by his father’s quick decision-making.

Families can talk about the message behind all of the fancy effects. Why is it important to pursue your dreams? Why is it important to learn, read books and discuss ideas as you do so? How is Larry inspired by his new friends to go after his dreams? What does Nicky admire about his father in the museum? What’s more important here — the lesson Larry learns or the cool CGI creatures?

Sexual content: Teddy Roosevelt admires Sacajawea through his binoculars, prompting Larry to ask, “Are you checking her out?”

Language alert: Some name-calling and some exclamations such as “for God’s sake.”

Violence alert: Lots of comic crashes and falls. Repeated scenes in which soldiers and other warriors fight (shooting, explosions, fighting swords), though none of these encounters leads to visible or lasting injuries (some charring following explosions). A little truck carrying two characters crashes and disappears in smoke and a tiny fire. Some scary moments, as when the dinosaur skeleton and Attila the Hun chase Larry. Larry and a monkey fight repeatedly.

Commercialism alert: Thematic: The museum needs advertising to bring in more visitors. (This is achieved by accident.)

Social-behavior alert: Larry’s ex-wife laments his lack of focus and stability; museum antics occasionally are obnoxious; Larry is framed for a crime.

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