- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 13, 2007

NEW YORK

Thousands of moviegoers who saw the film “Night at the Museum” are spending the day there, too.

The American Museum of Natural History saw a 20 percent boost in attendance during the holiday season this year, and museum officials attribute some of the increase to the family film starring Ben Stiller as a museum night watchman who must deal with exhibits that come to life.

Parts of the movie were shot at the venerable building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“The movie has generated a lot of interest,” says museum President Ellen V. Futter, “but there’s also just terrific excitement about the museum right now — especially with some of our exhibits, like the live butterflies and the gorgeous gold exhibit.”

Miss Futter also attributes the jump to an overall increase in New York City tourism. She says a spike in attendance is normal during the holidays, but not like this. About 250,000 visitors came to the museum between Dec. 22 and Jan. 7, nearly 50,000 more than at the same time last year.

Emily Baldwin, 14, and her sister, Brianna, 10, of Milford, Conn., say they never really wanted to go until they saw the movie.

They begged their parents to take them, so the family played hooky one day for Emily’s birthday and spent the day among the dinosaurs, dioramas and ocean displays.

“In real life, it’s not much like the movie,” Emily says, “but in a lot of ways, it’s better. The ocean scenes, the Asia stuff, it’s really cool.”

The movie is not doing badly, either. The weekend of Jan. 5 through 7 was its third as the No. 1 film at the box office. It pulled in $23.7 million in ticket sales that weekend, bringing its gross take to almost $164 million.

Mr. Stiller’s character battles Attila the Hun, a mischievous monkey, tiny cowboys, Roman soldiers and other figures from museum exhibits. The comedy, from director Shawn Levy, also stars Steve Coogan, Ricky Gervais, Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney. Robin Williams makes a cameo appearance as a wax figure of Teddy Roosevelt that’s among the exhibits that come alive.

Nevertheless, many museum visitors have come just to see the sights. Michael Zuppone, 8, and his friend Steven Halsband, 9, are regulars who say they were excited to see the movie because they love coming to the museum.

“I want to go see it, but I really like the real thing,” Michael says.

The gold exhibit, which features pre-Columbian jewelry and an Academy Award statuette, is on display until Aug. 19. The butterfly conservatory, where butterflies fly around in an enclosed habitat, is open through May 28.

The museum also recently started a sleepover program, focusing on children between 8 and 12 years of age along with their parents or other accompanying adults. Participants pay $79 each, are asked to bring a sleeping bag and are given cots and light snacks. Miss Futter says the program has been hugely popular and is sold out until June.

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