Shawn Levy’s film reactivates the pulses of Lewis & Clark, Christopher Columbus, and Mickey Rooney. It is littered with elementary school entertainment, though what can we expect from a PG production? That’s not to say it’s not fun for an audience with a few more years added on, because there are plenty of laughs to go around.
Much of the appeal lies in the CGI, which is wonderful. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of all of the green screen effects. Shrinking Owen Wilson to an Indian in the Cupboard-sized cowboy works, as long as he doesn’t interact with Stiller. The Gulliver’s Travels parody with cowboys and Romans doesn’t work because it looks fake—forget that figurines couldn’t have a heartbeat in the first place, it should at least look real.
The museum these events occur in is the American Museum of Natural History (based upon a similar establishment in Manhattan). Inside the building, textbook characters come to life, though the explanation of this is weak. Aside from the aforementioned folks, Robin Williams plays Rough Rider Theodore Roosevelt, who wants to knock moccasins with Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck). There’s also a rhyming, gum-chomping Easter Island head, which doesn’t really belong in a Museum of Natural History. And of course there is Attila the Hun, whom Stiller tries to win over with magic—what a softy!
Stiller must keep these exhibits within the museum walls by dawn, otherwise they turn to dust. Why? Well, it’s never really explained, but it’s got something to do with a magical Egyptian tablet. And this is where Night at the Museum gets too wise for its own good--when three burglars reveal their motives for stealing said tablet. There is also a minor twist that is a letdown of the true magic of the film.
But, for the kids, they’ll feel the sense of magic throughout, and that may be all that really matters in the end. Night at the Museum is a goofy, fun time for the younger ones, with maybe a little something thrown in for the ‘rents. But even if the adults don’t find it as fun as their kids, they’ll be happy to know the film serves as an advanced history lesson to their children.
Commentary by Director Shawn Levy: If you’re going to listen to this, don’t watch the other features first, otherwise you’ll get loads of rehashed info.
Commentary by Writers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon: This is the better of the two commentaries, with both Garant and Lennon feeding off of each other very well, offering comedic tidbits throughout.
Disc Two is divided into five separate areas for your “Tour”, each housing its own set of features:
The Loading Dock houses eight deleted/alternate scenes with optional director commentary (17:06). These don’t really enhance the film, but we do get a look at one of Stiller’s schemes to make a quick buck—and nothing says “paycheck” like Shabu-shabu.
The Halls of Biodiversity
Bringing the Museum to Life (6:20): This is a piece that focuses on the CGI and green screen techniques used to bring to life the interactivity between the stars and the effects. Pretty interesting for newbies.
Directing 101 (4:11): Director Shawn Levy introduces this feature, which is a montage of himself jumping around on the set like Dexter the monkey. If only Orson Welles was still around to see how it’s really done.
The Blooper Reel (5:48) limits its overlong self to Stiller, Rooney, and company flubbing their lines. What did you expect?
Monkey Business (5:02) is a short bit on Dexter (aka Crystal), the Capuchin monkey that bitch-slaps Stiller in the film.
Comedy Central’s Reel Comedy (21:11): Patton Oswalt hosts this funny featurette where he chats Night at the Museumic and willing to poke fun of themselves. Besides, we get a jab at Lindsay Lohan’s anorexic self, so…not bad.
The Security Office
Building the Museum (7:29): And Shawn Levy finally wears out his welcome! This is a standard piece that showcases how the production designers built sets in Vancouver warehouses to achieve the look of the American Museum of Natural History.
Historical Threads: The Costumes (5:11): Here, we learn of costume designer Renée April’s attempts to not only remain historically accurate, but also put the cast in fun costumes. Fairly interesting for those who dug the threads Attila and Sacajawea wore.
The Director’s Vision Comes Alive (10:32) is a storyboard comparison with Levy, who invites us to look at his personal drawings that would serve as the basis for the design of many scenes. Again, this may be an informative piece for those just learning about the behind-the-scenes process of making a film.
Making of… (11:44): This one is pretty useless, since the rest of the disc gives us enough information for us to make our own Making of featurette. A couple highlights: Williams finally appears on the DVD (albeit briefly), and Levy refers to Stiller as “the top of the mountain.”
The last of the main features are a pair by Fox Movie Channel. Making a Scene (10:08) features far too much recycled material to make it worthwhile. Life After Film School (25:21) focuses on three film students (from AFI, USC, and Playhouse West) interviewing Shawn Levy…because when you think filmmaker, you think Cheaper By the Dozen. In all seriousness, Levy comes off as smarter than he has on the rest of the features in this informative piece for those interested in film schools and such.
And what 2-Disc is complete without a DVD-Rom Feature (the fifth "Tour" area) and Trailers?