Sixteen years ago, Night at the Museum burst into our lives like Rexy and subsequently delivered a near-perfect trilogy filled to the brim with unforgettable humor, museum mayhem, and heartfelt storytelling. Matt Daner’s new animated feature Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again manages to replicate the life-bringing magic of the tablet, while paying homage to the aspects of the live-action films that made them such quotable and memorable experiences.
Set a few years after the end of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Larry Daley (voiced by the incomparable Zachary Levi) has traded in his career as a school teacher to become the director of a museum in Tokyo (which is an impressive career trajectory!) and the Museum of Natural History in New York is once again in need of a night guard who is up to the task of wrangling a lively bunch of re-animated museum exhibits. Naturally, that duty falls onto the shoulders of 18-year-old Nick Daley (Joshua Bassett) who is reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Nick is actually reluctant about a lot of things, which is exactly why Larry thinks working the night shift at the museum is the perfect place for him to find his confidence and purpose. After all, that’s where Larry found his groove after his divorce. Nick’s situation is pretty typical teenage stuff: he’s too nervous to ask the girl he likes out, and he’s too nervous to actually pursue his love for music. I guess all those midnight ragers at the museum rubbed off on him because he’s all about DJing and making music for people to dance to.
Nick’s subplots in tandem with the animation style really harken back to the golden age of the Disney Channel, where series like Kim Possible and American Dragon: Jake Long reigned supreme, which makes sense when you consider that Daner worked on the beloved animated series The Replacements. Similarly, Ray DeLaurentis, one of the films’ two scribes worked as a writer on American Dragon and still very clearly retains that unique essence that is threaded through into Kahmunrah Rises Again. He’s joined on this project by Will Schifrin who brings live-action writing experience to the table, which helps conjure up some of the tonal styles of the original trilogy.
Kahmunrah Rises Again sees Joan of Arc (Alice Isaaz) join the museum display cast of Teddy Roosevelt (Thomas Lennon), Attila the Hun (Alexander Salamat), Sacajawea (Kieran Sequoia), Laaa (Levi), Octavius (Jack Whitehall), Jedediah (Steve Zahn), and Dexter (Dee Bradley Baker) as they team up with the younger Mr. Daley to stop the world from ending when Kahmunrah (Joseph Kamal) rises from the dead—again—and wreaks complete havoc over the course of one night. The beats are similar to The Battle for the Smithsonian, treading some familiar territory, particularly with jumping through paintings, and the obviously Kahmunrah connection, but it never feels repetitive. Nick might be as dorky and prone to chaos as his father, but he does feel like his own character and a continuation of the role that Skyler Gisondo originated.
During their danger-filled race against time, the Museum of Natural History’s lively exhibit pieces venture across the city to a somewhat fictionalized version of the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur, where they come face-to-face with the pint-sized god of chaos, Seth (Akmal Saleh), who poses new and hilarious trouble for the team. Seth is a slightly more competent combination of the Hercules duo Pain and Panic, and “slightly” is doing a lot of lifting there. Kahmunrah’s entire attempt at world domination is a delightful journey into failure and folly—and it provides the push Nick desperately needs to find himself.
The Night at the Museum franchise holds a very special place in my heart as someone who worked in the museum industry for a decade (and unfortunately, only a few museum exhibits came to life under my watch), and it’s a joy to see Disney reinvesting in the franchise and finding a new way to continue the adventure following the devastating loss of the live-action’s Teddy Roosevelt, Robin Williams. Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again rekindles the magic of the trilogy, while carefully blending nostalgia with a wide-open door into new world potential for these characters. The beautiful part is that the film doesn’t alter the bittersweet ending of the final film—which still draws tears just thinking about it. With Nick Daley at the night desk, the museum lives on to entertain a new generation, while offering a safe place to retreat for fans unwilling to say goodbye to this franchise.
Who knows? Maybe one day the tablet will make its way to Tokyo and force Larry to revisit the chaos of working the night shift with a brand-new cast of characters coming to life. Plus, it would mean hearing more of Zachary Levi bringing his own twist to Ben Stiller’s Larry.
Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again is streaming now on Disney+.