This is such a disappointing film. It almost works in so many ways, but then just flaps vaguely at the exciting moments before returning to the boring plot of divorced dad must prove his worth to his only son.
What Night at the Museum should have been is a cross between Jumanji and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler (more the book in that case). An adventure story set in a common place that is naturally infused with mystery and excitment (such as an old house with an unsolved mystery or, hey, a museum!). To have this opportunity wasted is such a shame.
The main character, Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a middle-aged guy with no direction in life and no particular interests (except for his son to play ice hockey and WTF was up with that?). For a kid's film, the main character should have been the son, Nick (Jake Cherry). A nine- or ten-year-old boy, bouncing between his mum's and dad's houses, one of whom can't hold down a job and the other engaged to the lamest guy on the planet (Paul Rudd). This is the character the film should have focussed on. Nick instead is portrayed as being perfectly balanced - only getting upset when he witnesses his father being fired. This is played out as though he feels sorry for his dad's misfortune, when really it should have been about the fact that a)his dad let him down again and b)two of his friends also witnessed the unceremonious sacking and proceed to tease him (half-heartedly) about it.
But what about the night-time shenannigans, you ask? Well I think I'm giving as much attention here to them as the plot did. The whole, thrilling idea of having every exhibit of a natural history museum come to life between sunset and sunrise is merely a macguffin. An impressive and at times very funny macguffin, but obvious and pointless nonetheless.
The cast put in adequate performances, but not all of them were having as much fun with it as I would have liked to see. Owen Wilson was great as an inch-tall Jedediah, and it was historically nifty to see Mickey Rooney and Dick van Dyke acting together but other cameos are wasted. I kept expecting Ricky Gervais as the Director of the Museum to be funny, but he was hobbled completely by the unfunniest writing I ever cringed at. Robin Williams plays the wise man/old sage/Yoda of the film (disguised as Teddy Roosevelt), but it's nothing special.
It's easy to dismiss a film like Night at the Museum as just a kid's flick, but I don't belive that children should have to suffer second-rate entertainment. Especially when it uses up such imaginatively-valuable material. Who now will make the film I want to see where two kids sneak into a museum at night only to find that "history is coming to life"?