Stream it or skip it?
Now that the Disney empire consumed 20th Century Fox, Mickey Mouse is now in control Night at the museum franchise, therefore the fourth film, Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again, appeared as a Disney+ exclusive. Mickey Mouse has not only removed the series, whose last entry was in 2014 Night at the Museum: The Secret of the Tomb, he has revamped it with an animated feature, possibly because the concept—a trip outside the museum to ancient Egypt—may have been too expensive for live-action, especially given the likely incidence of diminishing returns on financial investment for fourth films on somewhat long time. the in-the-tooth series is experiencing rapidly declining public interest. That is to say, NATM: KRA (you can pronounce it nah-tem-krahh) doesn’t give much, nor does it ask for much, and it can only live up to the shoulder-shrugging modest expectations of prayer counters and TV viewers.
The main thing: A new security guard, positively Blart-esque in form and demeanor, strolls into the New York Museum of Natural History. He doesn’t last long – he’s chased right out the door by a T-rex skeleton, a monkey, a bear, a lion, Sacagawea, Joan of Arc, etc., all of whom should be dead on their feet, but as you may recall, was brought to life via the magic of an ancient Egyptian tablet. Do you also remember the rules? You know the exhibits animate at sunset and will turn to dust if outside the museum at sunrise? It’s all very practical, this takes place outside the confines of the museum’s opening hours, although it could be argued that seeing an undead dinosaur skeleton move by itself could be a big draw for a publicly funded not-for-profit institution. Just a thought.
What exactly is the problem with the new Blartish guy? He is not the museum population’s longtime night watchman friend Larry Daley (Zachary Levi), who takes a job at a museum in Tokyo. If Larry’s got to advance their careers beyond carrying a flashlight and sipping coffee in an itchy uniform, Teddy Roosevelt (Thomas Lennon) and co. asks, why doesn’t his teenage son take over for him? And then Larry arranges the gig for Nick (Joshua Bassett from High School Musical: The Musical: The Series), who is a bright boy who is stuck in doubt because he stutters profusely while trying to ask his crush on a date and nervously fumbles his way through the audition to be a DJ in the school’s jazz band. (That’s exactly what every jazz ensemble needs—more EDM!) See, he’s in perfect pitch, the script takes pains to point out—perhaps because it might come in handy later, no spoilers—but he apparently can’t pitch himself to save his life.
So Nick has some self-esteem issues to overcome, and if anything will help him work through them, it’s traveling through a portal to ancient Egypt to avert an apocalypse. His very first night on the job becomes quite eventful when he fails to lock the door to Egyptian chaos monger Kahmunrah (Jospeh Kamal), who grabs the magical tablet and takes it to the art museum so he can awaken a vengeful jackal god to help him take over the world. And before the bad guy can say “Don’t eat me or it’ll be a real short,” Nick and Teddy Roosevelt, Sacagawea (Kieran Sequoia), Joan of Arc (Alice Isaaz), Dexter the monkey (Dee Bradley). Baker), Attila the Hun (Alexander Salamat) and Laaa (Levi) the Neanderthal must gather their wits to embark on a mission to stop this nonsense. Will they succeed? Or will the bad guys win and make this story interesting?
What movies will it remind you of?: It just occurred to me that the transition from a live action series to animation is the opposite of Disney’s current modus operandi. Anyway – a recent movie I saw that carried the premise from live action to animation was Netflix’s Marmadukea comparison NATM: KRA will appreciate, because you can side by side Marmaduke with a moldy cheese stick and conclude that the cheese stick offers more sophisticated comedy. I digress: NATM: KRA is much like the recent animated one Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies — both of which are Fox properties revived on the cheap by Disney to fill the streaming service’s menu.
Performance worth watching: I didn’t notice Chris Parnell’s vocal cameo as George Washington, so let’s go with Joan of Arc, a new character in the series who brings the badass, doesn’t understand metaphors and delivers a pretty ripping reference to what she was like. burned at the stake.
Memorable Dialogue: Kahmunrah and Joan of Arc places:
Joan: The only metaphor I need is to literally defeat you in battle!
Kahmunrah: Metaphors are literally not literal!
Sex and skin: No.
Our assessment: Unlike other Disney+ exclusives, no one is going to complain NATM: KRA was denied a theatrical release – visually and thematically it is very much a made for TV movie and should be judged accordingly. Which is no surprise, considering director Matt Danner is a veteran animator and director with a long list of Nickelodeon and Disney Channel credits, and here he is, directing the first 2D animated Disney feature since 2011 Winnie the Pooh. Visually, the film is lively and colorful, with broad lines and smoothly flowing action sequences that come off nicely from your smartphone if you’re one of those crazy people who watch movies on a smartphone.
However, the script is more mixed. The story is Whatevs City, an adventure where a boy gets a much-needed opportunity to boost his confidence by saving the world. Don’t accept it as a great truth – diverting eternal dictatorial rule and potential outright destruction of civilization as we know it will never be a suitable substitute for therapy.
What saves the film from dullness (especially for adults in front of it) is the witty script, which takes a more-is-more approach to delivering jokes. One-liners stack up like cordwood, and while some are too green to burn yet, most of them spark and flame nicely. Such fast-paced comedy keeps pace with the near-ubiquitous hyperkinetic action, which would wear us to bits if this film were a second longer than its 77 minutes. Bottom line, it’s not half bad, which is about all we can ask from it Museum franchise at this time.
Our appeal: STREAM IT. NAH-TEM-KRAHH is a little noisy and by the numbers, but it looks good and rarely deviates into dullness.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more about his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.