Film Discussion: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

Cinema Stats

  • Release: 2009
  • Director: Shawn Levy
  • Writers: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon
  • Genre: Adventure romantic comedy-drama
  • Rating: PG for mild action and brief language
  • Stars: Ben Stiller (Larry Daley, former security guard turned CEO of Daley Devices), Amy Adams (Amelia Earhart, Tess), Owen Wilson (Jedediah), Robin Williams (Teddy Roosevelt)
  • Awards: 2 wins, 9 nominations

Cher’s Ratings

Lots and lots of Art!
Mish-mash of ancient and modern cultures, confusing
Hopefully to inspire travel to the Smithsonian museums, although not totally authentic
Live-person acting is good, but lots of voice-overs for creatures

Armchair Art & Travel: Smithsonian Museums, Washington D.C.

The 2006 blockbuster Night at the Museum took a fantastical jaunt through New York’s American Museum of Natural History, with a bumbling night guard, Larry Daley, played by Ben Stiller getting an interactive primer in ancient and bygone times.

Two years later. . .

The Plot

Two years have passed since the first movie. In the 2009 sequel, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,” Ben Stiller returns as night watchman Larry Daley, now a successful business man, CEO of Daley Devices, products inspired by his experiences in the first film. Wealthy and successful, he has not had the time to see his museum exhibit friends in awhile. He gets back to the museum just in time to find that he is needed to get his friends out of trouble. This adventure takes us to the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. and introduces us to new characters, such as Amelia Earhart, General Custer, and many more!

This film is fun, has mystery and suspense, and a bit of romance (but nothing too mushy or risque for the younger crowd!). It is a feast for art-lovers like me – and intriguing for lovers of history like my husband. It has fun facts and action for the younger crowd making it a good family film. And just maybe it might instill motivation for a family trip to the Smithsonian Museums!

The Actors

Ben Stiller reprises his role as museum guard Larry Daley, this time facing off against the evil pharaoh Kahmunrah.

Paintings and sculptures come to life, throwing another challenge at our unlikely hero.

Amelia Earhart (Amy Adams) is Larry’s sassy female sidekick in this film. Amy also shows up at the end of the film as Tess, a young woman who Larry notices closely resembles Amelia Earhart. Unlike Amelia, Tess is “directional challenged” and seeks Larry’s assistance in navigating the museum. He instinctively offers to help her – which leaves us to wonder what may happen next…?

(For discussion on another film with Amy Adams, see my blog on the “Julie & Julia“)

Robin Williams returns in his role as historical Teddy Roosevelt atop his trusty horse.

Owen Wilson reprises his role from the original film as the tiny but feisty western cowboy, Jedediah, shown here along side of his buddy, the Roman soldier, Octavius (Steve Cougan).

(For discussion on another great film with Owen Wilson, see my blog on “Midnight in Paris.”)

Jedediah is held captive in an hourglass by the evil Pharaoh Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria)

History buffs will enjoy the insertion and random pairing of historical characters such as Napoleon Bonaparte (Alain Chabat), Al Capone (Jon Bernthal), Ivan the Terrible, General Custer and others, all totally out of historical timeline sequence which makes it all the more fun!

The Art

The viewer with any hint of artistic cultural literacy will delight as one famous artwork after another flashes across the screen. For me, bringing exhibits and famous paintings to life was undoubtedly the best parts of the film.

As Larry makes his way through the galleries, Monet‘s water lilies sway gently on a pond in Giverny; the geometric shapes in an Ellsworth Kelly painting shift around like icons in an Atari video game.

At one point Larry seeks refuge from the evil pharaoh in the museum’s art galleries, but serenity there is short-lived. Children in a NYC Central Park winter-landscape painting pelt him with snowballs, and the couple in Grant Wood‘s American Gothic painting begin to stir. With the pharaoh rapidly approaching, Larry seizes an unusual opportunity. He snatches the farmer’s pitchfork, uses it to ward off the Egyptian tyrant, then leaps into Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed photograph VJ Day and escapes through a packed, celebratory 1945 Times Square.

I’ve highlighted some of my favorites below.

Tait’s Skaters in the Park

The first clue that everything comes alive in the museum is when Larry gets hit with a snowball thrown by a kid in Agnes Tait’s 1934 painting of winter revelers, “Skaters in Central Park”.

Abraham Lincoln Statue

Monumental sculpture comes alive when Abraham Lincoln becomes real, gets off his seat in the Lincoln Memorial, and saves the day, of course – after having a heart-to-heart with Larry.

Rodin’s The Thinker

Needing direction on how to proceed, Larry and Amelia consult with The Thinker, the famous larger-than-life bronze sculpture by August Rodin.

Unfortunately, The Thinker gets distracted by the enticing Greek marble sculpture across the room and provides little to no valuable advice for Larry and Amelia

(More on The Thinker on my blog discussion)

“The Thinker” by August Rodin

Degas’ Little Dancer

Google Images

Amelia gets side-tracked in a lovely dance with Edgar Degas’s Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer

(More on the art of Degas on my blog discussion)

“Little Fourteen Year-Old-Dancer” by Edgar Degas, Musee d’ Orsay, Paris

Wood’s American Gothic

Google Images

Larry steals the pitchfork from Grant Wood’s American Gothic bewildered couple to help fend off the evil pharaoh and other attackers.

(More on American Gothic in my blog discussion)

“American Gothic” by Grant Woods, Chicago Art institute

Indiana’s LOVE – and – Koon’s Balloon Dog

“LOVE” sculpture by Robert Indiana in New York City

Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture is showcased in several scenes, although it does not come to life.

(Read more discussion on the LOVE sculpture on my blog post)

Orange Balloon Dog frolics around several sets! Jeff Koons released several versions of Balloon Dogs as part of his “Celebration” series in 1993. These playful mirror-polished stain steel sculptures with transparent color coating are now among the most iconic works of contemporary art.

“Balloon Dog (Orange)” by Jeff Koons

Bierstadt’s Sierra Nevada Mountains

Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains, California by Alfred Bierstadt majestically appears on a gallery wall while Larry works with the struggling octopus.

Turner’s Waterscape

Larry engages the water from a Turner Water-scape painting to hydrate the poor octopus who is floundering without water.

V-J Day in Times Square

Google Images

V-J Day in Times Square, famous black and white photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt (1945) becomes a part of the action! The scene is used by Larry and Amelia to escape their pursuers both in entering and exiting the photograph.

Google Images
Google Images
Google Images

Pollock Painting

A Jackson Pollock painting flashes before our eyes, bursting with streaks and splatters as if the painter’s ghost were still at work.

Easter Island Head Maoi

An Easter Island Head Maoi has an active role and voice in the script!

Lichtenstein’s Crying Girl

Crying Girl (Lichtenstein, 1964) sheds tears in one scene

The Sets: How Art came to life

Along with Larry, we visit the National Air and Space Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution Building. Portions of the film were set in D.C but a set was built in Vancouver for the more action-heavy sequences.

I was impressed with how extensive the Smithsonian complex of buildings are as seen in the blueprint floor plans Larry’s son, Nick, used to steer his father around the maze of underground buildings. There is literally more underground than above ground!

The art galleries on screen are based loosely on the interiors of the National Portrait Gallery. Bringing together a wide collection of American and European art history from museums around the world, the exhibition truly functions as a hit parade of sorts. An observant world traveler of art museums has to ignore the fact that most of the original art is NOT on display in Washington D.C. museums – and simply enjoy the parade!

While most of the artworks were animated via computer graphics, for figurative paintings like American Gothic, look-alike actors were cast. An overlay of paint effects were later added in the background.

One of the things I found very interesting was how tricky it was to secure permission for use of the artwork. Not only are the works seen on-screen, they actually become part of the action and take on unique, individual personalities (Think: animation of Little Dancing Girl and The Thinker!). Fortunately, for the most part, artists and estates proved amenable. Jasper Johns requested that his work (Three Flags, 1958) not be animated. It remains motionless as a Jeff Koons balloon dog darts in front of it while Dennis Oppernheim‘s Upper Cut (1992), a sculpture of a mouth with books for teeth, nips persistently at its heels.

Recommendation

I have seen this film several times, and each time I catch something I missed the previous times. It is fun, has some mystery and suspense, and a bit of romance (although it is sad to know ahead of time that the relationship between Amelia Earhart and Larry is short-lived). As note, it is a feast for art-lovers like me – and intriguing for lovers of history – although the liberties taken by the script writers causes us to not take anything too seriously! It has fun facts and action for the younger crowd making it a good family film.

Travel Tips

The Smithsonian Museum complex in Washington D.C. USA is a fabulous place to visit – and ALL MUSEUMS in the complex offer FREE Admission! I recommend allowing a full week or more to fully experience it and be able to comprehend all it has to offer. PLAN AHEAD, take it slow, and allow plenty of time at each place. DO NO IGNORE some of the lesser known exhibits because each one holds its own treasures. TIP: Between, before and after museum visits, take time to enjoy the expanses of green space. If you can get lodging within easy walking distance of the Smithsonian, vs. having to figure in transportation, parking etc., the whole experience will be much more relaxing for everyone.

More Travel Tips

Sources of Information

ARTnews.com (5/16/21)

Google Images

IMBD.com (5/16/21)

natm.fandom.com (5/16/21)

nukesandknives.blogspot.com/2016/10/artistic-beauty-in-film-ii.html (5/16/21)

2 thoughts on “Film Discussion: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

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