Sitting somewhere between Indiana Jones and Back to the Future, Fox’s Night At The Museum films have long scratched an itch that few others could. The franchise’s adventurous stories and charismatic, goofy takes on historical figures have deservedly earned a special place in the hearts of young fans and older audiences alike. To summarize, it’s basically the Marvel Cinematic Universe but for history nerds.
Even when viewed without a nostalgic gaze (to varying levels of success), it feels safe to say that, while not without their flaws, the Night at the Museum films rarely disappoint in fulfilling the franchise’s unique, incredibly rich premise. From the halls of New York’s Museum of Natural History to those of the British Museum in London, the possibilities are all but endless thanks to the life-giving magic of Ahkmenrah’s ancient golden tablet. With the promise of an upcoming Disney+ animated sequel, here are a few key notes Disney should keep in mind.
1. A Good Balance of New and Returning Characters
One of the biggest draws of the franchise was its star-studded cast. Ben Stiller leading a fantastical adventure that also features Robin Williams was enough of an enticement, but with the addition of countless other talented main and supporting actors, the line-up is nothing short of impressive. The animated sequel will be a step in a slightly different direction with a push for a new, fresh take on the series. The premise described in the DisInsider’s original report seems to hint at a sort-of soft reboot, claiming that the film “will center on the nervous and confidence-lacking Nick Daley, (the son of Ben Stiller’s character Larry Daley in the 20th Century Fox live-action trilogy), who is hesitant to follow in his father’s footsteps as the nightwatchman of a museum that comes to life at night.”
The decision to reimagine the franchise feels like a natural progression and an appropriate evolution that honors the legacy of Robin Williams while building upon the characters from the original films. Although many fan-favorite players (including Teddy Roosevelt, Jedediah, Octavius, and Sacagawea) will be returning for the animated film, Disney is allegedly recasting all of them. This opens the door for not only new interpretations of the characters’ personalities, but their roles in the stories being told. The film is said to incorporate famed fifteenth-century heroine Joan of Arc as a lead role. The inclusion of new historical figures will lessen the need to revisit the same beats with old faces like the feud between Jedediah and Octavius.
The animated film will feature the return of Battle of the Smithsonian‘s Kahmunrah, the brother of Ahkmenrah the tablet-keeper. Last seen defeated in the second film, fans are apt to speculate as to how he will return. Assuming Disney is staying true to the canon of Fox’s trilogy, artifacts and characters from the Smithsonian could be displayed at the Museum of Natural History, not dissimilar to the traveling British Museum exhibit situation from the third film. This, of course, would make possible the return of other Smithsonian players like Amelia Earhart, who would surely be thrilled to revisit the museum.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Weird
The Night At The Museum movies operate in a mixture of fantasy and adventure which lend themselves to a lot of engaging, thrilling set-pieces and visuals. While part of the charm and appeal of the live-action films was watching very impossible inanimate objects come to life (like a constellation or T-Rex skeleton), the novelty has somewhat worn off. The transition to animation only further opens the door to exploring the potential for interesting, quirky on-screen moments. The second film, Battle of the Smithsonian, touches on some of the farther reaches of the tablet’s magical capabilities: bringing photos and paintings to life. In the third film as well, art pieces come to life in the form of statues and more. Moving forward, the intangible, fluid nature of animation lends itself to bringing life to the abstract. Continuing to press into new territory with weirder characters, locations, and circumstances will make the new film stand out as something special — and justify it straying from the live-action roots of the franchise.
3. New Locations
In addition to introducing new places, characters, and possibilities, the added stakes of leaving the safety of the Museum of Natural History is a major source of tension and intrigue within the Night at the Museum franchise. The three live-action films have visited some of the world’s most recognizable collections of art and history, so it feels natural (pun intended) that a new entry to the franchise would continue the tradition.
Located across Central Park, less than a mile away from the Museum of Natural History, lies the largest art museum in the United States: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Home to more than two million pieces in its permanent collection, the Met boasts a diverse body of work from Ancient Mesopotamian relics to 1st-century Roman busts to Japanese tatami gusoku. The museum is also well known for its impressive assortment of paintings and illustrations — a perfect opportunity to lean into the interesting, wacky world of stylized and abstract animation. With such a lively representation of world cultures, the Met is an enticingly obvious location to visit in the world of Night at the Museum, and could pave the way for more out of the box locales.
4. Great Music!
Right from the opening moments of the original 2006 Night At The Museum, the audience is treated to a whimsically lush, mysteriously ominous opening title track by the one and only Alan Silvestri. The composer scored all three of the live-action films, helping to keep a consistent musical identity throughout the trilogy. As a result, the Night At The Museum theme remains a staple to his discography and, for many, is synonymous with the franchise itself. His wide variety in style, genre, and instrumentation help elevate the franchise to feel particularly vast and wondrous — a complex musical landscape to match a world of diverse characters. Even if Silvestri himself does not return for the animated sequel, it should remain a high priority to capture the same scale, gravitas, and inflection of tone as Silvestri’s thundering brass, tip-toeing mallets, and swirling flutes.
5. Trust the Audience
To address the taxidermy mammoth in the room, given the stigma around animation, this is probably mostly just for kids. But that doesn’t mean it has to be a kids movie. 20th Century Fox struck gold by balancing humor, wit, and heart without alienating grown audiences. The entire trilogy of Night At The Museum earned PG ratings, which proves that the potential is there for telling a kid-friendly, compelling story that appeals to all demographics without catering specifically to the simplicity and passing trends of children’s entertainment. While some may be turned off by the shift to animation, a consistently mature and trusting story will win over the hearts of those that truly want to give it a chance.
If played correctly, there is potential for an animated return to the Museum of Natural History to be the best installment in the Night at the Museum franchise. With director Shaun Levy and producer Chris Columbus from the original films listed as producers, fans are sure to be in for a treat. As the anticipation for more updates and an eventual first-look into the animated project grows, audiences can only guess as to what direction Disney will take Nick Daley and the rest of the history-born cast.