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Larry Daley (Ben Stiller) is a dreamer with big plans that never take off. He has no job, is about to be evicted from his apartment, and is told by his ex-wife Erica (Kim Raver) that their son Nick (Jake Cherry) needs more stability than Larry currently offers. Larry puts aside his dreams and takes the first job he can get, night watchman at New York's Museum of Natural History. Larry is to replace three former guards (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs), who are being retired.
As Larry commences his first night, the museum comes to life, brought about by the magical effects of a solid gold ancient Egyptian tablet. Various exhibits become animated. These include a T-Rex skeleton exhibit that wants to play fetch with one of its rib bones, miniature cowboys led by Jedidiah (Owen Wilson) battling Roman centurions led by a general named Octavius (Steve Coogan), a wax statue of Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams), who becomes Larry's mentor, numerous African animals, a mischievous monkey, Attila the Hun, Neanderthals, and Christopher Columbus. Larry's first night becomes utter chaos, but with the assistance of Teddy Roosevelt he manages to survive.
For the sake of his relationship with his son, Larry agrees to continue for another night, but this night turns out to be just as much of a fiasco. The following night he takes Nick to work with him to show him what happens. During the night Larry discovers that the former guards are trying to steal the magical gold tablet. Larry, Nick and the rest of the museum's exhibits must try to stop them.
- Larry is knocked to the ground and hit in the head by an ice hockey puck.
- Characters make several suggestions about violence. For example, 'Where are they, I'll beat them with my fists' and 'I ought to punch you in the nose'.
- A T-Rex skeleton chases Larry, snapping its jaws as if trying to bite him.
- T-Rex swishes its tail, knocks Larry off his feet and sends him flying through the air.
- Larry is chased by Attila the Hun and other axe-wielding Huns. When he runs into an elevator, Attila's head gets jammed in the elevator doors.
- A civil war battle erupts between faceless civil war mannequins. Bayonets are thrust at throats, mannequins pull each other to the ground, clothes are ripped and stuffing comes out.
- Larry is pushed by a mammoth, pecked at by an ostrich, chased by lions, urinated on by a monkey, viciously bitten on the nose by a monkey, shot in the face by miniature blowpipe darts, causing his lip to go numb, hog-tied by miniature cowboys, dragged across a model railway, rammed in the side of the head by a model train, and shot at with miniature arrows and fireballs.
- Jedidiah talks about shooting Larry in the eye.
- Pictures of Huns quartering a captive hang on the museum walls.
- Attila the Hun and his band of warriors catch Larry and try to quarter him.
- A battle erupts between Jedidiah and his cowboys, and General Octavius and his centurions. Jedidiah punches Octavius in the face.
- Larry and a mischievous monkey and repeatedly slap each other across the face.
- A Neanderthal, caught outside as day breaks, turns to dust and is swept up by a street cleaner.
- Larry is attacked by the three old security guards, who have superhuman strength because they are under the influence of the magical tablet. Larry is kicked in the chest, sent flying across the room, punched in the face and has a fist slammed down on his back.
- Giant Egyptian dog statues try to impale Larry and Nick with giant spears.
- Giant Egyptian statues throw a large piece of masonry through the Museum gates.
- Larry and Attila have a shouting match that disintegrates into a babbling match, ending with Attila bursting into tears.
- While trying to deflate the tyres on a car, Jedidiah and Octavius are blown through the air.
- One of the old security guards is blown through the air when a whale shoots a spout of water at him.
- Teddy Roosevelt, a wax figure, is run over by a stagecoach and cut in half. He feels no pain and is later put back together.
- Jedidiah and Octavius drive a remote control car and crash it, causing it to burst into fire and a cloud of smoke. They survive the crash.
- One of the old guards is thrown from a stagecoach into the snow.
Content that may disturb children
In addition to the violent scenes listed, there are several images and scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children in this age group. For example:
- A jaw-snapping T-Rex skeleton chases Larry.
- Attila the Hun chases Larry with a large axe.
- There are faceless civil war soldiers.
- A giant Mammoth and Neanderthals run around the museum.
- Snakes squirm in front of Larry's face.
- Large roaring lions chase Larry.
- Giant Egyptian statues have the head of a dog and the body of a man.
- A threatening Egyptian mummy tries to break out of its sarcophagus.
It is unlikely that anything in this movie would scare or disturb children in this age group.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
In a brief party scene, people sing out the word 'Tequila' while dancing.
This movie contains mild coarse language and verbal put-downs.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Night at the Museum is quite well done, but does not deliver as well as it could have in terms of storyline or character development. In fact, it becomes less funny as it progresses. Most older children and adolescents will probably find the film entertaining and enjoyable to view, as will many adults.
The main messages from this movie are the importance of pursuing your dreams and developing positive relationships. You might wish to talk with your child about the value of perseverance, commitment and compassion.