NightattheMuseum3coverGrade: B/B+
Entire family: Yes
2014, 98 min., Color
20th Century Fox
Rated PG for mild action, some rude humor and brief language
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD
Bonus features: B-

Quick. Name five action comedies that are rated PG. Can’t do it?

I’m not surprised. That’s not the direction Hollywood has been going. Most action comedies aim for an adult audience and then try to ratchet down the adult content in order to squeeze by with a PG-13 rating. But like its predecessors, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is obviously aimed at children, with an eye toward producing something that adults might enjoy as well.

And wholesome doesn’t mean dumbed down. Sure, there are more silly gags and sequences that will delight kids (like the “rude humor” bit where a monkey takes a page from Gulliver’s Travels and pees to put out a fire). But there’s also some smart writing, and as one of the excellent bonus features on this Blu-ray combo pack reveals, just as much ad-libbing from the stars—nuanced performances that adults can appreciate.

NightscreenBen Stiller anchors the cast again as Larry Daley, a security guard at a New York museum who works at night, when a magical Egyptian tablet brings all the exhibits to life. If your family liked Night at the Museum (2006) and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), you’ll like this one too. My wife and I thought it was just as good as the others, while my 13-year-old daughter said it was her favorite of the three. My 17-year-old son liked it except for Rebel Wilson (he hates her) and Larry’s 17-year-old son (Skyler Gisondo), whose character “wasn’t developed enough” for him.

Though Wilson doesn’t get much screen time as a British Museum security guard, the rest of us thought she was every bit as funny as the others. This franchise shifts the spotlight each time, and in Secret of the Tomb newcomer Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) and caveman Laaa (also played by Stiller) are featured. Attilla the Hun (Patrick Gallagher) gets more to do this outing, while miniature diorama guys Octavius the Roman (Steve Coogan) and cowboy Jedediah (Owen Wilson) have a side adventure that requires their rescue by Dexter, the stuffed monkey that comes to life with rest of the fake exhibits.

The plot has a Back to the Future vibe to it, since the magic tablet is gradually turning black and the museum gang starts to malfunction and lose mobility. To save them, Larry convinces museum director Dr. McPhee (Ricky Gervais) to let him take the tablet to London, where Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) can be reunited with his parents, who know the secret of the tablet. Can he find the answer and fix the tablet before his exhibit friends forever lose the ability to come to life?  

NightattheMuseum3screenThough their cameos are brief, adults will delight in seeing 89-year-old Dick Van Dyke dance up a storm in a retirement home sequence, where the late Mickey Rooney also appears. It was Rooney’s second-to-last performance, as it was for the late Robin Williams, to whom this film is dedicated. Adults will also appreciate a meticulously crafted M.C. Escher sequence, and while the allusions may not be many, what’s here is hilarious—like the Stiller-Wilson take-off on Dirty Dancing.

One of the actors remarks on a bonus feature how tough it was not to become distracted or awed by the elaborate sets, and the art design and visual effects are wonderful—there’s no other way to describe them. Especially impressive is an opening sequence in which Teddy Roosevelt (Williams) introduces all of the characters come-to-life and a constellation show at a dinner for museum donors . . . which goes horribly wrong and alerts Larry to the problem of the deteriorating tablet.

Secret of the Tomb is not without its bittersweet moments, and self-sacrifice is one of this sequel’s themes. So is allowing your children to grow up and make their own mistakes, or find their own way—even when they appear to be clueless. Going to college is another theme, along with making the best out of every moment.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, Secret of the Tomb successfully balances humor and action, with crisp pacing, terrific special effects, and an emotional core that keeps everything on-center. It looks amazing on Blu-ray, and the 7.1 soundtrack really fills the room. Secret of the Tomb is a true family movie, and a truly successful one that should get plenty of replays.