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Shawn Levy Gets Animated in his Return to the ‘Night at the Museum’ Franchise

‘Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again,’ now streaming on Disney+, follows long-time museum guard Larry Daley’s son Nick taking over from his dad, only to accidentally unleash the diabolical Egyptian pharaoh his first night on the job.

Though known lately for executive producing streaming hits like Stranger Things, Lost Ollie, Shadow and Bone and Unsolved Mysteries, Shawn Levy has also had his hand in a successful feature film franchise: Night at the Museum

Originally starring the BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning Ben Stiller, 2006’s Night at the Museum, directed by Levy, followed museum night security guard Larry Daley (Stiller) as he tried to tame, wrangle and even play peacekeeper for the museum’s exhibits that magically came to life each night after closing time. Night at the Museum was followed by two sequels - Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb - both directed by Levy. But the midnight mayhem of Manhattan’s Museum of Natural History hasn’t been revisited since 2014. 

But that’s no longer the case. This past Friday, December 9, Disney+ debuted Levy’s return to the franchise with its first fully animated effort: Night at the Museum: Kahmunrah Rises Again. The 2D animated film is produced by Walt Disney Pictures, 21 Laps Entertainment, 1492 Pictures, Alibaba Pictures, Artistry In Sound, and Disney+; it’s directed by The Loud House animator Matt Danner, with animation by Atomic Cartoons.

The story begins with Larry’s son Nick (Joshua Bassett) taking over his long-held position as night guard at the museum, where all the exhibit members are more than thrilled to have another Daley keeping a watchful eye on their home. However, when Nick neglects to lock the basement, where diabolical Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah is kept captive, things get a bit…explosive. The pharaoh escapes his confinement and wreaks havoc on Nick’s first night on the job. 

Levy, who serves as producer on the film, his first animated feature, talked with us about his goals with the movie’s design, why he chose animation over live-action, the freedom that choice gave him to bring some spectacle to the story, and his hopes for future installments of the franchise.  

But first, take moment to check out the trailer:

Victoria Davis: I grew up watching the Night at the Museum movies and can imagine many fans like myself are excited to revisit the story this way. But what's it like for you as the original filmmaker coming back to this world after almost a decade away?

Shawn Levy: Really meaningful. These movies changed the course of my life, and the way this franchise was embraced by such a wide range of ages, and all around the world, it was a huge part of my career. It's very close to my heart, which is why I wasn't going to allow an extension of the franchise unless it felt like it could be unique, but also loyal to the movies. And I wanted to make sure of this, which is why I insisted on producing the movie myself in a very hands-on way.

VD: And why animation? Why did that seem like the right way to revisit this? 

SL: It feels, to me at least, too soon to have the predictable conversation of a live-action reboot. And yet, these characters are so specific, so vivid, and in many cases, so beloved, that it felt like a juicy opportunity if we could give them an adventure in a different format. 

It was my first experience with animation, and what animation offered us was the ability to do visual spectacle and camera sophistication in a way that we couldn't afford to do in live-action. It also allowed us to explore an idea that I always wanted to do in the movies, but never got around to, which is museums coming to life as a tool for time travel. So that was very fun. And we also get to see Nick Daley grown up and trying to do the job that so defined his old man.

VD: I hear this from everyone that has started with live-action and then gone into animation, that their world opened up with all these new possibilities. Obviously, Night at the Museum had a ton of really cool CG, but what were some of the other things that you got to do in this film that you either couldn’t do in live-action, or that you wanted to explore once you knew this would be animated?

SL: I should say that the first decision, which was the smartest decision, was admitting that I'm not an animation director and hiring Matt Danner, who really knows the form and is so funny and understood the DNA of the movies, and wanted to do right by that. I'm massively grateful to Matt, who did a kick-ass job. 

But I would say even the opening shot of the movie, a shot that careens through New York City and ends up in that museum lobby, just declaring from the outset that there's going to be a visual scope and whimsy to this movie that the live-action movies couldn't and didn't achieve. It's still the characters that everyone knows and loves from the original movie, but it's got an idiosyncrasy, and a visual flavor that's very different and very much embraces its animated nature.

VD: Regarding the style, funnily enough, it actually reminded me a little of the 2006 Curious George, which is so nostalgic for a lot of us who grew up watching Night at the Museum. How did you guys decide on the film’s look? What did you hope to achieve with this style?

SL: For starters, I didn't want to do an animated movie that was trying to use such cutting-edge CG that it looks like a copycat of live-action. We wanted an animation style that embraced its artifice and nostalgia because, as much as Night at the Museum is a part of my life and career, it's a nostalgic title for so many people. I wanted an animation style that doubled down on that comfort food factor, but did it with writing that felt sharp and funny with both kid and grown-up humor in the way that the live-action movies had it. 

We could have done a more photoreal, sophisticated, contemporary approach to the animation, but there was something about this franchise that matched up well with a slightly more flat, nostalgic throwback animation aesthetic.

VD: Going from live-action to animation, or from animation to live-action, comes with so much pressure and tediousness, especially with a nostalgic fanbase. What were some of the things you made sure you did in this story, and what were things you made sure you absolutely didn't do?

SL: The main thing is the movies have always appealed to parents and kids. And so we wrote and rewrote and rerecorded and reanimated, and rewrote again. We went through many iterations to make sure that the movie was right. I watched my 11-year-old, who was home sick today, watching the movie and laughing out loud. But I also liked the fact that there are a lot of jokes in there that make me laugh, and we don't need to laugh at the same things. But we both need to laugh. 

With all the movies, I wanted something that didn't pander to the idea of kid humor, but also made kids laugh. So double layers in the comedy, a certain kind of visual scale and spectacle in the adventure and in the action, and was also really faithful to the franchise characters like Dexter, Jedediah, Octavius, Teddy Roosevelt, and Sacagawea, but also introduced some new treats, so that it doesn't feel like a pure rehash. We have Kahmunrah coming back, but my personal favorite character is Seth, and I think Joan of Arc is fantastic. 

VD: You mentioned at the beginning of this interview that you wouldn’t have done this project if it hadn't been something you thought was truly worthwhile. So, what was it that you saw in this film right away? And, as both parents and kids now watch it, what is it that you're hoping other people take away from the story?

SL: The years since I made these movies have repeatedly shown me how beloved these movies were, and still are, and I wanted to give these characters a new life with the current-day audience. My hope for it is that, if we did our job well, if people watch and enjoy this animated film, the franchise gets extended and not because I need it to, but because I'd love it to. 

I love these characters. I love this world, and this premise, and it's deeply gratifying to hear how many people still watch the old movies, and how many people might watch the new ones too. If we did our job right, maybe this is the first of several more. This franchise changed everything for me, and I don't think it's quite done with me yet.

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Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at