I don't remember the first Night at the Museum having a moral.
There was a kind of lesson about perseverance and sticking to a job and living up to one's responsibilities. But those were plot points more than anything. It was necessary to the story that Ben Stiller's character, Larry Daley, be someone who falls into a security guard job, that he has talents that he should be using to do something better so that he doesn't need the job---or shouldn't be in need of it---and can walk away from it as soon as something better comes along, and that he's the kind of person who's been in the habit of walking away from responsibilities. Larry has to what he is at the beginning of the movie in order for there to be a chance in the audience's minds that he will run out on the museum job and in order for the job to redeem him. It's Screenwriting 101. The story has to change the main character, which in comedies usually means he comes out in the end a better person than when went in. Larry starts off as an irresponsible drifter and winds up sheriff of this magical town that lives inside the Museum of Natural History. It's the plot of many a western.
So, yeah, the movie does "teach" its audience a few things about being a grown-up, but there's none of that Follow your dreams, listen to your heart, be true to yourself hokum that so many makers of movies aimed at kids feel obliged to tack onto their films. Larry's problem at the beginning of Night at the Museum is that he's been following his dreams , listening to his heart, and being true to himself. His dreams are vague and impractical, his heart hasn't been really in realizing his dreams, and the self he's being true to is an irresponsible arrested adolescent.
At the end of the movie Larry's become a capable and responsible adult, a guy who can take charge and knows how to get things done. So it's no surprise that at the beginning of the sequel, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Larry has become a successful inventor and businessman. He's left the museum, started his own company, and is making money by the sackful. The weird thing is that the movie treats his success as a tragedy.
Battle of the Smithsonian is a goofy film. Goofier than the first one. Way goofier. Way, way goofier. But's fun. A great deal of the fun is due to Hank Azaria's impersonation of Boris Karloff as an extremely polite and sophisticated metrosexual mummy come back from the dead. His Kahmunrah is very cheerful, good-natured, and considerate for an evil Pharaoh returning to the land of the living in order to unleash his armies of chaos upon the world. Azaria has all the best lines and is in most of the movie's best scenes probably because he makes them the best lines and best scenes.
And the film rolls along merrily from chase to chase, joke to joke, at a pace that doesn't give you much time to think about what's going on, and it probably sends most people out into the lobby at the end in a good mood, with the plot already fading from the memories of the grown-ups in the audience.
Most of the grown-ups.
Unfortunately, when it comes to movies, I have a tendency to think about things that don't bear thinking about. I noticed the moral the filmmakers were tying to slip in there.
Not a terrible moral as morals go, and like all morals it's profoundly true and utter nonsense, depending on what you decide it means.
Applied to Battle of the Smithsonian, it would appear to mean "It's better to be an eleven dollar an hour playmate to a collection of toys and stuffed animals than to be a successful and prosperous inventor and businessman, because who could be happy making lots of money if it means you have to go to meetings now and then?"
This would be trite enough if the movie had bothered to show us how Larry's job running his own company made him miserable---maybe if that morning he'd had to cancel the health insurance benefits for all his employees or outsource an entire division to India. Instead, it just assumes we'll understand that he's unhappy because he's not working at the museum anymore and that's the best darn job in the world.
The producers decided that the audience wouldn't want to see Larry working anywhere but the museum and would regard his return as a happy ending or at least an important ingredient of a happy ending. Larry's problem, the problem that his solving of other people's problems is meant to solve as his hero's reward, is that he has to find his way back to doing what he loves.
This would have been fine, if only they had found a different way to have removed Larry from the museum than by making him succeed due to talent, intelligence, ambition, and hard work.
Plus, in the first movie we were told that Larry wanted to be an inventor. He's in the sad sack state he's in because he can't follow through. So in addition to being successful he is in fact doing what he loves, inventing.
There are at least half a dozen other ways I can think of off the top of my head to have taken the museum job away from Larry and left him with the problem of getting the job back---just a for instance, he could have moved on to a better job of some kind that put his skills to work but left his heart uninvolved, like a middle-manager at a security company---that did not then put him in the position of having to make an absolutely insane choice at the end and throw an anti-success message at the kids in the audience.
But here's the thing. Larry didn't need to have been given that problem at all. His mission to save his museum friends from a fate worse than death---permanent lifeless storage in the Smithsonian's basement---presents him with another problem that's trouble enough without the addition of the one of finding his way back to his old job.
His new love interest is a wax doll.
Screenwriting 101 teaches that the hero must be changed by his adventure. Another way of saying that is that the hero must be rewarded for his effort. The reward may come in the form of a terrible self-knowledge, but in fairy tales and in the comedies and melodramas that are their modern counterparts the reward is usually the love of the princess.
This is complicated when the princess turns into a swan now and then or is cursed to sleep for a hundred years or is dead and lying in a glass coffin, but it's especially tricky when she isn't human at all. You would think, though, that a movie that's built on the premise that wax figures can come to life, fly airplanes, and give you kisses that can curl your toes there'd be a way to work around this. But for most of Battle for the Smithsonian it seems taken for granted not just by the producers but by Larry too that there is just no way for a human being and mannequin to make a go of it to the point that Larry doesn't even bother with her. For long stretches at a time, he seems entirely unaware that Amelia's right there by his side and dying to give him another one of those toe-curling kisses. Besides making Larry look like a callous ass, this gives Amy Adams very little to play off of and the result is that she spends a lot of her screen time acting as if she's rehearsing in front of a mirror, preparing for when Ben Stiller finally shows up and she gets to work with him.
This makes for a very cold dead spot in the place where the movie's romantic heart out to beat.
I'm not even going to get into the way the movie equates Larry's returning to his job as a security guard with Amelia Earhart's solo flight across the Atlantic.