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Night At The Museum: Smithsonian's PR Bonanza

The Smithsonian Institution had better have a plan for dealing with all those visitors who will come to the museums expecting to find Auguste Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker" or Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic."

Both are imaginatively placed in Washington, D.C. in the new movie comedy "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" starring Ben Stiller which opens Friday. (The Rodin is in Paris, the Wood painting in Chicago.)

NPR's Elizabeth Blair reported on Morning Edition today that Smithsonian officials had to right to approve the script and that they gave the filmmaker the right to put anything in the movie. And from the trailer, it appears Shawn Levy did just that.

Blair also reports there was initially some resistance among institution staffers to the movie. But they relented and even embraced it after a while.

The attraction to the Smithsonian? Millions of dollars worth of free publicity. As Blair put it:

But here's the thing. The Smithsonian is a taxpayer funded institution that has been running a deficit for years. By having its name in the title of a major Hollywood movie, the Smithsonian is getting exposure it could never afford on its own — on billboards, commercials, Milk Duds, Happy Meals, Kraft Macaroni'n'Cheese.

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Claire Brown, a spokeswoman at the Smithsonian, told Blair:

I think with Kraft that's 41 million packages, and kids eat a lot of mac'n'cheese.