Actor James Marsden has starred in a variety of movies and television, from superhero epics (X-Men) to drama (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and comedies (30 Rock, the upcoming Anchorman 2). But chances are your family probably recognizes him from one of his many kids’ movies, including Hop, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and my personal favorite, Enchanted.
We recently caught up with the 40-year-old star when he was hosting “SWAPtoberfest,” the launch party for Skylanders SWAP Force in Times Square. He told us all about making family movies, raising his three kids, and even showed off some of his video game skills.
How did you get involved with Skylanders? My kids have always loved the games. My 12-year-old boy and my 8-year-old daughter will play together, so it’s good to find a game we can enjoy as a family.
Are you a big video game fan? I have been off and on through my whole life. I have to watch myself because if I get into a game, I’m not very productive with other parts of my life. But I played a lot back in the ’80s, and now I usually will play with my kids.
You’ve been in several kids’ movies. Is that because of your own children? Completely. I’m not that interested in staying in one type of genre, so I do like to diversify the work a bit. But I like that with kids’ films, I’m making something that my own can enjoy. I get to experience the movie with my kids.
Do your kids like watching your movies? Films are very real to young kids, so they didn’t get the concept of seeing Dad on TV or on the movie screen. It was a little uncomfortable for them. Kids don’t want their parents to be anything but their parents. So I never introduced them to my films until they were old enough to grasp the concept of “Daddy’s playing pretend.” But they’re wonderfully underwhelmed with what I do. They think it’s cool, but they’re interested in movies I’m not in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Would you encourage your children if any of them were interested in acting? If their heart was into it, then I would encourage it no matter what. But I would probably make them wait until they were 18 to professionally get involved. Kids should be kids. You’re a kid for such a short period of your life, and you’re an adult for a large period. A lot of kids start in this business too soon, and they grow up too soon, in my opinion. So while they were young, I would encourage my kids to take acting classes, and to be in school drama, musicals and plays.
What’s your best parenting advice? Consistency and boundaries. I know that sounds very discipline-oriented, but I think that kids need to know what to expect. Set very specific boundaries for them, and within those boundaries, they can do whatever they want and embrace their individuality and their spirit. They need very clear ideas of what’s right and wrong and when they bump against that boundary, it’s not a hard moment. You want them to know what to expect and try to create a consistent environment for them.
We’re not far from where you filmed the infamous bus stabbing scene in Enchanted. They couldn’t close off Times Square, so we were doing it in front of tourists. It was the first time I thought, ‘This movie is either going to kill my career or it’s going to be really great.’ Luckily, it turned out to be really great. But it was an exceptional experience. Who else can say they’ve stabbed a bus in the middle of Times Square while wearing tights?
Image: James Marsden plays Skylanders with young fans, courtesy of Activision.
It’s a sad truth that animated movies rarely focus on an entire family, but The Croods is working to fix that. If you missed it in theaters back in March, the film is about a family of cavemen (and women), who face change and search for a new home in prehistoric times. The fun feature—which is now available on DVD—stars the voices of Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone and Ryan Reynolds.
We caught up with co-director (and father of two infant twins) Kirk DeMicco to get his take on kids’ movies:
Is there a particular message you want children to take away from the movie?
The characters are very pure of heart, especially the father, Grug. I felt like he was just afraid of anything happening to his family. It came from a very good place, even if to his children, it seems like he was wrong. The idea is that parents and children need to keep the lines of communication open.
How have families received The Croods?
It’s been really cool to watch our movie around the world. This is a story about a family and it transcends different cultures. There’s nothing outwardly American about it, so everyone could relate. In Italy, they’d say, “This must be an Italian family because the grandma is there.” And then the Spanish people would say, “This must be a Spanish family because the mother-in-law is there.” And so it was really interesting to see how many cultures took it on as their own, saying “Oh, that’s us.”
Your movie focuses on a whole family, but most animated kids’ movies only have one parent, if any. Why do you think this is the case?
We have a theory that there are often no moms because these movies are always about characters making giant mistakes, so they can learn a lesson in the end. The problem is, a mom would be like “Yeah, don’t run away.” And then the character would realize it was really stupid and then there would be no movie.
What are your favorite animated movies or TV shows?
As a kid, I loved the Charlie Brown episodes. I love how those stories never talked down to kids. They were just kids going through pretty profound situations and having big thoughts about life. Plus, the fact that the animation is not perfect makes it really charming. You see mistakes and it feels handmade, like you could see people working on it. Now, movies are so polished. It’s the little imperfections that bring charm sometimes.
We are excited to announce that Twentieth Century Fox is letting us give away a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of The Croods to five of our readers! To enter, just leave a comment on this post. You can comment once a day between now and the end of the day on Wednesday, October 16, 2013. You can also read the official rules. Goody luck!
Update: The contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winners: Nicole Amorosi Rollins, Bonnie Leigh, Carmen Van Deursen, Mary Singer and Dana Amorosi.
Now that October is here, it’s time to get into the spooky spirit. But finding Halloween-related entertainment that’s not too scary for little ones can be tricky. The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow is a cute mini-movie involving the annual Smurfberry Hunt—and possibly a ghost or two. The film is rated G and features the voices of Hank Azaria, Alan Cumming, Fred Armisen and Anton Yelchin.
We are excited to announce that Sony is letting us give away a prize package—which includes the DVD and two Smurf figurines—to five of our readers! To enter, just leave a comment on this post. You can comment once a day between now and the end of the day on Wednesday, October, 9, 2013. You can also read the official rules. Goody luck!
Update: The contest is now closed. Congratulations to our winners: Amanda Pacurar, Evan Rollins, Livivua C. Chandler, Renee Madeline and Marla Wessland.
Growing up, The Little Mermaid was one of my first favorite movies. I had all of the coolest Ariel clothes and merchandise, including a bathing suit, a beach towel, bed sheets, and an umbrella. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve sadly had to retire almost all of those items (although I still use the beach towel!). But my love for the classic Disney film is still going strong.
It’s hard to believe, but soon the movie will be turning 25. And despite its age, The Little Mermaid is still immensely popular with young children. In fact, it is a favorite with my 4-year-old niece, who gave me a colored picture of Ariel’s grotto for my birthday a few months ago. To celebrate the anniversary, Disney is releasing a special Diamond Edition Blu-ray, which includes bonus features like behind-the-scenes animation footage and a “Crab-E-OKE” sing-along.
Naturally, I was thrilled to interview Jodi Benson, the voice of Ariel and a mother of two kids (a 14-year-old son and a 12-year old daughter). She told me all about her reactions to the beloved movie, her best parenting advice, and her experiences with homeschooling.
Why do you think the movie has such a lasting appeal with both kids and adults? At the time, I think everyone was ready for a fairy tale. There hadn’t really been one since Sleeping Beauty [released in 1959]. We also had the incredible Howard Ashman and Alan Menken writing the score, plus the hand-painted and hand-drawn animations. It was just the perfect mix at the right time.
Between sequels, soundtracks and promotional events, it seems like being Ariel has become a full-time job for you. Did you realize in the beginning that it would be such a big part of your career? It’s been a really great ride. But no, absolutely not. It was all a huge, wonderful surprise. I just expected to do the job and disappear, so we were completely blown away.
Do you have a favorite song or favorite scene? I have to say “Part of Your World” and that whole underwater grotto scene. I think it is just beautifully animated. And getting to record that song with Howard Ashman at my side, just directing me every step of the way, was really such a great memory for me.
Did your children watch The Little Mermaid growing up? I revealed it to both of them when they were about 2 or 3. I tried to make the connection by standing next to the TV screen and singing and speaking along with it, just to help them make the realization, “Mommy is Ariel!” They reacted very positively. But once my son made the connection, he would start crying when I sang in public at concerts if he was there. It was like, then I wasn’t his mom anymore. He liked it when Ariel and Mommy were just for him in private.
You’ve homeschooled your children for 11 years. What is that experience like? It’s been an incredible journey. We had put our son into a little preschool in Los Angeles and it was just not going well, so we brought him back home. We had every intention of putting him back into a traditional school setting but we just really couldn’t find the right match for him. And then we moved to Georgia and again couldn’t find the right match. So year by year, it just kept going and going. And then our daughter was here, and it just became part of our life. We realized the flexibility it gave our family; the kids can travel with us, so it just seemed to work best. So 11 years into it, we’re still going strong.
Do you plan to continue all the way through their education? We take it pretty much one year at a time. It’s a huge calling and a huge responsibility, and it’s very challenging. But we feel like this is what God has called us to do for now. And it might not work for next year, so we’re very open to whatever is going to be best for the kids.
It is tough to balance homeschooling with your work schedule? Yes, it can be a challenge with work and travel. Both of the kids are in club soccer so they have some intense travel seasons as well. But homeschooling has given us some wonderful flexibility and some great life experiences, especially with our son. He is a sophomore in high school at this point, and he would be missing some of these once-in-a-lifetime trips with us because of needing to stay home. So he made the decision to stay in homeschooling. It needs to be the kids’ decision.
What’s the best parenting advice you would give? I can only speak for my husband and myself, but we don’t feel like we could do any of this parenting without our faith. We are in uncharted territory when it comes to two teenage kids but we do rely a lot on a whole ton of prayer. We also work hard to keep great bonds of communication open with our children. Ever since the kids were babies, we have treated them with respect. We are the mom and dad for sure, but we look for opportunities for us to sit down and say, “How are things going for you? Is there anything that we can do as parents to help you? Let’s all come up with a solution together.” We work better as a team.
Staying in tonight? You’ll want to check out Target’s brand new digital video service, Target Ticket. The site features more than 30,000 movies and television shows to choose from, including plenty of family favorites and recent releases. (I know where I’ll be catching up on this summer’s blockbusters!)
With so many online movie services out there now, it can be tough to figure out which one is right for you. But we like that Target partnered with Common Sense Media to give users access to thousands of reviews, each of which include an age rating, important information for parents to know, and even some topics to discuss after viewing. And if your children tend to disagree on what to watch, parents can set up a profile for each user, which allows different movies to stream simultaneously on multiple devices.
Anyone who opens a new account through February is given 10 free downloads on a group of pre-selected movies (among which, there are several kid-friendly films like Fern Gully, Rango and Space Jam, in addition to movies for Mom and Dad.) There are no subscription or sign-up fees, and prices start as low as $0.99.
What do you think of Target Ticket? Download the app or login on your desktop computer, and let us know!
We’re big fans of the The Story Pirates, a musical sketch-comedy group with performances based on stories written by children. (It’s been described as “Monty Python meets Schoolhouse Rock.”) So we’re especially excited to announce that you can now enter the No Kidding? Just Kidding! Sweepstakes for a chance to win a family trip to New York City this fall to meet and watch The Story Pirates live. And if you win, the group will even let your child perform in the show!
This weekend getaway—sponsored by Symphony Space in New York City and Sirius XM Satellite Radio’s “Kids Place Live”—will be full of comedy, music and delicious food. There are other great prizes included in the sweepstakes, including T-shirts, books and CDs. And everyone is a winner this time, because each entrant receives free digital downloads of over a dozen childrens’ songs, by artists such as Justin Roberts, Recess Monkey and Joanie Leeds.
For more information, watch this fun video featuring Lee from Story Pirates:
Feeling lucky? The sweepstakes closes on August 21, 2013, so hurry and enter now. (Note! Leaving a comment below doesn’t mean you’ve entered, so make sure you follow the above link).
NCIS: Los Angeles star Chris O’Donnell has joined with The ConAgra Foods Foundation’s Hunger-Free Summer program to raise awareness for kids who depend on free or reduced lunch meals during the school year. Now in its fourth year, the initiative has delivered over 2.5 million meals and snacks to children struggling with hunger over the summer. The goal is to reach at least 25 percent more children in need during the summer than before, over the course of five years.
We spoke with O’Donnell about the program, his career, and what it’s like to raise five children.
How do you manage raising so many kids? Do you ever have peace and quiet? On a normal day, peace and quiet doesn’t begin until the last one goes to sleep, which gets later and later as they get older. My wife Caroline and I do try to find time for just the two of us, run out for a glass of wine or a quick dinner. The noise feels like the new normal at this point. If it gets too quiet, that usually means trouble.
What’s the best part of having a big family?
In terms of our children, we try to encourage each of them to explore their individual interests since they are each so unique. It is fun watching them as they dabble in all types of sports and extracurricular activities.
You took time off from your acting career to focus on your family. Was that a scary decision to make?
I had a couple moments early in my career where it was more about re-examining my life. I started young and had a lot of success out of the gate. I would go movie, to movie, to movie, and would never see the people I worked with again. I was really getting burnt out on a personal, emotional level. And that’s just not who I am. The road I wanted to go down was to be married and have a family.
Did raising kids ever get easier for you? By the time you were on the fifth baby, did you feel like you had a handle on things?
I think going from two to three kids was the most difficult, but it does get easier. The older kids start to behave and help out, and we are more experienced as well. We don’t stress out over small things that may have freaked us out in our first couple years as parents.
What’s your best advice for busy parents out there?
From my perspective, it’s important for parents to set a good example for their kids, and impart on them that they should think about and help others.
Why is the Hunger-Free Summer Program particularly important to you?
I was shocked to learn that one in five children in the U.S. faces food insecurity—and that the situation only becomes more worrisome during the summer months. It can be an invisible issue, so as a father of five, I want to do something to help.
Want to help O’Donnell and the Hunger-Free Summer initiative? Check out www.ChildHungerEndsHere.com and watch O’Donnell’s message below. For every video viewed and shared, ConAgra will donate one meal to Feeding America, the country’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization.
Did you catch the Tonys last night? To be honest, I know almost nothing about theater, but I was excited that Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella won Best Costume Design of a Musical. I was lucky enough to see the show a few weeks ago, and it was a wonderful experience. And it’s no surprise that the costume design was recognized—even the Broadway-obsessed friend I brought with me was impressed with Cinderella’s transformation from rags to beautiful ball gown right in front of the audience’s eyes. I’m still trying to figure out how those seemingly magical outfits worked, so I’m sure as a little girl, I would have been convinced that performer Laura Osnes was a real princess.
The story is a bit different from the classic Disney animated film that most of us are familiar with, but it’s a nice change of pace. And a cheeky sense of humor combined with the lively, gorgeous score keeps adults engaged throughout. The show is almost two and a half hours, so it may be a little long for very young kids (the official recommendation is 4 years and up). But otherwise, it is a fantastic family event. Find out more about the show here, and be sure to check out the original cast recording so you can relive the experience over again.