My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is Full of Laughs and Family + Interview with Nia Vardalos, John Corbett and more

In theaters March 25, Toula and the whole family are back together for My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Fourteen years after the success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos has written a sequel that will have the entire family cracking up and embracing their own crazy relatives.


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Set 10 years after Toula and Ian Miller married in the first movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 gathers the star-studded ensemble cast to swig Uzo, devour Baklava, laugh with the Portokalos family, redefine relationships and, of course, to celebrate a big fat Greek wedding. 


Academy Award nominee Nia Vardalos took inspiration from her own life when writing My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. Following her journey to become a mother after adopting her daughter within the American foster system, Vardalos documented her story in her book, “Instant Mom.” While promoting her New York Times bestseller, Vardalos spotted a mother, similar in age to herself, in line. The woman was part of the sandwich generation, in which she was busy parenting her kids while helping her aging parents. From there, Vardalos imagined what the Portokalos and Millers’ family life was like 10 years later. She wrote the script of My Big Fat Greek Wedding and gathered the original cast for another soiree.


In honor of this absolutely hysterical film, I was invited by Universal to take part in an absolutely wonderful press conference with several cast members. We heard from Elena Kampouris who plays Paris Miller. We listened to Joey Fatone who played Angelo and Andrea Martin who plays Aunt Voula. And we also had the pleasure of interviewing Nia Vardalos, John Corbett and director Kirk Jones.


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I was enchanted by Elena Kampouris’ interview. She was poised and well-spoken—pretty much the opposite of the dark and dreary teenager she portrayed. I was able to ask Elena about Paris’ storyline and this is what she had to say:


NKT: So the message about strong women is such an important part of Paris’ storyline.  Do you have any advice or insight on how other teen girls can harness girl power for good? 

Ms. Elena Kampouris: Absolutely, yes.  Well, what I love that Nia did with this movie is, a lot of people have asked, oh, are they going to do a third movie?  Are you going to get married?  And I don’t think that would be the case, and I know that Nia’s not all about that.  Because in the film, she makes a point, if you’re a teen girl and you get to a certain age and you’re expected to get married, you don’t have to. 

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You can do what you feel is right for you, what your path and your heart is telling you is right.  So I like that Nia makes that point.  And for myself, I aspire to be a weapon of love and mass creation.  To inspire positivity and empowerment.  Not just with women, but with everybody.  I think we should all feel equal and I think that Nia has infused that into the movie a little bit, especially with Paris’ character, and I love that. 




I loved listening to Nia Vardalos impart her creativity, as well as understanding Kirk Jones’ creativity and indulging in John Corbett’s charm. (Could they be any more gracious with our questions and photos?)


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In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, Toula and Ian struggle with the status quo that had become their life. So busy parenting, like many couples, Toula and Ian forgot how to be in a relationship with each other. Their angsty teenage daughter, Paris, played by the eloquent Elena Kampouris, has college ambitions that would leave her mom seeking for solace. Never a family without drama, Toula always found herself responsible for her aging parents and dealing with her needy cousins and friends.




The highlight and my major takeaway from the press conference was the question I asked Nia, John and Kirk about balance. I appreciated their insight and it certainly give you a look at one of the main themes of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.


NKT: Nia, the beauty of your writing is that it resonates with from the young to the old.  Everyone has a family member in the cast.  But my question is for anyone.  How do you think people can balance everything?  We see the messaging in the story, but can we have it all?  Can we balance our parenting without letting our relationships set to the side? 

Ms. Nia Vardalos: Let’s all answer that, if you don’t mind.  I believe that that balance is a quest.  And I think that we need the yin and the yang and the only way to know that you’re off balance is to lose it a little bit.  So I’m actually happy for those dark places in my life, because I find the light–I appreciate the light so much more. 

Mr. Kirk Jones: I think it’s increasingly difficult to find a balance in life.  And you would think that as a species, if we were so smart and we were so advanced, then where we should be at the moment in our history of evolution is that we should working about three days a week and we should be spending real quality time, four days a week, with our families and hobbies and just kind of improving ourselves.  But that isn’t the case.  

I don’t know about anyone here, but more and more with email and technology and computers.  It’s like 24/7 we’re all going.  And I seriously think there’s going to be a backlash.  I think we will look at this period in our history and in maybe 10 years or so, I think, especially a lot of young people will say, “Do you know what?  We just need to get out and live our lives a little bit, instead of being slaves to trying to organize everything and control everything.”  But it’s difficult.  It’s really difficult to keep a balance. 

Mr. John Corbett: And when I was, I guess I was about 18, I decided to never get married or have children, so I think I have the best life up here. 

Ms. Nia Vardalos: But John’s so smart, too.  John went off social media just to get off it, and I just thought that was so smart.  This is the thing that just, it breaks my heart.  I walk into a coffee store and everyone’s got their heads down looking at a screen.  And I know I sound old school, but we are the sum total of our relationships, and we’re missing out on so much with our heads down.  Not that I don’t love twitter.  I do.  But I limit my time.  



I laughed so hard and I even shed a few tears during the film. As I told my friend, Mitch of NYC Gay Dad, I don’t think I’ve laughed out loud throughout an entire movie in so long. I got married right around the same time as the first movie, and I have a very large and loud Filipino family, so I could relate to the films on so many levels. But in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, I really felt like Nia could see in my soul and wrote this movie for moms and women like me. Not only does she get the whole parenting thing (wanting to be there for everything and never wanting to let go) but she also gets the marriage limbo. What do we talk about if we don’t talk about work or kids? For those of us in the throes of parenthood and marriage, Toula and Ian are our soul animals, and Nia nails it with the dialogue. The humor was well-timed, making it such a fun film for those who are going through the different phases in life.


Full disclosure: I was invited as media to cover the press conference and interview. I was not compensated and all opinions are my own.

Interview with Lucy Liu, one of the Stars of Kung Fu Panda 3

 Po and friends are back for Kung Fu Panda 3, and their adventures are as crazy as ever.


In Kung Fu Panda 3, Po reunites with his long lost father. Together, Po and his biological panda father travel to a secret panda paradise where he meets relatives and other panda characters. Things get dicey when the villain Kai threatens all the kung fu masters across China. Po is faced with trying to train the village, all of whom are challenged with coordination and motivation.

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I had the chance to get a glimpse of the film before it was finalized and I literally LOLed so many times. As part of this fun opportunity, I was invited to participate in an intimate roundtable with Lucy Liu, who voices Viper, one of the characters from the beloved Kung Fu Panda franchise.


As an Asian American mama, I was thrilled to have the chance to meet Lucy Liu, an actor and intelligent entertainer whom I’ve admired for years. I was curious about Liu’s background as a prominent Asian American actor and new mom so I asked her about race and her thoughts on her influence on the younger generation.


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NKT: I wanted to talk a little bit about growing up, there really weren’t a lot of Asian American performers, entertainers, actors, actresses.  What are your thoughts on what you could tell kids who may be interested in getting in the business on creating that diverse voice that other kids can look up to?  


Ms. Lucy Liu:  That’s an excellent question.  I think that now it’s becoming a little bit easier because we’re such a mixed race.  And I mean, nobody’s just purely Chinese anymore or purely from another country.  Especially in New York City, I think we’re spoiled because I think when we go outside of the country, it’s very segregated.  There’s a Koreatown, there’s a Chinatown, there’s all of those things.


But, I do think that the most important thing is to create opportunities for yourself and not wait for other people to give them to you.  And it’s really a great thing for kids, especially because they like to be motivated.  They like projects.  They like to be creative.  And it’s just an idea of what is going to spur them to be the most creative and to never limit them, to allow them to make movies on their phone, to let them play, you know?


And that’s what a child does.  A child plays and an adult is continuing that, one would hope.  Do you know what I mean?  


NKT: Absolutely.


Ms. Lucy Liu:  And I think that sometimes we forget that.  Sometimes we forget because we’re so exhausted or we have so many responsibilities.  


But, we also have to remember and remind ourselves for that gratitude, because for me gratitude also brings you back to the source of who you are ultimately.  And I think that’s something that I want to instill in my family, always, always.  


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I loved Lucy’s answer, but especially her last statement about gratitude. Gratitude also brings you back to the source of who you are ultimately. What a great message!


I can’t wait to see rest of the film, which will be out in theaters on January 29. Until then, be sure to check out the trailer




Full disclosure: This Event was hosted by 20th Century Fox & DreamWorks Animation. As always, all opinions on NKT are my own.

Celebrating Hotel Translyvania 2 at the Bronx Zoo

Just before the highly anticipated Hotel Translyania 2 hit theaters, the boys and I were thrilled to enjoy a day with the Drac Pack at the Bronx Zoo. Hosted by our friends at Kidz Vuz and Sony Pictures, we enjoyed breakfast in an event space overlooking the Congo Gorilla Forest.

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The guys were beside themselves by their incredible surroundings and hanging with our blogger friends. Actually, I don’t think we did much eating; we certainly took in the sights more than anything else.

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We absolutely loved meeting and greeting the Drac Pack and posing with our cool capes. In the new animated film, several notable names get in on the monster fun: Adam Sandler once again voices the lovable Dracula, Andy Samberg voices Jonathan, Selena Gomez lends her voice for Mavis, Kevin James is Frankenstein, Steve Buscemi voices Wayne and David Spade is Griffin.


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As part of the event, we had the chance to learn more about bats from the Bronx Zoo experts. My guys loved learning about Rodriguez Bats and all about their environments and what they eat. It was so cool to see them in their habitat at the zoo.

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Thanks to Sony and Kidz Vuz, we enjoyed the rest of the day at the Bronx Zoo exploring and taking in all of the fun with our friends!

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Be sure to check out Hotel Translyvania 2, which is now in theaters!


Full disclosure: I was provided with a stipend to cover transportation costs. As always, all opinions on NKT are my own.

An Ode to Music and Relationships: Ricki and the Flash Review

This one isn’t for the kids, but definitely for the parents who love music and for those that can relate to chasing dreams.

Rock dramas could easily populate a genre of its own. The new film, Ricki and the Flash starring Meryl Streep, is a unique story that seems to transcend genres and your typical rockstar story.

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Directed by Jonathan Demme and written by Diablo Cody, Ricki and the Flash is a story about a musician who set out to chase dreams at the expense of her family and traditional path in life. Ricki Randazzo, the veteran rocker, played by Streep, is at her best on stage, alongside of her multi-faceted band, the Flash. When her adult daughter is facing a crisis back home in Indiana, she has a chance to redeem her role as mother and come to the rescue, when she, herself, could use a dose of the same support and rescuing.


In Ricki and he Flash, Meryl’s starring role has the potential to upstage this heartwarming story. Ricki’s relationship with her daughter, Julie, played by Mamie Gummer, is a modern mother-daughter relationship heightened by dysfunction and healing.  Mamie and Meryl’s onscreen relationship catapulted their real-life mother-daughter chemistry, and further solidified Mamie’s rising star status. Man, does she play the angsty, bitchy victim well!

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Ricki’s boyfriend, Greg, played by the ruggedly charming, Rick Springfield, lifts the love storyline at the best possible moments. Kevin Kline played a conservative secondary character as Ricki’s ex-husband. The talented Andra McDonald was nice to see in the film, but I thought her character was underutilized. 

The strengths of this film are the relationships, the live music and the raw emotion. When all three catalysts are in full force, expect all the feelings. All of them.


As Ricki, we see Meryl as we’ve never seen her before. She’s passionate about her music and doesn’t apologize for chasing her dream to be a rockstar. At one point of the film, while on stage, she starts a diatribe about why women are punished for putting careers first. We knew she was talented, but she takes her musical chops to the next level. She learned to play the guitar for the film and shows her rockstar status in various scenes. Of all the songs played, “Cold One” is undoubtedly the most unforgettable. This song catapults different meanings with every time it’s played, with the last scene making it all come full circle.

If you’ve ever chased a dream, wanted to chase a dream or had a dysfunctional relationship, Ricki and the Flash will resonate with you. The relationships portrayed by Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer and Rick Springfield make this film worth seeing and believing in second chances.

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On that note, I had a cool opportunity to sit in on a blogger junket with three of the main characters of Ricki and the Flash. As expected, Meryl was gracious, Mamie was cool and reflective, but quite honestly, Rick stole the show for many of us who grew up listening to him.


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I have a short video to share of his impromptu serenade! Several people asked the predictable questions about Meryl working with Mamie, and what it was like for Meryl to play live for the movie. (It was great to work together; and it was fun to rock out with Rick and the band!)

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The one question I asked had to do with music for the film and how music affects them. 

 “The music and lyrics throughout Ricki and the Flash complemented the storyline and evoked so much emotion between Ricki and Julie and Ricki and Greg. Do any of you have songs or lyrics that could be a part of your life’s soundtrack?

Mamie Gummer answered that she spent many years listening to powerful female musicians such as Sarah McClaughlan, Fiona Apple and attending Lillith Fair—the type of music that speaks to your emotions.


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As a college kid of the 90s, I can totally relate to this language and music choice!

Ricki and the Flash is now in theaters and is rated PG-13. 


Kevin, Stuart and Bob are Hilarious in Minions Movie

Everyone’s favorite hilarious little yellow characters are front and center in Universal Pictures’ Minions. As the leads in their namesake animated feature, the Minions are up to some shenanigans and life before Gru. 

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Minions explores life for the yellow fellows and their hunt for their leader. When collaborations with leaders like Napoleon, Dracula and dinosaurs ultimately fail, the Minions decide to tap some of their best, er, most willing guys—Kevin, Stuart and Bob—set off on a hunt for their true leader. 

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Several series of events lead the trio to their chance encounter with an evil family who help them get down to the Villain Con in Orlando.

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Their search leads them to Scarlet Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock) and then becoming her evil henchmen. Kevin, Stuart and Bob are tasked with taking the British crown, which then leads to them becoming royalty and making Scarlett feel threatened. Because the Minions are loyal, they grant Scarlet the monarchy and things get a little crazy to say the least. Kevin, Stuart and Bob beckon the rest of their crew to England and must save the World in the process.

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Despite the evil brouhahas and constant scheming, Minions is a story about friendship, loyalty and courage. In their first foray as the lead, the Minions are able to endure their brand of comedy and nonsensical scenarios, without uttering a complete intelligible sentence, thanks to the supporting cast and silly storyline. Sandra Bullock’s Scarlett Overkill added a feisty flavor to the mix, as did Jon Hamm as Her Overkill. We learn to love the Minions’ imperfections even more than we already do, and Kevin, Stuart and Bob 

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My Minion-obsessed 3-year-old sat through the entirety of the 1 hour 44 min runtime, and could’ve watched it several times over. I thought it could’ve been a little shorter, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Overall, Minions is a fun family flick, and one that’s sure to be a hit with the littlest guys, as well as the adults. 

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Minions hits theaters on July 10th.

Rihanna, Jim Parsons and Steve Martin Take us ‘Home’ in Dreamworks’ Latest Family Film

In Dreamworks’ new animated film, “Home”, two unlikely characters cross paths and work together to overcome alienation while learning to embrace imperfections.

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When the free-spirited tween, Tip, voiced by Rihanna, finds herself isolated and alone as the eccentric aliens, Boov, colonize Earth, she ventures out with her cat to search for her mom. As the Boov settle into their new digs, the quirky and often misunderstood, Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons, finds himself in another unfortunate scenario when he mistakenly sends a party invitation to everyone in his contact list—including their evil enemy, Gorg. When the cluelessly arrogant Boovian leader Captain Smek, voiced by comic legend Steve Martin, finds out that Oh made another mistake that might cost them their new home, ultimately, Oh is banished. 

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 At the press junket a few weeks ago, I enjoyed listening to Rihanna, Parsons and Martin as they charmed a room full of bloggers and journalists.


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To my surprise, Rihanna was hilarious and self-deprecating; at one point, I totally felt as though we could potentially be BFFs. When a fellow blogger asked Rihanna about how important it was for Tip to resonate with her own character and traits, I appreciated her candor:

 “I think it was both important to me and DreamWorks Animation for this to be as realistic as possible.  We wanted little girls to feel empowered, little girls of any size, shape, color, race.  It didn’t matter.  We wanted girls to just feel strong and brave and empowered and beautiful and like they can do anything.  And they can take charge of their life or their situation no matter what.”

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Hopefully, girls and boys will appreciate and be influenced by Tip’s fearlessness and determination to rise above adversity.

In person, Parsons was just as charming as I’d envisioned. When asked what his takeaways were from “Home,” Parsons appreciated several of Oh’s strengths.

“Oh has his own selection of them too, this optimism and eagerness and friendliness and hopefulness, that I don’t carry with me as in abundance and as much of the time as he does.  And there’s not a good reason for–I mean, life gets in the way.”


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Parsons provided charm and awkward likability to the outcasted Oh, while Rihanna gave Tip a sassy, yet vulnerable persona. As recognizable entertainers who stepped out of their usual realm, providing voiceovers for Home was a new frontier for both Rihanna and Jim Parsons.

It was Martin’s brand of grandiose comedy that made Captain Smek’s arrogance and cowardice believable, yet strangely likable. Martin, of course, could effortlessly entertain the room with a single sentence.  As for Martin’s takeaway from the film:

“I’m vowing to be more animated.  That’s true.”

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 Jennifer Lopez voiced Tip’s mom and lent her vocals for one of the songs in Home. With nods to popular lyrics and a unique soundtrack, the music was just as fun as the story itself.


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“Home” unearths a number of themes, but one message that will hit home for kids and families is that camaraderie and friendship sometimes evolve when you least expect it. Despite their differences, when Tip and Oh reluctantly partner up to overcome adversity, they realize they have just as many similarities as they have differences.


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As their adventure unfolds, they learn about their own personal strengths and acceptance for things out of their control. As Tip and Oh bond and travel to search for family and safety, ultimately, they find friendship and compassion. Dreamworks’ “Home” is yet another fulfilling family film that explores into multiple thought-provoking themes while maintaining a fun and relatable storyline for kids. 


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Overall, this is a fun film for families, but the story may be too big for littler audiences. For those who might not understand complex story lines or who can’t sit through an hour film, I wouldn’t recommend seeing Home in the theaters. At times, I felt that the dialogue was abrupt and borderline questionable. I found myself instinctively thinking a few times “we don’t say that,” as if my 7 year old was watching next to me. Toward the end, in one of the turnkey scenes, grief and loss is a brief topic. So, if your child is uneasy about loss and darker concepts such as evil, I’d give a second thought before watching “Home.”

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From Tip and Oh’s light-hearted coming of age story, we learn that the idea of “home” transcends its literal meaning of a place or a thing. “Home” playfully depicts home as a feeling of contentment and a personal destination where love, life, family, friends converge. Home arrives in theaters on March 27.



Full disclosure: I was invited to participate in this press junket, but did not receive compensation. As always, opinions on NKT are my own.

Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb is a Funny Family Film

When you walk through the hallowed halls of the Museum of Natural History, there’s a certain mystique and aura that precedes the NYC institution. And then when you add Larry and his ensemble cast of historic legends, and yes, even Dexter the monkey, well, that aura gets a little crazy and downright comical. Larry and his band of wax misfits are back for the third installment of Night at the Museum Franchise, but this time, they’re taking their shenanigans on the road, or rather, across the pond. Ben Stiller and the A-list cast star in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb which follows the crew on a wild adventure in hopes of saving the magic that keeps the museum alive.


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Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb begins with a throwback Indiana Jones-like story that sets the Egyptian theme. As archaeologists hunt for secret tombs, a young man stumbles upon the holy grail and magical tablet—the same tablet that’s been “waking up” the museum exhibits at night. As the story forwards ahead to present time, we rejoin Larry the security guards who’s been promoted to the nighttime activities director.

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Larry orchestrates an elaborate show for a dinner party at the museum, complete with the exhibits who have come to life. Everything is going as planned until the centuries-old tablet starts to get glitchy. As the golden tablet starts to tarnish, the museum characters who are performing in Larry’s show run amuck.  Secret of the Tomb follows Larry’s quest fix the tablet in order to save his friends. But in order to save his friends, Larry must get answers from Ahkmenrah’s father who is at the British Museum on exhibit. 

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Like the previous movies in the franchise, Secret of the Tomb is slapstick funny, fast-paced and over the top. The dialogue and storyline are equally hilarious, but it’s the new faces and cameos that make the laughs even greater in this movie. Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney’s cameos were good for a chuckle. Hugh Jackman’s well-timed cameo was fantastic as well. Rebel Wilson’s gratuitous bits of misguided authority and romantic encounters were a highlight in this installment. 


Robin Williams’ Teddy Roosevelt was astute and upheld his regal role. Because it was one of Williams’ last roles before his untimely passing, it was inevitable to have a heavy heart, especially when Teddy reminds Larry to do great things.


Since this movie is geared to families and kids, I have to mention what my 7 year old thought about Secret of the Tomb. If he could sum up the movie in one sentence, he would tell everyone he knows: “This movie is so great because the monkey pees on the guys.” Beyond all the clever comedy, great action sequence with Lancelot and Larry’s son, among other fantastic special effects, my 7 year old’s most memorable part is the crazy monkey’s antics.  So, yeah…the kids will love it.

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Last week, I had the honor of sitting in on a blogger round table with some of the stars, including Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens and director Shawn Levy.  They were all gracious with answering our questions; some were more studious and reserved than I expected, others were as loquacious and commanding, exactly as I envisioned.


Rebel Wilson was lovely and just as funny as you can imagine. Rebel told us that she loved her role as Tilly and loved that hat just as much.  She loved the hat so much, she wanted to buy it, and it ended up costing her $600! I appreciated her poise and candor during our interview.

My friend Linda Grant asked Rebel what she thought about being a role model for young ladies. Rebel answered humbly by saying that she didn’t consider herself a role model, but is happy that her young fans find her funny.


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My fellow blogger friends all asked great questions, my statement and question was part serious and funny. I told the actors and directors that I appreciated how the characters understood that they were museum exhibits and that they were there to help kids learn and to educate the public. On that end, I asked if any of them had any crazy stories or shenanigans at a museum or other educational type of place.  Ben Stiller revealed that he used to skip school in high school and hang out at AMNH. Geeky me was all, “Oh that’s so cool!”  We all got a kick out of Ben’s rebellious ways, but it was a perfect way to sum up the quirkiness of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

Penguins of Madagascar is a Smart and Funny Family Flick

The Penguins of Madagascar are back, and this time, they’re stars of their own movie. Produced by Dreamworks and distributed by 20th Century Fox, Penguins of Madagascar is a fast-paced and funny story about four penguin friends.


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Penguins of Madagascar, which hits theaters on Wednesday, November 26, sheds light into the backstory of the funny foursome: Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private. The spinoff to the Madagascar franchise, the Penguins’ adventure follows their pursuits in preventing the peculiar Dr. Octavius Brine from taking over the world.


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Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private must work together with North Wind undercover agents while keeping their character in tact and eating as much Cheezy Dibbles along the way. Above all pursuits, Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private embrace their brotherhood and prove the importance of loyalty.


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Famous names lend their voices to this fun film: John Malkovich is Dave, Ken Jeong is hilarious as Short Fuse and Benedict Cumberbatch is Classified the gray wolf. Like other Dreamwork films, the humor in Penguins is witty and smart, relevant for the parental audience, but still silly and fun for the kid contingent.  With all the action, adventure and fun, Penguins has all the elements for fantastic family film and impeccably-timed for the holidays.

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In honor of the Penguins Movie, we were invited to a press junket in the City. Together with several other bloggers’ families, we enjoyed the day at the Bronx Zoo, where we toured the Madagascar exhibit and watched a private feeding of Magellanic Penguins and were treated to breakfast and lunch courtesy of Residence Inn. 


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After our day at the Bronx Zoo and following our screening of the Penguins of Madagascar, we were hosted at the new Central Park Residence Inn. Residence Inn and the Penguins have a partnership promoting the family travel experience, and we were quite fortunate to experience this partnership firsthand.

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Overlooking Central Park from a few blocks away, the Residence Inn is a convenient midtown location that’s close to a myriad of NYC tourist destinations.  The decor is modern and sleek, the complimentary breakfast is expansive and the rooms are cozy and comfortable; the Residence Inn is ideal for families who seek a midtown hotel with ample amenities.

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My kids were in amazement of the unbelievable views of the city from our room at the Residence Inn. As if watching the Penguins movie before anyone else wasn’t cool enough, getting to stay in a really cool hotel overlooking Central Park was certainly a highlight of the weekend.

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Check out Penguins of Madagascar on Wednesday, November 26!


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Residence Inn announced a promotion in line with their partnership with the Penguins of Madagascar release. Contestants can enter the Penguins Picture Mission contest on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram by reenacting their favorite “Penguins of Madagascar” pose with the hashtag #PenguinsMissionPromo between now and December 7. Contestants can enter up to six times, once per week. Each image will be generated into an online photo gallery, giving fans a chance to check out the competition.


The grand prize includes round trip airfare to Tampa for four, a three-night stay at the Residence Inn Tampa Downtown, four tickets to see “Madagascar Live! Operation Vacation” at Busch Gardens Tampa, two-day admission tickets for four at Busch Gardens Tampa, and more. Every week for six weeks, participants will also be entered to win prizes including a package of Madagascar DVDs and a $150 Residence Inn gift card.


Full disclosure: my family was hosted at the Bronx Zoo, Residence Inn and to a screening of the Penguins of Madagascar, with thanks to DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox. A big thank you to Big Honcho Media and the studios for hosting my family on such a lovely event.


Review: Six Things that Make Big Hero 6 ‘Sick’

“It’s just an expression!” as Hiro Hamada would say.

Big Hero 6, which opens in theaters today, is a modern super “hero” tale that follows the journey of a robotics prodigy and an inflatable nurse bot named Baymax.



As the story begins, though small in stature, a young man enters a competition to battle his RC bot. From the first few minutes of the story, we learn a laundry list of things about the main character and the setting of this story. Hiro, the precocious and brainy 14-year-old who seemed to have lost his way, can hustle tough competitors and still land on his feet, even if that means he needs a little lift from his big brother, Tadashi.



Set in the not so distant future in San Fransokyo, Hiro and his older brother live with their Aunt Cass in an apartment above her cafe. Like a good big brother, Tadashi guides Hiro by tricking him and then influencing him to love “Nerd School.” Hiro is immediately enamored by his brother’s classmates and their inventions at Robotics Institute of San Fransokyo, he decides that he, too, must go to the school. But in order to get the attention of the program’s professor, Hiro was tasked with creating something memorable that would grant him admission.  Needless to say, Hiro’s creation was life-changing in many ways.


There are many reasons why families should see Big Hero 6, and we came up with our top six reasons that make this film sick.


1. Animation

Right from the beginning, we learn that Big Hero 6 is a special film. It has a unique story, but it’s the animation that helps elevate the storytelling. Because of the dynamic back drop of San Fransokyo, which is a mash up of the best qualities of both Japan and San Francisco, Disney employed a new technology called Hyperion to deliver a rich look to the animation.




Truly, there were parts in the film where I thought I was looking at a real city, rather than an animated one. 

The animators did thorough research when it came to designing the characters and their movements. For Go Go, the bold, no-nonsense friend who later uses Maglev wheels as discs and weapons, the animators used bike messengers and speeds skaters as inspiration for her character and her movement.


2. Brotherhood

Blood is thicker than water; this is a familiar theme we’ve seen in popular disney films before. In Big Hero 6, Brotherhood was a major underlying theme that runs its course from beginning to end. Whether it’s your biological brother or your brother for life, the power of brotherhood will sustain you for life and can get your through your darkest days.


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 As a mother of two boys and having been through a number of dark days ourselves, I thought this theme was poignantly conveyed between biological brothers, Tadashi and Hiro; robot and friend, Baymax and Hiro; and of course, Hiro and the whole gang.


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These relationships fueled passion, offered perspective on life and did a whole lot of uplifting. These messages were so well told with imagery alone, I remember sobbing at just a plate of food. (I’m a mess, I tell ya!)



Big Hero 6 isn’t the first animated movie that features STEM within its storyline, but it is, perhaps, one of the more memorable recent films geared to kids where STEM is present at its very core.  STEM is practically its own character in Big Hero 6, and its prevalence will keep budding tech enthusiasts engaged.

BigHero654243c0a5e8e4 1From Hiro’s bot fighting pursuits to his Microbot creation to upgrading Baymax and his friends, the story effortlessly incorporates science, technology, engineering and math. Hiro’s friends who are just as smart and creative in their own right, all have their own creations that ultimately aids in their friend’s conquest for justice. But it’s Baymax, the healthcare companion engineered by Tadashi, who offers the most heart in this otherwise regimented world. It’s Baymax’s job to care for both physical and emotional ailments, and even though as a robot he can’t have feelings, he is responsible for a lot of the feels—the onset that made me grab for the tissues.


4. Superheroes

Big Hero 6 is based on the little known Marvel comic of the same name. One of the best quotes that I read from producer Roy Conli that perfectly captures the essence of Big Hero 6: “It’s a Disney Movie with a Marvel DNA.”  


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If you’re familiar with either of these storytelling powerhouses, then you know that they are both epic storytellers, yet can be very different—polar opposites, even. Since Marvel was acquired by Disney in 2009, this was one of the first big features where I felt a true Marvel presence. Though there was more storytelling and mystery unfolding than there was super heroes saving the world, the super hero theme was prevalent throughout. Tadashi, Hiro’s big brother encompassed some of those super hero qualities with his good looks, smarts and can-do-no-wrong character. Baymax and his upgradable features and inflatable presence was an unexpected superhero with his karate chops and robotic fists. Hiro and his friends, GoGo, Fred, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Baymax combined, form the titular group Big Hero 6.


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It’s their major endeavor to find the mystery man who stole Hiro’s creation that makes the superhero tale come full circle, complete with mystery being solved with a Scooby Doo-esque plot twist at the end.


5. Sounds

Thanks to Big Hero 6, I now have the theme song constantly running in my head. You know the one: it’s that Fall Out Boy anthem that consists of quietly shouting and chanting, the same cadence that little boys tend to expel in excitement.


At several points in the movie, I found myself either tapping my foot, bopping my head or mouthing, ‘I love this song!’ The soundtrack and score rounded out the effects of this movie, perfectly evoking the love and loss of this modern super hero. And don’t get me started on the one-liners! Like any good kid film, Big Hero 6 had its fair share of witty one liners that will, no doubt, find their way into daily jargon. “Hairy Baby,” anyone?


6. Empowering

There’s a lot going on in Big Hero 6, but one of the most important messages is the empowerment. Thinking outside the box, looking at different angles to get out and most importantly, compassion are the most empowering messages in Big Hero 6.  I love that this film celebrates hard work and imagination, but also embraces geeky culture.



The smartest people in this world are often the most misunderstood, so it’s up to us to bring out the best in them.  In the end, I appreciated forgiveness and compassion. In our world full of intolerance and hate, it was endearing to see Baymax remind Hiro that compassion and forgiveness are powerful tools.



Who should NOT see this movie? 

If you have a tot who can’t sit still for almost two hours, I’d wait to see this film. Though it can be fast-paced, this is a full feature film, and so it’s long, but well worth it.  Big Hero 6 is rated PG and there are major scenes that involve grief and death. If this is a topic that could cause distress, I’d say wait to watch until you’re ready to discuss.  At quiet moments after one of the major scenes, I heard smaller kids who were quite upset. I have an anxious, super hero-loving 7 year old who absolutely loved Big Hero 6 despite some of the trivial topics. He absolutely loved it.

BigHero654243c09be44fI’m also a super hero fan, who happens to adore Disney AND Marvel, so this film was an all around win for me.  This truly is one of those movies I will go and see over and over again, and will be sure to buy it immediately, as soon as the digital copy is available. Also? There’s a majorly awesome after credit scene that you’ll want to stick around for, especially if you’re a Marvel fan like us.


Big Hero 6 is a super special story that transcends a typical superhero story; it’s a heart warming journey about an unlikely bond and their equally admirable crusade.  


How to Train Your Dragon 2 Arrives in Theaters Today + Giveaway

The wait is finally over:  everyone’s favorite Vikings and Dragons are back in theaters today!  Hiccup and Toothless are back for more in the second chapter of Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2.

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It’s been five years after Hiccup and Toothless have united dragons and vikings on the island of Berk, something that seemed unthinkable many years back. As Astrid, Snoutlout and the rest of the gang are challenging each other to dragon races, Hiccup and Toothless are exploring new worlds.  

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The pair stumble upon a secret cave which is home to hundreds of new wild dragons and reveals a mysterious Dragon Rider.  Hiccup and Toothless are thrust into another battle to protect peace, and ultimately stand up for what they believe, while reinforcing that together as a team, they influence the future of both men and dragons.

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How to Train Your Dragon 2, so far, has received excellent reviews,  In fact, it was also positively reviewed by Common Sense Media, which awarded HTTYD2 its first five-star rating of the year.  

It sounds like HTTYD2 is full of action, stellar graphics and strong bonds between people and animal companions—the making of a fun family flick.

We have a date to watch the movie as a family tomorrow and can’t wait!  In honor of the release of Dreamwork’s How to Train Your Dragon 2, I’m giving away a fun prize pack for you and your family to watch the movie, too!


  • $25 Visa gift card to see the film
  • HTTYD2 pencil topper set and drawstring bag
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 To enter: tell me your family’s favorite character from HTTYD!  Please comment below.


For extra entries:

Tweet about the giveaway: I want to win the #HTTYD2 Prize Pack from @jenrab

Like the Next Kid Thing on FB

or share on any other social media site 

Want to get even more excited about HTTYD2?  Check out these fun activities, including coloring pagescolor by number, connect the dots and word search.  Be sure to check out the first five minutes of the movie here:

Prizing and samples courtesy of DreamWorks Animation and 20th Century Fox

Open to US mailing addresses only

This giveaway ends at 11:59 pm June  20.  Random winner will be notified via email.

Update:  Congrats to comment #58, julimi