Madison falls 15 inches onto cushions on the floor. To the side, 1-year-old Barton, also wearing an animal costume, cries.
This is what a video looks like in the Presser family’s movie project during quarantine from the novel coronavirus pandemic. In this instance, the Pressers copied an iconic scene from “The Lion King,” when Scar drops Mufasa from a cliff, and Mufasa’s son, Simba, reacts in anguish.
The difference between the movie scenes and the Presser family’s remakes is hard to miss. The refurbished versions mainly feature children, starring 4-year-old Madison and co-starring Barton. These videos have been the Presser family’s method to put smiles on others’ faces and raise money to feed the hungry during the pandemic.
“We were in a pretty dark place as a country, that I think they were looking for kind of any release like, ‘Oh, here’s a cute kid,’ ” Dan Presser said. “A kid playing adult roles is always funny.”
“The Lion King” remake was the first video the Pressers created. Madison was bored inside the family’s Southington, Conn., house in late-March and switched costumes daily. This day, she donned a giraffe costume, and it reminded Presser of “The Lion King.” To keep Madison entertained, Presser thought it’d be fun to reproduce a scene from the movie. He used a free trial of Splice, a video editing application, on his iPhone.
When he posted the clip on Instagram in April, family and friends loved it. They kept remaking videos with Madison, publishing about three per week. Soon, people from around the U.S. became fans of high-pitched children acting out their favorite movie parts.
Presser created a YouTube page and has produced almost 40 videos. Popular remakes include “Forrest Gump,” “Pretty Woman” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.” The videos have more than 10,500 combined views on YouTube.
“Parents really like having these things of their kids,” Presser said. “Maybe they’ll hate them when they get older, and then love them when they get even older.”
Around when the videos became popular, Presser and his wife, Beth, brainstormed another way to assist during the pandemic. Watching the news, they noticed long lines at food banks and grocery stores and how some children out of school didn’t have meals. So, they partnered with Feeding America, a domestic hunger relief organization that manages 200 food banks.
Presser asked families that enjoyed their videos to donate. They’ve raised $12,070, and Presser said Disney plans to match the money raised.
“We wanted to take people that were doing okay with themselves and still getting paid and pay it forward kind of and help out and teach Maddie and Barton a lesson along the way,” Presser said. “[Madison] would like to give as much mac and cheese to people as she can.”
Having two children, the Presser family had plenty costumes lying around the house, and when the reach of their videos grew, many people offered to send more. Sometimes, Beth Presser cuts cloth and other material to create apparel.
Barton, the 1-year-old son, can speak few words, so in March and April, videos didn’t feature much dialogue (Barton takes on crying roles in many clips). Now, they collect videos from families and friends from other states to combine with their own.
Presser often outlines a short script, and during filming he’ll say a line and signal Madison to repeat it. When Madison nails her lines, filming can last as short as five minutes. Other times, when children struggle with their acting, shooting can take a few days.
In one scene Presser shot for a copy of “The Goonies,” it took 40 minutes for five children to look in the same direction. In an “Old School” remake, Barton ripped off his diaper in the middle of a shot. It has been a change-of-pace for Presser, who’s used to working with people comfortable in front of cameras as a producer for ACC Network.
While most videos are shot at the Pressers’s home, they’ve added new environments as public places have opened. They shot a food fight from “Hook” at Ocean City, and they hiked local trails to find a waterfall for a scene in “The Goonies.”
“My favorite part is after we finish them, the kids really enjoy sitting down and watching them together,” Beth Presser said. “When [Madison] has friends in them, we bring them over in the yard and we have a little party.”
With the ACC football season beginning this past weekend, Dan Presser believes he may be too busy to shoot multiple videos per week. As long as the coronavirus continues consuming the U.S., though, he said he’s going to make videos and raise money. He’s recreating “The Shawshank Redemption” next.
For Madison, who said she wants to be a cowboy when she grows up, that means more acting practice and opportunities to spread macaroni and cheese to those in need. Since her one line in “The Lion King” remake, Madison has taken on longer dialogue and meatier words, even repeating the president’s lengthy speech from “Independence Day.”
“If she ever got temperamental, I’m like, ‘Hey, I promise you a fruit snack later today,’ ” Dan Presser said. “It is a challenge at times working with child stars, but she’s a sweet girl.”