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Actober: 50 Major Child Performances 1/10

How many of you have cherished memories of your children performing in plays at school? And you would videotape them, take photographs. Gush with other like-minded parents. Or even just let your kids display some home theater with blankets over chairs, or brooms for medieval staffs, in the comfort of your living rooms. I mean, that’s all very sweet, but we’re about to show you 50 kids that were in the fucking movies. And to boot, they were terrific. Big time. Here are the first 5, stay tuned over the next 10 days – you and your feeble children might learn something.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Jonathan Ke Quan as Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

As sidekicks go, Short Round is to Indiana Jones as Robin is to Batman. Watson to Holmes. Bianca to Robin, here at Filmotomy! He is a vital part of Indy’s life, even if Indy won’t admit it. Short Round is in the position that many kids watching at home would like to be, beside Indy fighting the bad guys and saving the day. The second installment of Indiana Jones may be overlooked, sandwiched between the Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, but it’s the most child friendly and fun out of all of them.

Short Round is there for Indy, saving him when he is losings his mind. A vital part to the Indiana Jones saga. Ke Quan is funny, witty and adorable on-screen, with all the best lines. There’s also something very relatable about him, which connects with the children in the audience. It’s a shame that he didn’t make a reappearance in the god-awful Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, because Ford and Ke Quan had real chemistry on-screen. – – – – – Bianca Garner


Mara Wilson as Matilda Wormwood in Matilda (1996)

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that this celebration of some of our favorite performances done by child actors also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the beloved children’s novel by Roald Dahl. But it does give me the excuse to praise a fine performance in a movie that is still a staple of my childhood. Ms. Wilson plays the title character just as I imagined she was in the book: she’s inquisitive, kind, mischievous, brainy and brave.

Despite her obtuse and neglectful parents, and big brother, and a childhood that would screw up any child going forward, she still holds this warmth and empathy for people. In addition to her sharp intellect that makes her wise beyond her years. Did I mention that she also develops powers of telekinesis and uses them to make trouble for a particularly nasty principal named Trunchbull? While her acting roles are a small sample size, her turn as Matilda is still her most memorable, and best role to her catalog. – – – – – Jonathan Holmes

Under the Shadow

Avin Manshadi as Dorsa in Under the Shadow (2016)

Like most child actors in horror movies, Avin Manshadi has to manage a delicate balancing act between immature hysteria and believable peril, with her performance as fever-stricken Dorsa in Under the Shadow. Dorsa’s mother, Shideh, played by Narges Rashidi, is left to look after her ailing daughter alone when her husband is sent away on military service. The story is not only about Shideh’s struggle to care for her daughter in war-torn Tehran as their apartment building crumbles around them, but also about her feelings of inadequacy as a mother.

The audience has to doubt Shideh’s abilities as much as she does, and we have to care about Dorsa – also the only reason Shideh can’t leave the possibly haunted apartment building. Manshadi’s performance really comes down to being able to play the quiet moments as well as knowing when to scream and shout. Dorsa is a quiet child who spends more time having imaginary conversations with her dolls. When she loses her temper it can be genuinely shocking. And when Dorsa attacks Shideh, the scene is totally believable.

Manshadi brings a genuine viciousness to the character, a complete contrast to her usual, subdued self. What is most impressive about Avin Manshadi, is the fact that she helps carry the film as one half of what is effectively a two-hander – and for such a young actor that’s an incredible achievement. – – – – – Chris Regan

Christina Ricci

Christina Ricci as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (1991)

Wednesday Addams is the macabre heart of the Addams family, her acidic wit and deadpan demeanor making her an icon to every kid in the 90s, who spent a little too much time reading Allan Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. This is almost entirely due to Christina Ricci’s maturity and dry sense of humor, that made her an inspired choice for the role. You can teach a child actor to laugh, cry, or spit out a clever one-liner on cue, but you can’t teach them how to be utterly and delightfully bizarre.

Ricci has an incredible understanding of her character, and all of her strangely adult comments throughout the film not only come off as entirely natural, but are actually funny. Not just because they’re a child delivering grown-up lines, which you see in a lot of films, but because Ricci 100% gets it. Her performance is clever, nuanced, and charming (even despite Wednesday’s worryingly homicidal tendencies), becoming the gold standard for this brand of off-kilter child roles. – – – – – Audrey Fox

The Silence

Tahmineh Normatova as Khorshid in The Silence (1998)

A little known Iranian film, which I bet none of you have seen, The Silence, is pretty much carried by its two young leads. Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s 1998 diamond, follows them on a quest for wealth and hypnosis of music, through the natural innocence children can carry on their little shoulders. While Nadereh Abdelahyeva is enchanting as the jigging female companion, Tahmineh Normatova as Khorshid, a blind boy in tune with the music, is quite wonderful.

And this is his story. With the landlord chasing him for money in a believably tough social climate and impairment of the senses, Khorshid is a remarkable little boy. Spirited and thoroughly engaging (as is Abdelahyeva), Normatova has enough charm and enthusiasm to have us almost forget the impoverished well-being he is a part of. And amidst it all, the boy finds a glorious moment at the film’s close. A marvel, indeed. – – – – – Robin Write


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