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Actober: 50 Major Child Performances 3/10

The delay in getting the third installment out of the great children’s performances, I could easily blame on my own kids. That’d be ironic. And also a little bit lame. Even if it were true. So as I get my 6 year-old daughter to proofread the fourth part coming later, take a look at these dancing, festive, locked up kids, just itching to grow up.


Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther in Orphan (2009)

When a married couple suffer a tragic still birth, they soon seek out taking on a new child. Visiting an orphanage, they are quickly enchanted by Esther, a young girl who seems “different”, with a particular eye for painting vivid pictures. The 9 year-old girl returns home with the couple, to join them in their huge family home, and two other children. They all get along swell, and she fits right in, and they live happily ever after. Well, not exactly. This is a horror movie, not family-movie-of-the-week.

Isabelle Fuhrman portrays the enigmatic child with such a convincing facade, her gaining the affections of the parents is a deadly journey. Esther shows a violent, bleak side to her character with the siblings, seemingly building trust with one, and instilling fear into the other. As the idyllic becomes the horrific, Fuhrman turns up the gas of sinister, right through to a remorseless evil. Even in the film’s later plot turn, the actress has to find another gear, and succeeds in chilling us as we have no choice but to witness the impressive terror. – – – – – Robin Write

The Kid

Jackie Coogan as The Child / John in The Kid (1921)

It was Charlie Chaplin’s film classic The Kid (1921) which made Jackie Coogan one of the first child stars in film history. Coogan was one of the first stars to be heavily merchandised, with everything from Peanut butter, stationery, whistles, dolls, records, and figurines all ‘Jackie Coogan’ themed. Coogan’s performance in The Kid, helps to capture the mischief that children can get into. His cheekiness and care-free attitude makes him a perfect companion for Charlie Chaplin’s easy going Tramp. There’s something charming about Coogan, which helps audiences warm to him.

The Kid is considered Chaplin’s most personal and emotionally poignant film, and it placed Coogan firmly in the limelight; a natural mimic, he could copy everything Chaplin showed him, and was the perfect co-star because of his natural ability to perform. The relationship between the tramp and the kid is enjoyable, touching and heart warming to watch unfold on screen. The bond between the two was just as strong off screen. In many ways, young Jackie had replaced the child Chaplin had just lost. Pairing the Tramp with a child also gave Chaplin an opportunity to extend the childlike innocence of his own character. As Chaplin explained 50 years later, Coogan was the perfect actor for Chaplin because “he was so malleable.” – – – – – Bianca Garner

Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart as Sarah Altman in Panic Room (2002)

Before she became the ire of numerous online critics with her turn as Bella Swan in the Twilight film series. And then established herself as one of cinema’s best young actors working with indie darlings Clouds of Sils MariaPersonal Shopper and this year’s Lizzie. Ms. Stewart broke out as Jodie Foster’s angst-riddled daughter in David Fincher’s home invasion thriller.

Sarah is a type-1 diabetic and her mother, Meg (Foster), is recently going through a divorce, of which Sarah is pissed off at mom for, but their problems are put on hold when three burglars attempt to rob them for $3 million in bearer bonds, and must take refuge inside the built-in panic room. Stewart and Foster’s dilemma of surviving the night is mostly the main focus, but strip away the home invasion setting and we see a story about a mother and daughter learning how to lean on each other and re-establish a fractured bond, and this is where Stewart gives us flashes of the actress she would later become. – – – – – Jonathan Holmes

A Christmas Story

Peter Billingsley as Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story (1983)

If you walk into my house anytime on December 24th or December 25th, I can nearly guarantee that “A Christmas Story” would be playing on our television. Growing up, I always related to the angst and antics of Ralphie Parker. But the real Christmas magic this film provides, is the ability for people of all ages to find common ground with Peter Billingsley’s portrayal of the nine-year-old boy. Where many child actors over-act or under-act, Billingsley found the perfect middle. All throughout the film, he found ways to sell common childhood fears, like getting caught doing something wrong or feeling proud of his work.

When he breaks his glasses after shooting his BB gun for the first time, the audience can tell he is frightened, but Billingsley avoids dramatizing it too much, with help from the narration over his actions. Now, as an adult, I can hear the self-aware ridiculousness of Ralphie’s thought processes and laugh. But I also know that as a child, I could follow those thought processes completely, and I felt understood by them. Billingsley is the bridge that ensures every audience member is in on the joke. – – – – – Celia Schlekewey

Billy Elliot

Jamie Bell as Billy Elliot in Billy Elliot (2000)

Let’s all spare a quick thought for the casting director, who most have gone through pure and utter hell trying to find the right boy to play Billy Elliot. This kid needed to be a talented, or at least highly trainable dancer. But also not so much of a classically trained dancer, that he didn’t seem believable as a rough working class boy from 1980s Northern England. And be able to really act, because he’s the central figure in the film, and if people don’t buy his performance, the whole thing won’t work. All at the age of 13 or so.

But somehow, incredibly, they discovered Jamie Bell. He’s able to do something quite rare for child actors, which is to play a character who wears a bit of an emotional mask. And his sense of naturalism in the role is essential. It’s easy to imagine a Billy Elliot in the hands of another actor, who is precocious and affected, over-pronouncing his words in a carefully learnt Northern accent. Jamie Bell is able to avoid that, and create a character that is genuinely easy for audiences to love. – – – – – Audrey Fox


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