7 Reasons I Hate Children in Movies
So, this may seem like a bit of a hate-fuelled and cynical post but it is about one of my absolute pet peeves in film – Irritating child actors and characters. To clarify, I mean those little mini-human characters who are put in as a side-kick to enrich our hero’s story, or show some kind of different perspective or meaning and inevitably just end up being irritating, whether through a poorly written character or through just a terrible and grating performance. So now I’m going to make a list of my top 7 most annoying child roles in films (yay lists!).
7. Rachel Ferrier – ‘War of the Worlds’ (2005)
Played by: Dakota Fanning
From the get-go on this one, I will straight away take Miss Fanning out of the previously stated category of “children who are bad in films because their acting is bad”. We all know she is in fact a very good actress. The problem with this one lies much more in her character being, well, insufferable. The film itself is described as a “loose” adaptation of the novel, and I would say that’s not entirely accurate considering the only real resemblance between the two texts is that they both have people and aliens in them. The screenwriters on this one obviously decided that the modern paradigm which was very popular in the early noughties of the single Dad whose children no longer look up to him but proves himself, a la Liar Liar and Jersey Girl, was the right way to go.
However, this meant that we ended up with a potentially awesome disaster movie with some actually quite exciting alien action which all too often veered off in to teenage and childhood angst and the struggle of the modern family. I mean, the whole point of The War of the Worlds was “OMFG ALIENS”. Granted, the extra-terrestrial theme had by this point been explored to death but who doesn’t enjoy a good romp with E.T and his pals? I am not counting out the part which “Robbie”, the angsty older brother, played in all this with his constant dramatics and generally being a needlessly difficult dick but what really annoyed me in this film was the constant snotty sobbing and high-pitched screaming which Fanning’s role apparently called for. Could we not have rather had her play the tough and brainy little girl that we know she’s more than capable of doing? Instead we have this to deal with Rachel screaming and crying every two seconds while looking at Cruise’s “I’m the victim here and I’m actually a great guy” face. I do feel for Fanning here, because an otherwise intelligent and talented girl was reduced to an irritating, snivelling mess.
6. Max Reede – ‘Liar Liar’ (1997)
Played by: Justin Cooper
I think if you agree with nothing else on this list, you can agree that there is nothing more irritating than one-dimensional a child with one emotion throughout the entire film. For the purposes of the Jim Carrey family comedy Liar Liar the chosen emotion for child actor Justin Cooper was “puppy-dog eyed disappointment”. It’s obvious that Cooper was chosen for the role due to his general expression of pathetic defeat, but maybe that’s just his face in which case it’s a harsh judgement and I express my sincerest condolences to Justin Cooper’s face. Once one gets past the initial shock of his hairstyle, which kids of the 90s can hate him for solely because it made parents think that that hairstyle was acceptable to inflict upon their own poor defenceless children, you can really get in to the pure unadulterated hatred of his performance.
I can entirely get on board with the idea of kids teaching adults lessons in morality, because the innocence of a child can often reveal the flaws in adult thinking in a very interesting way and they can, if executed correctly, be the most poignant on-screen lessons. However, this is not the case in Liar Liar. In fact the morality lesson becomes less poignant and more painful, with the ultimate moral of the story being less of a gentle nudge towards the dangers of lying to your children and more a case of being punched in the face with the message “GROWN-UP STUFF IS STUPID AND IF YOU CATER TO YOUR CHILD’S EVERY WHIM THEN YOUR LIFE WILL BE FINE”. Overall, given that the film itself is actually entertaining I would put this one down mainly to the acting of Cooper, but also to the contrived message of morality that he and his miserable face was used as a poster-boy for.
4. Hugo Carbret & Isabelle – ‘Hugo'(2011)
Played by: Asa Butterfield & Chloë Grace Moretz
I have decided that my hatred for these two doesn’t quite merit their own posts, so I’ve consolidated it in to one. I’m going to make a confession right now that I’m not proud of – I have never made it to the end of this film. Yes, I know it’s meant to be amazing but I simply cannot get past how much I despise Asa Butterfield in order to make it through the full two hours or so of his forlorn expressions and vacuous approach to portraying any kind of emotion. It seems Butterfield failed to get past the basics of emotions in his theatre school before he got picked up on the basis of his big sad watery eyes and impeccable diction. I draw these rather rash conclusions only because I literally can’t see any talent that he possesses with regards to acting other than contorting his face in to something that vaguely resembles a basic human emotion while retaining a far-away watery look in his eye, which I’m sure is meant to resemble some kind of mystery. Or something.
With regards to the other child star of this film, I am torn. I am usually a big fan of the spunky and actually talented Chloë Moretz. In most things I’ve seen her in she has seemed less like a child counterpart to her adult co-stars, and more like a mature and meaningful addition to any film. However, in Hugo all I saw was a girl who had been given instructions to act so full of wonder and excitable that she starts pooping rainbows and possibilities and her boundless enthusiasm for life becomes an uninteresting and tedious cliché. I suppose her character was supposed to capture the childhood wonder which Hugo’s no longer had, and was supposed to balance him out but it’s difficult to balance out a character with no personality or interesting qualities whatsoever other than his backstory. I am a great believer in characters who are capable of being interesting even without their backstories, and Hugo does not meet this criteria for me, and unfortunately Chloë Moretz seemed to have been pulled in to this vortex of disinterest and came across as uncharacteristically charmless and dull.
4. Short Round – ‘Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom’ (1984)
Played by: Jonathan Ke Quan
This one is in here, somewhat begrudgingly, because it is honestly on here as a pure example of horrible writing being the downfall of a Child character. I say begrudgingly because to be honest I just feel awful for poor Jonathan Ke Quan because he his characters in his most famous roles – this title and The Goonies – are quite frankly racist at best. I feel bad for any actor of ethnicity being typecast, especially when they become so famous for that character type. However, it is undeniable that Short Round teeters dangerously on the edge of ruining this action classic. His lines are not only about as shocking and racist as a WW2 Disney cartoon but also shockingly poorly written. Take for example this gem of an interaction:
Short Round: Hang on lady, we going for a ride!
Willie: Oh… my… God! Oh my God… Oh my God…Is he nuts?!
Short Round: He no nuts, he’s crazy!
I mean really, it’s difficult not to feel bad for Ke Quan here. All of his lines are laced with this horrible cringeworthy stereotype, which is only seen as adorable instead of highly offensive because of how useful his character actually is. Yes, for the first time on this list we have a child character who adds to rather than detracts from the plot in which he exists. As he says early on “You listen to me more, you live longer!” Short Round actually has a very interesting background as well, a courtesy which is rarely extended to children who fill the role of side-kick. Short Round, or Wan Li, was orphaned during a Japanese bomb raid and got a lot of his English from watching American tv shows, which goes some way towards explaining his cliché-ridden dialogue. However, while I’m sure Short Round and Indy’s backstory of Indy taking in a poor little Asian pickpocket is supposed to be heartwarming I’ve always found it to be more patronising to poor Short Round. Short Round is actually useful and is a capable and loyal assistant to Indy but is pushed aside by the protagonist and his cronies as a stupid kid, amplified by his poorly constructed dialogue, and I personally think he is one of the most unfortunately and poorly written child characters in movie history.
3. Newt – ‘Aliens’ (1986)
Played by: Carrie Henn
Newt is another perfect example of only ever portraying one irritating emotion, just like Max Reede. In Newt’s case the emotion of choice is blind pathetic panic. However, what makes Newt so much worse than the insufferable Max is that her pouting and snivelling actually endangers the other characters. In the case of the colossal sci-fi giant Aliens, rather than furthering the plot in any way, the only purposes Newt seems to serve is to a) Be so pathetic that she repeatedly makes ridiculous, infuriating and dangerous decisions and b) To reduce the otherwise iconically strong character of Ripley to a whimpering, hormonal and painfully stereotypical Mother figure every time Newt mewled “Wipleeeeey” at her. If you think about it, if Newt’s character had been a grown woman rather than a young child, I don’t think anyone would have felt quite to protective of her. In fact, I think she would very quickly have been slapped or offered up as a sacrifice to keep the Aliens at bay; and quite rightly so.
The most obvious example to use to illustrate the uselessness of her character is the entire end scene, awesome as it is. This whole mess could have been avoided had Newt possessed one ounce of anything that resembled gusto, initiative or indeed intelligence and not scuttled off and gotten herself lost in the sewers and consequently captured. This whole mess means that instead of leaving 26 minutes ahead of the scheduled self-destruction of the settlement, Ripley has to go in after Newt. All I can ever think during these scenes is “For the love of God just leave her behind”; I mean let’s be honest, in a purely Darwinian universe Newt would have perished long ago and it is only because of Ripley that she’s survived this far in the film. Once found and freed from her mucusy prison, all Newt can seem to do is cling on to Ripley and quite frankly impede her range of motion, making it even more difficult for her to be saved. What really puzzles me when it comes to Newt is how in the name of the Queen Alien’s gross butt has she survived on her own for this long?! I personally don’t think Newt adds anything to this film, other than perhaps her knowledge of the layout which is only useless all of once, and it would have been better off without her constant simpering and whinging.
2. Anakin Skywalker – ‘The Phantom Menace’ (1999)
Played by: Jake Lloyd
This one is a bit of a confusing one for me, because I’m actually not sure which of the two categories dear old Annie fits in to here. All I know is that whether it’s the kid’s acting or the way they wrote the character there is one overarching word that sums up his performance perfectly: smug. Smug, cringeworthy and forced. The point of portraying a young Anakin is of course to show us that Darth Vader was not evil from the beginning and that it was as a result of the imbalance in the force and so on and so forth, and to make us identify with the villain and see a more humane side of him. This is made clear by the horribly acted relationship with his mother which shows his child-like innocence which include such lines as “I’ll come back and free you Mom. I promise”, which was about as well acted and heartfelt as an apology from Hitler would have been.
But really, what annoys me most about this one is Jake Lloyd himself. I mean, it’s difficult to really take issue with the writing of Anakin when you have a character like Jar-Jar Binks in the mix; and the whole script was hardly a lesson in Shakespearean nuance and poetic depth. My hatred of Lloyd stems from interviews that I’ve read with him in which he denounces George Lucas and blames him for making his life a “living hell”. If there’s one thing that can be said for Lucas in light of recent hatred for him, it’s that he did have a talent for making stars, as is evident from the first Star Wars trilogy. In such interviews he tells sob stories about kids “making lightsaber noises” every time they saw him and having to do “like 60 interviews a day”. I’m sure Lloyd was so upset by all this that he had to go home and wipe his tears with his piles of money, considering his net worth is still sitting pretty at just under $4 million almost 15 years after the film’s release. I mean really, how pathetic and jaded can one person sound; taking his petulance to new levels by quitting acting and informing reporters that he destroyed all of his Star Wars memorabilia in a fit of rage. Allegedly Lloyd even felt so strongly about his Star Wars experience that he “only” reprised his role for five video games. Dick.
1. Tim & Lex Murphy – ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993)
Played by: Joseph Mazzello & Ariana Richards
I actually don’t quite know where to start with these two because they almost go without saying. As you can see they’ve come out on top and that’s because they are, in my humble opinion, the very epitome of everything that can go wrong with child characters. They are the standard by which all snivelling, useless, dim-witted, smart-mouthed, obnoxious and abhorrant brats in the film universe should be measured against. Even at the young and tender age of 11 when I was allowed to watch Jurassic Park I, as I and I’m sure many of you still do, thought about what I would do in any movie situation. The mark of a good character to me is when they do something that I absolutely couldn’t think of in my wildest dreams; when they solve the problem at hand with such wit and intelligence that I am left in awe of them. It’s what keeps that je ne sais quois of Hollywood movie magic.
However, in this film these two brats manage to make every wrong decision in every situation they are in. Sometimes it’s because they obviously seem to be making an effort to get in to trouble in order to further the tension of the plot, or they are so oblivious to the precarious and blatantly dangerous situation they have found themselves in in order to further the plot. Are you sensing a trend here? Yes, I think one of the main problems with these two is that their whole role is to use the intrinsic vulnerability and innocence of children in order to amplify or create tension (“I’m not stupid and vapid, I’m just written that way!”).
The writers are particularly guilty of this when it comes to little Timmy’s character, who is portrayed as being very intelligent for a boy of his age, asking many questions in order to feed his insatiable hunger for knowledge. Well, that’s how his unrelenting question-asking was no doubt supposed to come across as, but actually it’s just so irritating that I think we all hoped Alan would snap and punch him in the mouth until he could talk no more. What really ruins the image of Tim as a clever and charming little boy is that he has so many phobias and quirks that it’s hard to believe that he is any kind of rational and logical person. I mean really, after being informed that the beeping coming from the fence indicated a count-down to a high-voltage current, wouldn’t an intelligent person oh, I don’t know, get off the fence? Oh no, not our Timmy, he decides to cling on to the highest rung despite all sane coercion from the understandably exasperated Alan and, shockingly (har har) is thrown off the fence by a surge of electricity.
The same goes for his irritating and obnoxious-beyond-all-reason sister Lex who makes equally senseless decisions e.g shining and torch directly in a T-Rex’s eye or suggesting that during this time of great peril they had time for a quick banquet in an unsecured building. But they’re just kids right? Kids make stupid decisions. No, they are by anyone’s estimations, imbeciles and, like Newt, commit the most terrible of child movie star crimes and put everyone else in danger through their idiotic decisions. What makes their characters even worse is their momentary flashes of brilliance, during which their usual trend of idiocy is broken to allow a moment of actual intelligence and inventiveness and, in Lex’s case, become a technological genius for a shining few minutes of confusing and nonsensical computer “hacking”. These juxtapositions are confusing at best and at worst a shining example of awful character realisation and development, or lack thereof.