Children in Film

Ian Wojcik Andrews

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:
Children in Film

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The child in film is a multifaceted, wide-ranging topic that considers historical, ideological, pedagogical, and theoretical questions, including those of definition. What a children’s film is depends on when films with children in them began. Real and animated children have acted in films since the beginning of cinema in the late 19th century. The earliest movies children (a teenager and a baby respectively) actually starred in were live action films such as Watering the Gardener (1895) and Breakfast with Baby (1895) by the Lumière Brothers. Early fantasy films by Georges Méliès were adaptations of fairy tales such as Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood in 1901 and 1903, respectively. British director Cecil Hepworth adapted Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1903. Early images of the child as innocent can be found in D. W. Griffiths’s The Adventures of Dolly (1908). In the 1920s, Jackie Coogan acted alongside Charlie Chaplin in The Kid in 1921 and became a child star. At about the same time, the children in the movie shorts known as Our Gang were also popular. During the 1930s there were other children in films: Jackie Cooper, Jane Withers, Virginia Weidler, and Mitzi Green were all well-known child stars. Collectively, they confirmed the powerful socioeconomic, cultural, and ideological presence of the child in film, one that has continued in films as different as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), The Wizard of Oz (1939), National Velvet (1944), Mary Poppins (1964), The Golden Compass (2007), the Harry Potter franchise (2001–2011), Alice in Wonderland (1933), and Up (2010). But children also have starred in films such as Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987), The Village of the Damned (1960), The Exorcist (1973), Pretty Baby (1978), Spirit of the Beehive (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Salaam Bombay (1988), The Sixth Sense (1999), The Matrix (1999), and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). These not-so-G-rated movies suggest the incredible range of film genres in which children find themselves placed (or exploited by Hollywood, depending on your point of view) and confirm the equally incredible talents of the child actors used. They also imply that a children’s film is not defined solely by the presence of a child (Taxi Driver is not a children’s film) or the fact that it originates from a work of children’s literature for that matter: The Matrix, which constantly alludes to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is R-rated. Needless to say, the image of the child as innocent does not prevail. Children do indeed star in films (and have done so since the early days of the cinema), including those produced by kids themselves. But a firm definition is elusive. Not all films starring children are children’s films. For scholars of children’s cinema, the topic of children in film begs as many questions as it asks.

Article.  4680 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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