By Megan Bianco
“I believe the children are the future,” Whitney Houston once sang. Of course, she was singing about the future adults the children will turn into, but the past couple of years I’ve noticed something interesting about celebrity culture in our current climate. There aren’t any universally famous child stars who can sell movies, shows or songs with just their names.
I’m talking about mini superstars like Shirley Temple, Hayley Mills, Macaulay Culkin, Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Dakota Fanning. Temple’s curls could make any movie, like Bright Eyes (1934), The Little Colonel (1935) and Dimples (1936), go to No. 1 with just audience appeal for a decade. Home Alone (1990) and My Girl (1991) proved Culkin could easily sell a movie by just being cute.
But who under 20 is doing that now? Well, I don’t think anyone. There are the Disney kids, but who over 13 can even name a modern kid actor from the family studio since Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez?
Bobby Driscoll, Hayley Mills and Jodie Foster are some of the earliest and most famous names to come from Disney from the 1950s to 1970s, and later on Lindsay Lohan and Shia LaBeouf in the late ‘90s to early 2000s. The closest thing now might be all of the child actors on the Netflix series “Stranger Things,” particularly Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard, who are both already in demand for future projects. Jacob Tremblay had the most praise and fame of any performing minor in 2015 for Room, and has been acting regularly since. As has Jaeden Lieberher after playing leads in the indie hits St. Vincent (2014) and Midnight Special (2016). But time will tell if they can make the leap from “actor” to “star.”
So why have the child star become nearly obsolete? Are adult viewers only interested in grown-up leads? Are writers and directors? In many ways, this could be a good thing. Many child stars do unfortunately grow up to have a lot of personal struggles. For every Margaret O’Brien and Ron Howard, there is a Tatum O’Neal and Edward Furlong. Teen idol Judy Garland dealt with pill addiction and an eating disorder, Drew Barrymore totted out with a Lolita public image by the time she was 12. Culkin emancipated from his parents when he was 15 and was already married by 18; Driscoll, Lohan and LaBeouf infamously had their share of incidents with the law. Foster and Fanning? Attended college and are still working steadily in the business.
Movies will always feature children as lead characters as much as adults, but another international superstar under 13 becoming a household name outside of reality TV–that’s up in the air.
Megan Bianco is a Southern California-based movie reviewer and content writer with a degree from California State University Northridge.
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