Though comedian W.C. Fields famously said “Never work with animals or children,” the cinema is full of wonderful stories told through the eyes of the young. Films with child protagonists span every genre, generation, and film movement. “The Kids Stay in the Picture” surveys this interesting subgenre, following the School of the Art Institute and Gene Siskel Film Center film series “The Child in Cinema.” The series will cover the many historical and social contexts around why films centered on children are so integral to the landscape of world cinema.
One of the most important mainstream Hollywood filmmakers since the refocus towards directors as the artistic leaders of film production in the 1970s, Steven Spielberg has built his legacy on films with child protagonists. Aside from his most family friendly fare (E.T. certainly included there), films like Jaws, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and War of the Worlds have serious themes and genre elements while featuring and sometimes centering on child characters. A deeper dive into his work as a producer of Poltergeist, The Goonies, Back to the Future, the Transformers series, True Grit, and Real Steel further showcases his interest in the stories of kids and teens. Considering all of these films, Spielberg has become synonymous with themes of suburban families, unconventional parent-child relationships, and larger-than-life adventure. His 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is one of his most beloved and sentimental. The story of an awkward, lonely child and his relationship with an alien left behind on earth is a perfect encapsulation of Spielberg’s narrative style and themes.