“Never work with children or animals”- so goes the often quoted saying amongst anyone who works in performance.

“Never work with children or animals”- so goes the often quoted saying amongst anyone who works in performance. Yes, from experience it CAN be a nightmarish ordeal, but the past year has seen some show stealing performances from our four legged and miniature brethren. Take We Need to Talk about Kevin for example, for me the younger Kevin, played by Jasper Newell put in as good a performance, if not better, than his older counterpart Ezra Miller. His scenes alongside the legendary Tilda Swinton were some of the best in the film; he portrayed such menace and calculated nastiness that you had to wonder whether this kid had in fact been born evil. Kevin is a tough role for anyone to take on, he’s such a complex character- but this kid nailed it. Sceptics may claim that the young star simply ‘winged it’ but he showed such depth in his performance with an uncompromisingly dark expression in his eyes that there is little doubt that this kid knew what he was doing and ultimately has a bright acting career ahead of him. Tilda is expected to be nominated for an Oscar for playing the emotionally devastated mother of this seemingly demonic child, and I for one hope she bags it.

Other films with great performances from the youngsters this year include the incredible Super 8 and another Oscar favourite; Hugo. Chloe Moretz who plays Isabelle in the Scorcese directed pic became a household name after she burst onto the scene as Hit-Girl in 2010’s Kick Ass, a tough, mean-talking pre-teen who battles the bad guys with her dad. It was a fantastic performance, and Moretz has quite rightly walked away with this years People’s Choice award for Best Movie Star Under 25. The lead boy in Hugo, Asa Butterfield had already proven he could act when he dug his teeth into the role of Bruno in the heartbreaking The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, aged only 11 at the time. Not many actors can claim to have dealt with the cruelties of the Holocaust within their career but Butterfield and his child co-star Jack Scanlon tackled it impeccably in this; a film that should no doubt be on everyone’s list of most tear-jerking childhood performances.

But there has been another unforgettable performance from perhaps the most unlikely of actors that’s causing a stir around Hollywood; Uggie the dog from The Artist. Such a whirlwind of excitement has circled this 9 year old Jack Russell that he now has his own Twitter account, has been making TV appearances across the country and has people campaigning to allow animals to receive recognition for their work in film. Not bad going for a dog that spent the early years of his life in an animal shelter and was passed from owner to owner for being ‘too wild’. He takes on what can only be described as a ‘starring role’ in Michael Hazanavicius’ hotly tipped love letter to silent cinema. Jean Dujardin may have picked up best actor at Cannes for his performance as George Valentin; the silent movie star whose luck takes a turn for the worst with the advent of the talkies, but Uggie (who shares most of the scenes with Dujardin) plays his loyal four legged companion and co-star that really steals the show. Not only does he cleverly rescue his owner from a burning building but in one pivotal scene he tries desperately to discourage Valentin from pulling the trigger when he has reached his lowest point and sits with a pistol in his mouth. Watching this scene in a full cinema the ‘awwws’ were clearly audible as he tugs away at Valentin’s trouser leg and yaps consistently- it’s a scene stealing performance.

In the film Uggie shows off some great skills, including dropping dead from a gun shot (a recurring trick that is later used to great comic effect), hiding his face in his paws and even dancing, but his impressive resume also boasts skateboarding and water skiing! One can only believe that Uggie will be one to watch in 2012!

Another four legged performance causing a flutter is Joey from War Horse, director Steven Spielberg has spoke of his initial doubts over whether a horse could carry a film, admitting that he had never really considered the animals in his movies, but also saying that he was surprised by how expressive horses could be. Joey was famously played by 14 different horses during the shoot and so perhaps this is less a case of a great animal performance, and more of a great training team with a masterful director. But nonetheless, it has drawn attention to how we consider animals in movies and, alongside The Artist, has highlighted how the mysterious relationship between man and beast can be the starting point for an excellent story.

Here’s to more fur covered co-stars walking the red carpet in 2012 and who knows, with enough pressure maybe the Oscars will one year open a category for best non-human performance.


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