Hollywood has a real youth movement going on.
There is a whole new batch of child stars out there, giving seriously good performances in quality movies and television shows.
Their backgrounds and performances are all over the map. Some were literally discovered out of the blue (Quvenzhané Wallis), others come from Hollywood royalty (Elle Fanning, Jaden Smith). Some are asked to play very un-childlike roles ("Madmen's" Kiernan Shipka, Chandler Riggs of "The Walking Dead").
And some are from the Bay Area (Thomas Horn, from "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," Zendaya from TV's "Shake It Up.")
In all cases, their collective future seems bright and the chances are - unlike so many other child actors - these will be remembered for
Aubrey Anderson-Emmons and Ariel Winter from "Modern Family." (ABC/JORDIN ALTHAUS)
their careers, not their appearances in the tabloids. And if they seem like they're more mature than many of the predecessors, maybe that's because these kids aren't necessarily doing "The Brady Bunch" and surf movies. They are tackling tough, complicated material and dealing with high expectations. And they're delivering.
Here are some of the bright young faces (under 18 years of age) that are lighting up TV screens:
Kiernan Shipka, 13 (Sally Draper, "Mad Men"): Of all the performers on our TV list, Shipka has the biggest challenge. She plays the troubled child of a broken family awkwardly struggling to come of age in the tumultuous 1960s. And she does so with a raw, heartfelt honesty. As the series has gone on, Shipka has seen more screen time, all of it very much deserved. Maggie Elizabeth Jones, 10 (Maddie Fox, "Ben & Kate"): When it comes to kiddie stars, the word "adorable" can be overused, but it truly applies to Jones. The redheaded moppet melted hearts and milked laughs as the perceptive daughter of a high-strung single mother. And though the critically-acclaimed show was recently canceled, we expect to see a lot more of Jones. Nolan Gould, 14, Rico Rodriguez, 14, and Ariel Winter, 15 (Luke, Manny and Alex, "Modern Family"): The adults on TV's best family sitcom might grab most of the accolades, but these kids have proved they have the comedic skills to go toe-to-toe with their elders. They each bring something different to the party. Manny is mature beyond his years, Luke is innocently rambunctious, and Alex is the understated brainiac who delivers withering one-liners. As an indication of their value to the show, they and 22-year-old Sarah Hyland (Haley), all received hefty pay raises last year. Chandler Riggs, 12 (Carl Grimes, "The Walking Dead"): Talk about dealing with heavy emotional baggage. Riggs' character nearly died from a shotgun wound. Then he had to shoot his surrogate father and put his mother out of misery moments after she gave birth to his sister. All this and lots of zombie-killing in between. He's grown up before our eyes and has had us riveted the whole way. Zendaya, 16 (Rocky Blue, "Shake It Up"): The pride of Oakland, Zendaya is a triple threat: She acts, she dances and she sings (having recorded her first album last year). A bundle of sweet-natured energy, Zendaya is instantly engaging, and she shares a winning on-screen chemistry with co-star Bella Thorne. The future looks bright for this Disney Channel standout. Jared Gilmore, 12 (Henry Mills, "Once Upon a Time"): It isn't easy trying to convince nonbelievers that magic truly does exist, but an impish grin and a super strong will can certainly help. In the early going, Gilmore very capably brought the cute factor. But as time wore on, he showed that the adoptive son of an Evil Queen can be as forcefully assertive as he needs to be. David Mazouz, 12 (Jake Bohm, "Touch"): Here's a daunting task: Play a supersmart kid with special powers, but play him as a mute. As his numbers-crunching character, Mazouz does just that. He has the ability to project a blank, isolated look while simultaneously suggesting a very active internal thought process. It's harder than it seems. Bebe Wood, 11 (Shania Clemmons, "The New Normal"): To be a kid in a Ryan Murphy show, you have to be lovably eccentric. The bespectacled Wood, who once played the mini-me version of Liz Lemon in "30 Rock," fits the bill. Smart, sarcastic and opinionated, she calls the adults on their foolishness. Plus, she does a funny impression of Cher. Max Burkholder, 15 (Max Braverman, "Parenthood"): "Parenthood" is filled with wonderful performances by young actors, but topping the list is Burkholder, who plays a boy with Asperger's syndrome. The show could have taken the easy way out by making the character a cute kid with a few quirks. Instead, it has delved into complex, often dark territory, and Burkholder's realistic depiction has deepened over time. Atticus Shaffer, 14 (Brick Heck, "The Middle"): TV has always had a soft spot for pint-size oddballs, so it's no surprise that we immediately fell hard for the book-smart, but socially naive, Brick. Shaffer manages to pack a lot of personality, humor and heart into that little frame. His reward? Brick gets to deliver some of the show's best lines -- whether whispered or not.
Follow Chuck Barney at http://twitter.com/chuckbarney.