Performances In Kids' Movies That Are Way Better Than They Have Any Right To Be

List Rules
Vote up the performances in kids' movies that went above and beyond.

We generally think of family movies as being the "lightweights" of the cinema world, but there have been plenty of amazing performances in kids' movies. From actors who star in something because they want their own kids to be able to watch them to the many, many, many thespians who have essayed the part of Ebenezer Scrooge over the years, there are lots of reasons why top-tier talent take on roles in movies aimed at young ones.

Just because a good actor is in a kids' movie, though, doesn't mean their performance is anything special. Too often, talented actors take on roles in family films with an eye toward collecting a paycheck and not much else. Sometimes, though, the combination of talent and material is perfect, and an actor delivers an unforgettable, show-stopping performance in what could otherwise have been just another children's movie to clog video store shelves - back when there was such a thing. These roles tend to not only elevate their material, but often become defining moments in the actor's career. Remember to vote up your favorites.


  • Okay, so the 2002 live-action version of Scooby-Doo was never going to win any Oscars. But it would be impossible to argue that lanky actor Matthew Lillard wasn't perfectly cast as Shaggy. In fact, he has continued to voice the character in pretty much all Scooby-Doo-related media ever since - more than 130 times, as a matter of fact. It isn't just that Lillard has the look of Shaggy down, either. He manages to perfectly capture the voice work and mannerisms that were introduced by Casey Kasem in the original cartoon series.

    Even the critics' consensus on Rotten Tomatoes - where the film has a meager 38% freshness rating - says that Lillard is "uncannily spot-on as Shaggy," a role for which he reportedly studied by watching every cartoon he could "get my hands on."

    • Age: 53
    • Birthplace: Michigan, USA, Lansing
    950 votes
  • Let's be real here: The scene where we're first introduced to Willy Wonka in this 1971 classic would be enough to guarantee Wilder a spot as one of the great performers in a children's film all by itself. To the tolling of a bell and the cheers and applause of the crowd, Wonka slowly makes his way down the red carpet toward the front gates, hobbling painfully, with the aid of a cane, only to drop into a sudden roll and bounce at the last moment.

    It's a surprising turn in a performance that is full of them, and Wilder anchors the whimsy and humor - not to mention the strange, psychedelic darkness - of Roald Dahl's script with a panache that makes it all look effortless.

    • Age: Dec. at 83 (1933-2016)
    • Birthplace: USA, Wisconsin, Milwaukee
    783 votes
  • This 1988 "Chinatown but with cartoons" film noir from director Robert Zemeckis is ahead of the game - and surprisingly adult - in a lot of different ways, and one of the linchpins that holds it all together is Bob Hoskins's performance. Hoskins plays Eddie Valiant, the film's hard-boiled private detective with a tragic past. Valiant and his brother used to work the Toon Town beat, and they loved it - until Valiant's brother perished at the hands (or rather, the falling piano) of a toon.

    In a performance worthy of Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op, Hoskins brings every facet of Valiant effortlessly to life, from the quiet professionalism, to the damaged vulnerability papered over with cynicism, to the broad, slapstick comedy he and his brother once enjoyed - a fondness Valiant has to rekindle if he's going to foil the bad guys and save the day. And he does it all while acting opposite a cartoon rabbit who isn't actually there.

    • Age: Dec. at 71 (1942-2014)
    • Birthplace: England, Bury St Edmunds
    562 votes
  • The Muppets are always known for their top-tier human guest stars - from Vincent Price to Elton John - and plenty of great actors have played Ebenezer Scrooge over the years. Put them both together and you've got Michael Caine's unforgettable turn as the infamous miser in The Muppet Christmas Carol, where he plays the role as if he's "working with the Royal Shakespeare Company," as Caine put it.

    Director Brian Henson - son of the late, great Jim Henson - later recalled his first meeting with Caine. "One of the first things he said was: 'I will never wink. I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role and there are no puppets around me.'" For his performance, Caine took inspiration from "Wall Street cheats and embezzlers" who he thought "represented a very good picture of meanness and greed." The result is a performance in which Caine's Scrooge seems "particularly irredeemable," making his ultimate change of heart all the more heartening.

    • Age: 89
    • Birthplace: Rotherhithe, London, United Kingdom
    504 votes
  • There are a lot of memorable things in Jim Henson's Labyrinth. It's one of the earliest films from a young Jennifer Connelly. It has tons of creatures from Henson's workshop, many of them designed by Brian Froud. Then there are the songs. But perhaps the most memorable thing in Labyrinth is David Bowie, who plays the film's Goblin King and probably kickstarted the sexual awakenings of a great many people who were going through puberty in the 1980s.

    More than just a pair of tight pants, however, Bowie gives a commanding performance as Jareth the Goblin King: seductive, sinister, charismatic, and enigmatic in a way that captures the fickle majesty of the fairy world better than most other fairytales - whether on the page or on screen - ever manage.

    • Age: 76
    • Birthplace: Brixton, London, United Kingdom
    514 votes
  • "That'll do, Pig. That'll do."

    Babe may be the eponymous star of the picture, but its heart rests in the relationship between the little pig and Farmer Hoggett, played by veteran character actor James Cromwell, who snagged his only Academy Award nomination for the part, which required him to not only bond with Babe, but also sing to him, dance a jig for him, and feed him from a bottle. It was just one of a whopping seven Oscar nominations the film earned, including Best Picture.

    Cromwell didn't just change the movie, though. Acting in Babe also changed him. In fact, Cromwell became an ethical vegan after starring in the film, not to mention an outspoken animal rights activist - which has gotten him arrested several times in the years since.

    • Age: 83
    • Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, USA
    406 votes