Amelie filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet wants us all to meet The Young And Prodigious T.S. Spivet this week, thereby adding another talented tyke to the canon of genius kids on film. We decided to see which of those tots are charismatically smart and which get on our last nerve (Spivet's the former, for the record)…
Prodigy: Fred Tate (Adam Hann-Byrd)
Fairly standard stuff: he can read, write and arithmetise to a degree far beyond those of his classmates, and he also plays piano at “competition level.” All of which, somewhat predictably, means he’s ostracised by the kids around him. Poor Fred. His mother, Dede (Jodie Foster, who also directs) reluctantly signs him up to a school for gifted youngsters where a bald professor recruits him to battle catastrophic evil he learns life lessons from a “Mathemagician” (P.J. Ochlan) and a street-smart college guy (Harry Connick Jr.) In the end, Fred is able to connect with people his own age. Yay Fred!
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 3/10.
He doesn’t flaunt his brains in people’s faces and is already bullied for his trouble, so we’ll go easy on him.
Prodigy: Jimmy Neutron (voiced by Debi Derryberry)
It’s all there in the name, smart-alec. He’s a quiff-haired electronics whizz who delights in pushing the boundaries of science. It’s easy to find his enthusiasm for science delightful, but he’s also a hyperactive, occasionally mean-spirited type who uses his skills to taunt his enemy and is apparently happy when his parents and all the other adults in town are abducted by aliens. This leaves him one step away from assuming total dominance of the Earth and forcing anyone he doesn’t like into experiments. He’s dangerous, and therefore must be stopped, even if he does eventually come around and save everyone from the aliens.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 8/10
If left unchecked, he’ll destroy us all. What he needs is a little more discipline and a better haircut.
Prodigy: Ray Boyd (Jonathan Lipnicki)
All right, so he’s perhaps less of a prodigy than others on this list, but he does know a lot of facts, and he’s only too happy to spew them at random strangers. Did you know that bees and dogs can smell fear? Are you aware of the weight of a human head? Even if you didn’t want to know, you will after five minutes in Ray's company. The kid is mostly appealing despite his endless recitation of facts - we think it's his adorable glasses - and he’s written in such a way that he wins over Tom Cruise’s sports agent. The fact that Cruise falls for Ray’s mother Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) is probably a deciding factor. Less “you had me at hello” and more “you had me at hot mom”.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 5/10
We’ll give the kid a pass since he doesn’t create weird science experiments or drive too many people mad.
Prodigy: Mei (Catherine Chan)
She essentially a human calculator, able to memorize and utilize long strings of numbers. So naturally she’s kidnapped and put to use by the Triads, who want to exploit her mind instead of relying on vulnerable digital storage for their info. Oh, and the Russian Mafia plus a few corrupt cops are also after her abilities. Cue Jason Statham as a former police officer-turned-cage-fighter-turned-tramp, who decides to protect the girl using any means necessary. And when we say “any means necessary”, we mean violence.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 4/10
Mei scores well on this because she spends most of her time being scared and not mocking everyone else for their lack of similar skills. Because let’s face it: you don’t thank a Stath character by telling him he’s got all the mental capabilities of a tree. He might punch you into the middle of next week even if you are small and girlish.
Prodigy: Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer)
Meet sweet Akeelah Anderson, the daughter of a widowed mother (Angela Bassett) and a talented pupil at Crenshaw Middle School in Los Angeles. She’s a word whiz and is soon winning spelling bees left and right thanks to support from a grumpy English professor (Laurence Fishburne) who's hiding his own personal tragedies. Akeelah still struggles with her grades and her family, and – spoiler alert – ends up co-champion of the National Spelling Bee.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 6/10
Akeelah acts out in a relatively clichéd way – she’s smart! No one understands her! Her family life is tough so she’ll bunk off school! Get a job, you 12-year-old slacker.
Prodigy: Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown)
He’s a double threat: proficient on the basketball court and an unsung talent when it comes to the written word. So naturally, he stumbles on a reclusive mentor, William Forrester (Sean Connery) who takes him under his wing and guides him to success. Of course, Jamal can’t just accept help, there has to be controversy and scenes of our hero standing up to authority. Because isn’t that what every genius does in a film like this? To be honest, we can’t be all that invested in Jamal’s life when Shir Shean is bushy doing hish shtuff.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 7/10
You’re great at basketball. You’re an amazing writer-in-the-making. Pick one, Jamal, we don’t have time for you whining about your life otherwise while we're trying to focus on Connery.
Prodigy: Joshua Waitzkin (Max Pomeranc)
Chess! Turns out, Joshua is a grandmaster in the making. At least, that’s what his parents and strict instructor Bruce Pandolfini (Ben Kingsley) believe. But Joshua’s not so sure he responds to Bruce’s badgering, and would rather learn the skills of chess hustler Vinnie (Laurence Fishburne, apparently everyone’s choice for unorthodox teachers of prodigies). It’s all based on the real-life tale of Waitzkin, who crops up in a cameo.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 2/10
Since Joshua is a real person, it’s harder to be annoyed with him, since what could be big clichés mostly all happened to him.
(Former) Prodigies: Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), Richie (Luke Wilson)
The Tenenbaums are quite a brood. Chas was a financial whizz now struggling to raise his sons; adopted sister Margot became a famous playwright but also deals with deep depressions and Richie showed early promise as a champion tennis player who suffered a nervous breakdown that ended his career. It’s not tough to see why these three would be messed up given their initial, frustrating success and their downright dangerous parents Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston).
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 9/10
We’d be more forgiving since they had to endure their parents, but they’re such appalling whiners and so shockingly free of self-awareness that a lesson is required.
Prodigy: Jeremy “Powder” Reed (Sean Patrick Flannery)
After his mother was struck by lightning while pregnant with him, young Jeremy grows up hairless and possessed of strange powers. He makes electrical devices behave strangely and can apparently see the truth about people around him. This, along with his abnormally high IQ, means that he’s treated as an outcast in the small town he calls home. It takes a local physics teachers and some kind-hearted others to help him understand how he can help.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 3/10
He didn’t ask to be as hairless as a manx cat and loaded down with telepathy. Still, we’d like to think he gave up a promising career as a superhero to be struck by lightning again and vanish in a blinding flash. Rude.
Prodigy: Evan Taylor (Freddie Highmore)
The product of a one night stand between musicians Lyla (Keri Russell) and Louis (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Evan Taylor is given up for adoption by his grandfather without his mother’s knowledge and ends up living in an orphanage outside of New York. Blessed with the power to see and hear music all around him, he runs away to the city, where he’s found and taken in by tramp musician Maxwell “Wizard” Wallace. Working as a street performer, the newly rechristened August Rush is conveniently selected to play in a concert that both his parents attend. Can you say easy happy ending?
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 8/10
The seeing/hearing music all around thing is a little too precious and gets tired quickly, plus “August” is such a ray of sunshine that you end up hoping for a rain cloud. This one would get a 10/10, but Freddie Highmore's inherent niceness just saves him.
Prodigy: Joshua Cairn (Jacob Kogan)
Superb intelligence is one thing. Being a spooky weirdo who acts decades ahead of your age is quite another. In a change from the usual model of inspirational tales about talented tykes, Joshua instead opts for Hitchockian horror suspense as parents Brad (Sam Rockwell) and Abby (Vera Farmiga) begin to realise that their super-smart child is also the most dangerous sprog this side of The Omen. Joshua is soon exhibiting sociopathic tendencies and finds a way to drive his parents mad/to prison so he can be free to live with his uncle.
Random Annoyance Calibration Factor: 9/10
He’s evil. Evil! But if he’s reading this, we’ll alter the score to 1/10 because no one should upset this little psycho.