There’s no age limit for passion — meet Perry Chen, a 10-yr-old film critic, radio show host, animator…
When 8 years old Perry Chen entered 3rd grade, his teacher was in for a surprise. Perry was an avid reader and was able to understand the meaning of words at high school level. Instead of drilling him with the same homework practice as expected by an average 3rd grader, the teacher encouraged him to write — and changed his life forever!
Today, less than a month shy of his 11th birthday, Perry is famous as the youngest film critic in the world and gets free passes to screenings of the newest films for kids, interviews movie makers and actors, even joins them on the red carpet. As a young reviewer, he has a unique way of rating movies by giving them starfish and is not looking just for the visual effects and their appeal to kids, but is very interested in the story — particularly the moral message coming out of it.
You would think he’s too excited about being a movie critic, but Perry’s passion doesn’t end with film reviews. He already had an interesting career doing book reviews in the past and recently added restaurant reviews to his growing portfolio. He enjoys drawing and essentially turning any kind of materials into art and have recently ventured into doing animation films. Since his interests are far and wide, there’s no knowing what he may end up doing next!
Perry believes that combining education with entertainment is a great way to inspire learning and get more kids follow their passion. He has recently been invited to speak at TEDxRedmond — a TEDx event particularly hosting kid speakers in front of a kid audience:
We had an opportunity to ask Perry few questions and are really happy to share his story with you — enjoy!
Waiting for Superman, which you recently rated with 4.5 out of 5 starfish, paints a bleak picture for many schools and teachers. Still, your story as a movie critic seems to start 2 years ago with an insightful 3rd grade teacher. Can you share something from this story that explains your relationship with this teacher?
My 3rd grade teacher Ms Joli Harris is wonderful, who encouraged my writing book and then movie reviews when my mom suggested the idea to her after she told mom about my decoding words at high school level. I would turn in my reviews on Mondays and she would write comments of encouragement and sometimes questions for further discussions on each of my review for the rest of my 3rd grade year, all in her spare time. She was loving and nurturing, supportive of my creative endeavors always. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher! Our 3-way collaboration (parent-student-teacher) is the foundation of my later success as a child film critic. I am so grateful to her…
What is your favorite movie? Do you also have a favorite character from that movie? What do you like the best about them?
It’s hard to pick one favorite movie from the 50+ I’ve reviewed. In 2010, How to Train Your Dragon really stands out, because I am a “dragonologist” who also draws dragons well, and was born in the year of the dragon (2000). Most importantly, I love Hiccup who seems wimpy and different, but is the one with true power inside who saved his people by seeing and thinking differently. I love the moral of the film: Friends are more powerful than foes. Being different empowers you to see what others cannot. Also, interviewing directors Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, and voice talents Jay Baruchel, Craig Ferguson, and America Ferrara at the press junket made the film even more special!
You seem to look for powerful moral in the movies you review. Can you explain why? Do you think the moral is important to your friends and other kids too?
I love movies with powerful moral because I think movies are more than entertainment. We kids can learn important life lessons and how the world works in a great movie. The best or “Perrific!” movies are educational and leave you thinking long after it’s over because of the powerful moral which is important for me in my rating of the film. I hope it’s important for my friends and other kids too, because by thinking about the moral of a film, kids can get more out of watching the film.
Besides your mom, who do you think helped you the most in your career as a child movie critic, radio talk show host, filmmaker, animator, artist… an amazing and impressive list for anyone, let alone a 10 year old like you!
I mentioned my 3rd grade teacher Ms. Joli Harris as another important person. I also interact with other film critics in San Diego and are friends with them. Leonard Maltin, a renowned film critic, author and film historian has been very kind in giving me great advice. He said I should watch some old classic films (such as Casablanca) to learn and compare with newer films, and see how they’re made. I also look up to Roger Ebert whose writing style I like a lot. The San Diego Union Tribune called me “An Ebert in training” last year.
How do your friends or other kids at school react to your reviews? Do they find it exciting and cool you get a chance to do the reviews and interview famous people? Do you also get some less encouraging responses?
A lot of kids in my school think what I’m doing is cool, they love getting free movie passes for press screenings from me. They think interviewing filmmakers and stars are exciting. I have not got negative responses from kids. Some adults though doubt a 10-yr-old can write the kind of movie reviews I wrote. Sometimes, I’ve shown my movie review notebook to people so they recognize my handwriting. I don’t let the doubters bother me, and keep doing what I enjoy. Again, I have many more friends than foes ; ). (Remember friends are more powerful than foes from How to Train Your Dragon?)
We suppose the first reaction from adults when you say “Hi, I am Perry Chen and I am a movie critic” is to laugh before taking you seriously. Do you find that discouraging? What inspires you to keep doing your best to convince them they should listen to you!?
Adults laugh because they have “lower” expectations of what kids can do. Once they read my reviews or see me on TV reviewing movies without notes, they know I’m for “real.” I just continue to do what I enjoy and let my work speak for itself.
What would you like to change in the world and specifically in your local community? How can you contribute to make that happen?
I would like to inspire other kids to start pursuing their dreams and passion by sharing my experiences in movie review and making animation. Perry’s Previews and Amazing Kids are co-organizing our first kids Oscar pick contest called “Amazing Kids Perrific Oscar Picks” contest for kids 6-17 worldwide to pick their favorite animation film from the Oscar-nominees to win best animation Oscar and have the option to write a 50-word review of why they pick that film. Winners can get DVDs of the nominated films.
We want kids voice to be heard and get them involved in combining education with entertainment while watching movies.
You seem to have lots of other interests besides movies. The list seems to includes many activities and hobbies — from Kung-Fu, to Chinese language, to drawing and from writing poems, to folding origami, to gardening! Do you find time to play with your friends or simply play with games and toys? What is your favorite toy or game?
I do play with friends from my school and elsewhere, not as often as for some other kids. But I enjoy it. On most weekends, I would go on nature walks with my parents to Torrey Pines State Reserve, the beach, or Carmel Creek trail. One of my favorite weekend activities is to visit the San Diego Zoo. I love doing live drawings of colorful birds at the Hummingbird Aviary (my favorite spot), petting animals, listening to Dr. Zoolittle’s stories at the Children’s Zoo area, and watching the bird show. I also spend time in our backyard garden with flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. I help my parents harvest fruit and vegetables for fun. I enjoy watching my favorite TV show Phineas & Ferb on the web. It’s a funny, entertaining, and smart show for kids and parents to enjoy. I also likes to toss my stuffed penguin toy with my parents as a fun exercise. When I was younger, I loved to play this “deep dark forest” game with my mom in the big closet in the master bedroom, where we pretend it’s a deep dark forest, and we do role play of different animals. It was a great game! We still play that sometimes now.
Your message to kids from the TEDxRedmond stage was “If you believe you can achieve! Dream big and do something about it!” Would you like to add something to this message for the kids following World4Children but you didn’t say it during your TEDxRedmond speech?
Persistence is key! Kids may like to do one thing today and lose interest on it the next day. In order to do something really well, you need to spend time on it and keep at it, and NOT giving up because it’s difficult or you get bored. Find something that REALLY interest you and learn it and get advice from experts, ask your parents to help connect you with experts.People in general are very nice to kids when they need help. Movie review and making animation are NOT easy things to do for a kid. But I persisted with my parents’ love and encouragement, and my teacher’s support. Mom also found me professional animators to show me how to use animation software and tablet. I’ve learned so much since last year, it’s amazing! I’m almost done with my first animation short about a young Holocaust survivor, called Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest. We’ll submit it to various film festivals around the world this year!
What would you like to say to adults that may be interested in working with kids like you, but for some reason or another haven’t done so yet?
Adults can be great mentors for kids who share their interest. I want them to remember when they were kids and be kind and nurturing to us as if they’re treating their younger self! That’s how kids can learn and become better.
As usual, we like to ask few questions the parents too, so we had a chance to talk to Zhu Shen, Perry’s mom and supporter in many ways! Dr. Shen has her own biotech consulting company BioForesight and has produced an educational DVD about “The Art & Science of Social Media and Networking.“
Can you tell us your part in the story with the 3rd grade teacher? Did you find the engagement with the teacher helpful in inspiring Perry to write book and later movie reviews or you ended up helping him on your own?
Perry’s 3rd grade teacher Ms Harris’s encouragement was essential. It shows Perry that she cared and she thought this was an important activities worth her time and support. I spend a lot of time with Perry to take him see movies and discuss with him afterward, and to type up his hand-written review and post them on his website. I also coordinate with all the media outlets Perry writes for (Animation World Network, Amazing Kids, San Diego Union Tribune, San Diego Entertainer, etc.) and media inquiries, events, speaking engagement, film and other commercial projects. From working with Perry, I have learned many new skills, including website management, photojournalism, video editing and production, making documentary films, and even animation! We have made lots of friends with award-winning filmmakers, animators, and artists from various countries, including in China where I came from. It has been an amazing journey already, and I look forward to more adventures and exploration with Perry!
As you’re working with Perry to promote him and support his dream, did you hit some walls that made you frustrated? Can you share a quick story?
We’ve had so many friends (real life friends and virtual friends online) who are so supportive and wonderful of Perry’s artistic and creative activities. There are always challenges along the way, sometimes technical, other times personal. One needs to face them and find creative solutions a lot of times. I remember when Perry was working on his first 7-second animation scene as part of 70-animator collaboration “Guard Dog Global Jam“ based on Bill Plympton’s Oscar-nominated animation short “Guard Dog” last Nov, it was difficult to figure out certain aspect of the animation software functionality as first-time animator, and to get it formatted correctly for the final movie file. I emailed other animators on Perry’s behalf, and called Toon Boom Animation software technical support staff many times who were most helpful, before finally figuring out how to use certain features and get the film done according to specs on time! Again patience and persistence are important, we’re grateful to all who offered to help along the way.
Any positive stories from people embracing the idea of a 10 year old movie critic as something exciting instead of just cute and fun?
Many. All the media who covered Perry thought the story was an important one as it relates to education and entertainment, parenting, how to find and nurture children’s talents. Our friends and partners love working with us.
You hope the world in 2025 offers your son to….?
Though I can’t predict what Perry will be doing exactly in 2025, I think it’s highly likely he will be using his creativity and imagination in whatever he’ll be doing professionally, be it animator or animation director, artist, author, speaker. I don’t think he’ll be content with only doing movie reviews though… He might become a cross-cultural ambassador of film and arts between US and China and beyond. The most important thing for me as his mom is that he enjoys whatever he chooses to pursue and feels happy!