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When adolescence looms

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ZAIJIAN Jaranilla needs to grow up with his characters—sooner or later.

Last year, whenever we would watch child star Zaijian Jaranilla on TV, we asked ourselves how much longer he could continue playing juvenile roles, before adolescence would catch up with him.  Well, on “Wansapanataym” last Jan. 2, it finally dawned on us that the time may have come for the popular young actor to take stock of his undeniable physical development, and reevaluate his stellar career’s progress.

While the young actor is still cute and his eyes continue to be singularly expressive, other changes like the pitch and timbre of his speaking voice are now making it a bit of a stretch for viewers to believe him when he’s playing a young and innocent child.

To be sure (and to his everlasting credit), Zaijian is doing much better than ’70s and ’80s boy wonder Niño Muhlach when he hit adolescence. Niño was too with-it, porma and siga, a pint-sized adult rather than a child-man in awkward transition, so his latter portrayals were no longer disarming and affecting.

Since Zaijian hasn’t gone the porma route, he and we have been spared all that ersatz slickness—and, what a relief that’s been for everybody!

It’s a good thing, too, that last Jan. 2’s episode did more than just entertain, and taught young viewers a valuable lesson about not expecting what you can’t get, and not living beyond your family’s suddenly limited means.

Zaijian played a youth whose family had to find emergency shelter with a poor relative and he didn’t like it one bit—and showed it.

Initially, a toy turtle with magical powers helped him forget and escape, but when the magical “genie” vanished, the griping boy had to learn his lessons the hard way.

The toy turtle was much too juvenile a fantasy device for the adolescent actor, so we were really relieved when it was written out of the story for a spell, and the boy had no choice but to confront the tests and challenges of the all-too-real world.

This is where Zaijian’s well-honed ability as an actor served him in good stead—no longer as a wee and clueless child, but as the more informed adolescent he has become.

What’s up for Zaijian later this season? More inspiring and instructive TV roles—hopefully with less fantasticating elements to them.

Enough of escapist, “deus ex genie” solutions, it’s time for the evolving characters he plays to continue to learn how to face reality and solve real-life problems themselves.

There may come a time when, like many other adolescent actors, Zaijian may have to stop appearing on TV and in the movies for a spell, to allow “maturing” nature to take its course. Or, as in last Jan. 2’s episode, the character he portrays can continue to be visible on the small screen, but no longer relying on facile, childish fantasy to delight viewers.

We submit that, while this is much tougher to pull off than just whipping up yet another facile visual effect, its rewards will be much richer, and empathetic young viewers can learn much more from the shared experience than simply relying on a magical genie!

What about other outstanding juvenile actors, like Xyriel Manabat and Yogo Singh? Happily, they’re younger than Zaijian and have some more years left to entertain viewers with their precocious portrayals.

We really think it’s time for Xyriel to be given a movie showcase, to boost her stellar cachet further. As for Yogo, he should be given another drama series soon, to develop his already admirable thespic skills even more.

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