Enough female Disney stars have been nurtured now over the last five decades to show that the trajectory from Disney star to adult star is typically uniform. The only difference is that more current Disney stars are taking it upon themselves to do the most shocking thing their management teams can conjure to shake the above image. And, even in earlier milder cases, it’s not always the best road to go on without a slow buildup.
Yes, we’ve now seen a 50-year highway of everyone from Annette Funicello up to Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens attempt to go from the Disney philosophy to one that attempts to satisfy mainstream adult audiences. In the case of Annette Funicello, her attempt was going headfirst into those iconic beach musical features with Frankie Avalon. Even today, some of them have a few raunchy gags (and posterior shots) that are surprising for the era.
But Walt Disney made sure Funicello covered up a little more in those movies. By the time the era of Disney stars Hayley Mills and Jodie Foster rolled around, the 1960s and ’70s made cinematic nudity acceptable for a blasting away of a former innocent image. Nonetheless, the nude scenes Hayley Mills did in her adult movies (or even Foster’s Iris in “Taxi Driver”) were nothing compared to what audiences are going to see in “Spring Breakers” featuring two former Disney stars.
Even if Selena Gomez is reportedly kept from being the most debauched character in the film, it was an obviously desperate attempt to get her and fellow Disney star Vanessa Hudgens away from the family-friendly image they’ve had. It’s one that’s hit the contrived wall at this point, especially with the recent deflowering of wild child Miley Cyrus after making nearly a billion dollars on her Disney persona. Assuming it really is a predictable path for each ensuing Disney generation, what does it mean for the next wave of Mouse House stars down the road?
Perhaps the only template to go on is former Disney star Hilary Duff who seems to have made herself appealing to adults without having to go to extremes. While, arguably, her career is in stall at the moment, she wisely went into indie movies for a time where she nurtured a fairly decent acting career playing a few interesting characters. Nowhere did she have to go and do a movie that forced her to look like America’s most wanted in a bikini.
Chances are good that Duff will make it back to indies soon and re-nurture that side of her career toward something mainstream. In the meantime, the enfant terrible physical transformation of Gomez and Hudgens in “Spring Breakers” will probably be stamped to them as a scarlet letter for a while. Unlike non-Disney star Emma Watson who seems to be leaping back from playing a teen thief in “The Bling Ring” to Disney’s “Cinderella”, it would be a challenge for Gomez and Hudgens if they go back to something family friendly.
Depending on your point of view, the worst of it comes with the precedent set for former Disney stars. Just what will the next crop of Disney stars have to do to be accepted as sophisticated adult actors once they’re set free in the next five to 10 years?
We won’t even go to the places you’re thinking, unless finding the Hilary Duff middle ground manages to become a successful enough template.