Disney has expanded their enterprise into many different areas, one of them being television. As Disney has explored the medium of television, they have focused the shows for the audience of children. In 1955, The Mickey Mouse Club was one of the first shows that Disney had on television. In order to appeal to younger audiences, the show had “young attractive stars performing before a live audience, clowns, magicians, cartoons, guest stars, educational elements, and music written for the show” (Pendergast). Children liked to watch the show because they were watching kids that were about the same age as them, and they could relate to the actors.
The children watching the show were heavily influenced by the Mickey Mouse Club because they looked up to and saw the actors as role models (Telotte). They wanted to be like the actors, so Disney profited off this generation of children by putting out merchandise related to the show. In this way, Disney started making more and more money because of these child actors. Many people argue about the effect that watching Disney’s television shows and “their positive and negative influence on kids” (Hillstrom). However, what about the effect that Disney’s television shows have on the child actors?
These children spend their childhood on the sets of television shows, “being a kid is a full-time job, with scripts to memorize, and tutoring to endure” (Corliss). They are playing the characters of normal kids, without being able to experience a normal childhood themselves, it is no wonder that many child stars get into trouble when they “start growing up and moving out” (Armstrong, Markovitz) and leave Disney, because they have not been able to experience normal life growing up as a Disney actor.
Disney’s “ability to grow teen talent” year after year is what makes the Disney Channel so successful (Luscombe). While Disney’s other ventures are not making as much money as they used to, “Disney’s Teen Machine has become a finely tuned profit pump in an industry rife with unpredictability” (Luscombe). Disney seems to have figured out the formula for a great teen star, and they know when they see one. Casting agents at Disney say that “while they love high-energy kids who can deliver a line and get the humor, they avoid overtrained types” “they try to cast very real kids who have raw talent” (Armstrong).
For most child stars, television is not the endgame, it is just the launchpad that they need to build themselves up until they become big stars. They also cannot just rely on their raw talent to get them though, acting is their job and they are getting paid to film the shows and star in the movies that Disney creates, so they need to not only be “cute, smart, and quick to learn lines, but also dedicated, focused, and in it for the long haul” (Armstrong).
Disney Channel’s stereotypical television character is a teenage girl or boy with a strong family who sometimes gets into funny situations that they learn from in the end. The story lines differ from show to show, but the characters usually have that same background. They always have strong family values with an annoying sibling or two in order to make the show more interesting. Many of Disney’s successful shows have been known to continue for at least four seasons and sometimes more. This is because Disney is a family friendly network so they advertise “wholesome family entertainment”, and appeal to not only the children, but also their parents (Pendergast). Parents are a very large part of Disney’s enterprise, because they are the ones who are buying all of the merchandise.
If they do not think that a certain show is having a positive influence on their children, they will stop letting their children watch the show which leads to less merchandise being bought. In this way, the teen actors also need to be very aware of the decisions that they make. Because they are the stars of these Disney shows, the kids that watch them on television look up to them. They instantly become role models for these children whether they want to be or not. And if they make a bad decision in their everyday lives and it gets into the media, and parents disapprove of the message it sends to their children, they stop being consumers of the actor and the show.
Eventually the child and teen actors grow up, and want to leave the Disney Channel and pursue a career as an adult actor. However making the switch from Disney to Hollywood has not been achieved often. Disney has crafted a certain image for their stars, and it is hard for the actors to shake an image that has been associated with them for most of their childhood. The young actors grow out of the Disney shows and want to branch out into more serious roles, and many leave Disney and a lot of money behind to do so, for example Hilary Duff star of the hit Disney show Lizzie McGuire “famously walked away from a multi-million dollar offer” to start off on her own without Disney (Armstrong, Markovitz).
Sometimes the upside for Disney is that when a star moves on, “the company no longer has to answer for every saucy leaked photo and tabloid scandal” in order to keep up their cookie cutter image (Armstrong, Markovitz). However, Disney would like to keep making money off of the stars, and they do that by “creating more opportunities so that the talent is more interested in engaging longer with the company” (Luscombe).
In trying to keep their young stars, Disney has “created more opportunities for the stars within the company” (Luscombe). Disney has created many paths that they have their stars take, in wanting them to stay at Disney, they make the stars get involved in all aspects of disney. They make the stars go into no only acting in their television shows, but also getting involved in music and singing. This not only helps the stars gain more fame and fans, but makes Disney much more money than before. Instead of hiring actors and singers and dancers, Disney has shaped their stars so that they do everything with just one person. Disney has also had success in putting all three of these aspects together when they created High School Musical and The Cheetah Girls.
They also take stars from their different television shows and put them in special episodes of other shows. This tactic advertises the individual actor and also a new show. Another way Disney gets their stars more involved in the company is if the stars record music and they put it in another movie, it advertises both the actor and the new movie. Disney’s advertising tactics have make their company more successful, and also their stars more famous.
However because Disney has incorporated the stars into the company so much and has advertised them and their work as Disney, it is hard for them to branch out, which is exactly what Disney wants. They want to make it hard for the Actors to become disassociated with Disney. However, some stars handle branching away from Disney better than others. For example, Shia LaBeouf became very successful after Disney, starring in many great movies such as the Transformers series. Other former Disney stars handled the Disney branding badly, such as Miley Cyrus.
She starred in the very lucrative Disney Channel show Hannah Montana. Where she played a very pure girl who moves for Tennessee to Malibu and has a secret life as a pop star. Miley had an even harder job at getting away from Disney that most other stars because she was not only known for the character Miley Stewart that she played on the show, but also for the character Hannah Montana which was the pop star alter ego on the show. She had two Disney characters to disassociate with and not just one. It was no secret that “Miley had been publicly testing the waters of adulthood for a few years”, she was taking dramatic and daring Vanity Fair photos and had “vaguely stripperish dance moves” at an awards show performance (Donahue).
She also started to dress differently, less like the character on the show, and more of the short shorts and skin showing clothes. She was trying to change her image from Disney to more dangerous. However, the parents of the children who watched Hannah Montana were angry and made accusations that Miley was now a bad role model for their children and she lost some of her Disney fan base. “Disney makes you a star, you make them an enormous amount of money, and then you either crash and burn or you go out and stake your claim in the real world” (Donahue).
In trying to branch out and get out from under the Disney stereotype, many of the former Disney stars have gotten into trouble with drugs and partying because they go to such drastic measures to change their image. They turn to drug use for the reason that it is so anti-Disney and they feel like that is the only way for people to see them not as their Disney Channel characters but as adults. But because Disney started their careers, they are indebted to them and feel like they owe it to Disney to stay with them for longer than they would want to.
They also now have so much money that they could potentially get out of the business all together and be fairly well off. Disney has made a lot of money off of them and their fame, but they have also made a considerable amount off of Disney. Disney has made its young actors so famous that the kids have the world at their feet (Armstrong, Markovitz).
But how much has the Disney lifestyle affected the child actors in their development and view of the world around them. They have not grown up like other normal kids did, they act for a living, and it is a full time job. They have to memorize lines and they are on set all day, they do not have time to go to school so they have tutors (Corliss). They play characters that live normal lives, and go to school, but they have not experienced these things themselves first hand. They are sheltered from the outside world while they are being shaped by Disney.
They are who many normal children look up to and want to be, but sometimes they might want to just be normal. Having to represent Disney and watch everything that they do and say is a stressful job, and that stress created by Disney’s expectation of them and their fans expectation of them is enough to make anyone want to act out a bit, especially because they are teenagers.
Being in the public eye and always being careful of what you do is not how children are supposed to grow up. They are supposed to be able to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, but these Disney stars do not get the opportunity to make those mistakes because everyone is watching them and if they made even a minuscule mistake, the public would criticize them to no end. They have to live up to the Disney stereotype of the perfect pure child and also try to grow up and learn. Which is why when these stars try to deviate from Disney and to branch out from them, they take the most drastic measures possible because they do not know any other way.
These child actors have so many children looking up to them, and so many people watching them that they do not have any room to breath and just be kids, they grow up too fast and then people criticize them for doing things that are too adult like wearing clothes that show ample amounts of skin or going out to clubs and partying, they grew up too fast in Hollywood and in the public spotlight.
Disney has made billions off of these child actors and have created many opportunities for them to build their fame and fortune (Armstrong). But is Disney taking these children, shaping them into what they want the stars to be, and then when they are too old and Disney no longer needs them are they throwing these actors out to fend for themselves when they do not really know anything different than Disney?
Society expects these children who have had to grow up too quickly in the environment that they were placed in and have not had proper childhoods to be perfect and to not make any mistakes when realistically we should be encouraging them to make mistakes and learn from them. Our society has expectations that are too high for these children and are too high even for adults to meet. We need to put less pressure on these Disney child actors to be perfect and to encourage them to be kids and to have fun.
The pressure that they have on them from Disney to be successful, make a lot of money, and to conform to what Disney wants them to be combined with societies expectations for them to be good role models and to always make the right decision is too much pressure for these children to handle. So they turn to drugs and alcohol so that they are no longer expected to be the perfect person. The child actors are sometimes overlooked in the argument of television, but they have also been affected.
Courtney from Study Moose
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