Former Film.com Senior Editor, David Ehrlich, has a yearly tradition.
Being a child star has a certain stigma to it, some of it deserved. Being a child star of Disney has its own special set of baggage. Some of them have ended up in rehab, and others have gone on to fame, fortune, and even Academy Awards. Read on for 16 of the biggest stars who got their big break from Disney.
Kurt Russell – Kurt Russell had a number of TV roles and bit parts, but his first few breakout roles were in Follow Me, Boys!, The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band, and The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit. Disney also gave him leads in the Medfield College “Dexter Reilly” trilogy. As an adult, he has returned to star in Disney movies including Miracle and Sky High.
Annette Funicello – The rise of Annette Funicello with songwriting team Robert and Richard Sherman is nearly inseparable. Funicello became a popular cast member on The Mickey Mouse Club, and her voice paired with the Sherman Brothers’ songs was a formula for success. Some of their hits together include “Tall Paul,” “Pineapple Princess,” and “Strummin’ Song.”
Tommy Kirk – Tommy Kirk joined The Mickey Mouse Club in 1955 and got his first major credited screen role with Disney playing Travis Coates in Old Yeller. He stayed with Disney up until 1964 when Disney released him from his contract after The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. In that time, he starred in classics like The Shaggy Dog, Babes in Toyland, and The Absent-Minded Professor. He returned to Disney after that for one last film, 1965’s The Monkey’s Uncle.
Julie Andrews – Julie Andrews was passed over for the film adaptation of My Fair Lady, despite having originated the role of Eliza Doolittle on Broadway. Fortunately, she was cast in Walt Disney’s adaptation of Mary Poppins and swept the awards season. In her Golden Globes speech, she famously thanked Jack Warner for not casting her in My Fair Lady, saying, “Finally, my thanks to a man who made a wonderful movie and who made all this possible in the first place, Mr. Jack Warner.”
Hayley Mills – Mills acted in the film Tiger Bay before working for Disney, but her role as Pollyanna was a breakout success, earning her a special Academy Award. It also lead to a long, successful partnership with Disney with films including Summer Magic and The Parent Trap.
Anne Hathaway – Hathaway was famously chosen for Gary Marshall’s romantic comedy because Marshall’s granddaughter thought she had the best “princess hair,” and audiences connected to her every-girl charm. She showed her range in movies like Brokeback Mountain and Rachel Getting Married, eventually winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing Fantine in Les Miserables.
Kenan Thompson – Before Nickelodeon’s All That and Kenan & Kel, this Saturday Night Live cast member got his start in Disney’s Heavy Weights and D2: The Mighty Ducks.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas – Jonathan Taylor Thomas got his start on ABC’s Home Improvement, but his breakout film role was voicing Young Simba in Disney’s The Lion King. He later starred in a number of live-action Disney films including I’ll Be Home for Christmas and Tom and Huck.
Miley Cyrus – For better or worse, Miley Cyrus got her big break with the Disney Channel hit Hannah Montana. She had previously appeared on her father Billy Ray Cyrus’ show Doc and the film Big Fish, but Hannah Montana made her a star. She also voiced Penny in Bolt and appeared on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.
Nick Stahl – This Sin City and Carnivale star got his first big starring role in 1995’s Tall Tale. The film was a financial flop for Disney, but he went on to appear in other major motion pictures including Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and the Oscar-nominated film In the Bedroom.
Hayden Panettiere – Nashville star Hayden Panettiere got three of her first major film roles from Disney, as Dot in Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, Suri in Dinosaur, and Sheryl Yoast in Remember the Titans.
Zac Efron – Zac Efron had a slew of TV acting roles before his time working with Disney, but he got his big break playing basketball player Troy Bolton in the Disney Channel phenomenon High School Musical. The movie was so popular that it led to two sequels, and High School Musical 3: Senior Year, the first of the franchise to be released in theaters, grossed over $90 million in the United States alone on an $11 million budget.
Shia LaBeouf – Shia LaBeouf found a young fan base with the Disney Channel show Even Stevens, and his first big film role before Transformers and Indiana Jones was the perpetually unlucky Stanley Yelnats in 2003’s Holes.
Hilary Duff – Hilary Duff’s big break with Disney was in the Disney Channel show Lizzie McGuire as the title character. She also starred in the Disney Channel Original Movie Cadet Kelly and a film adaptation of her popular show The Lizzie McGuire Movie.
Lindsay Lohan – Long before the breakdowns and the rehab, Lindsay Lohan had her big break in Disney’s 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. During her time with Disney, she also starred in the made-for-TV movie Life-Size with Tyra Banks as well as the remake of Freaky Friday with Jamie Lee Curtis, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and Herbie: Fully Loaded.
Vanessa Hudgens – Like Efron, Vanessa Hudgens got her start in the High School Musical series. She also appeared on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody before going on to appear in RENT at the Hollywood Bowl, Spring Breakers, and the revival of Gigi on Broadway.