Disney has been churning out an insane amount of stars for decades. By now, we are all aware that Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling got their start on The Mickey Mouse Club. Even in recent years, the successful stars keep coming, and Disney has launched media sensations, like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and Hilary Duff.
But, for some reason, it seems like a lot of these actors and singers leave Disney during their teen years—and sometimes, it’s NOT an amicable departure. Here are 15 stars who were either teens at their peak on Disney, or left Disney as a teen. We'll tell you what they had to say about their time with the most famous production company in the world.
15 Bella Thorne
Bella Thorne is known for starring alongside Zendaya in Disney’s Shake It Up from 2010 to 2013, after which Bella parted ways with the company. It seems like she left Disney for the same reason that most stars do: to move on with their careers and shed the childlike persona. She says, “When I got off the [Disney] Channel, I stopped listening to people telling me that I needed to be this and that. I literally would talk with a higher voice in interviews because that was the whole innocent Disney appeal." And she also had some uncomfortable experiences while with Disney: "Zendaya and I were put in a very unfortunate position where we were kind of forced to compete against each other [during Shake It Up], which made the whole first season of the show just very awkward for us."
14 Selena Gomez
You can’t turn on the radio these days without hearing a Selena Gomez song or hearing gossip about her personal life. But, before her drama with Justin Bieber and her battle with lupus, Selena was on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place. The show, which was about a wizard named Alex (played by Selena) and her family, aired from 2007 to 2012. At the time of the finale, Selena was 19 years old and—despite (reportedly) being offered a spot in a Suite Life spin-off—wanted to move on from Disney. Soon after, two movies starring Selena, Ramona and Beezus and Monte Carlo, were released. In addition to this, she began breaking onto the music scene.
In 2015, she admitted in an interview, “…I was still under Hollywood and Disney, and I was being held to this expectation of being the good girl…I knew deep down that this wasn’t what I wanted to do—being exhausted of forcing something that wasn’t right, even in my personal life. I had to have moments where I was crying and I was like, ‘Why am I not in love with what I do?’” It seems like Selena has done a bit of soul-searching recently and has realized that she should do what she loves to do.
13 Miley Cyrus
Before her controversial performance with Robin Thicke at the 2013 MTV VMAs and an explosive singing career, Miley Cyrus was just a sweet, country teen on Disney’s Hannah Montana. Billy Ray Cyrus, her father, also appeared on the show with her. But, after four massively successful seasons, the show came to an end in 2011. Miley also had a four-album deal with one of Disney’s labels, Hollywood. However, after her controversial third album, Can’t Be Tamed (2010), Miley parted ways with Disney. She wanted to focus on her film career.
Miley appeared in The Last Song in 2010, alongside Liam Hemsworth. However, Miley said, “I did one movie and I came back and said, 'I'm never doing that again. I'm going to do music for the rest of my life.'” She then turned her focus back to music. But, it seems like both Miley and her father have bad things to say about their time at Disney (talk about biting the hand that feeds, or fed, you!). In 2015, Miley compared being on Hannah Montana to Toddlers & Tiaras. She says, “I was made to look like someone that I wasn’t, which probably caused some body dysmorphia because I had been made pretty every day for so long…” Even Miley’s father claims that the show destroyed their family. She also claims she was underpaid (yes, guys, she only made 15 grand per episode…) and that Disney took advantage of her.
12 Dylan Sprouse
If you're a millennial, chances are you know Cole and Dylan Sprouse. Yes, they're the twins that starred on Disney’s Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Suite Life on Deck series. Prior to that, they had appeared in Big Daddy and Friends (as Ross’ son). It seemed like the twins had a successful acting career laid out for them after their Suite Life series ended. However, they both ended up taking a hiatus from acting. They left Hollywood to pursue their education. Dylan (who played Zack on the hit show) graduated in 2015 from NYU, where he studied video game design with a double major in poetry and studio art. But, there was also another reason they left.
Apparently, the twins had pitched an idea to Disney, which was about a young boy coming to the hotel and the twins mentoring him. But, Disney rejected the idea, but offered the same idea again to the brothers at a later date (meaning the brothers would not get any producing credits). Of course, they both found this ridiculous and ended up leaving the network. Since he finished acting, Dylan was also seen working as a host at a New York City restaurant, which he says it was just for the experience and to fuel his video game addiction. He was also the commentator for a few Super Smash Bros. tournaments and is reportedly running a brewery in Brooklyn.
11 Cole Sprouse
Moving on to the other half of the Sprouse brothers, we have Cole (who played the brainiac, Cody, on the Suite Life). As previously mentioned, Cole and his brother left Disney to pursue their education and because they claim Disney stole their idea for a spin-off show. Cole graduated from NYU alongside Dylan, but he has actually stepped back into the acting world. No longer the innocent teen he once was, you can catch Cole on the new show, Riverdale (which he recently appeared shirtless in—a far cry from his Disney days).
Cole is pretty active on Twitter, too, and has referenced Disney and the Suite Life a few times since leaving. In one Tweet, Cole wrote, "Are @dylansprouse and I the only Disney stars that didn't pursue a singing career? #StillTimeForOurOompaBand #Sprouse."
10 Demi Lovato
Demi has not left our radar since her Disney days. She started off her Disney career in the popular movie, Camp Rock, alongside the Jonas Brothers (who, by the way, were burnin’ up at the time… pun intended). She was also offered the lead role in the show, Sonny with a Chance. But, Demi struggled with physical and mental health issues. She later revealed that she had an eating disorder, was bipolar and suffered nervous breakdowns. So, after rehab (which she entered in November 2010), Demi decided to officially leave Disney behind in 2011. She says, “It made sense for me to go ahead and leave the show to focus on my music. It’s kind of sad for me that a chapter of my life has ended but there couldn’t be a better time for me to move on. I don’t think going back to Sonny would be healthy for my recovery. Being in front of a camera would make me nervous.” Since leaving Disney, Demi has become an advocate for mental health and proved she really could sing.
9 Nick Jonas
The Sprouse brothers weren’t the only brothers to leave Disney; the Jonas brothers also left the media giant. The brothers all starred in Camp Rock (as previously mentioned) and also got their own series, appropriately entitled JONAS. The show only lasted two seasons, ending in 2010. The brothers also returned for Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam in 2010. Then, in 2012, they parted ways with Disney’s record label. Nick says, “This was a decision that we made as a group…but speaking on behalf of my brothers and our team, we're all looking forward to this next chapter. We're ready for that next step as a group, and being able to take our work with us was so important." The Jonas Brothers ended up splitting, though. And now, we know Nick as a solo artist whose success is reaching new levels (see what we did there?).
8 Joe Jonas
Speaking of the Jonas Brothers, let’s shift the focus to Joe, who is now part of the group, DNCE. If you’ve never heard of that group, you’ve at least heard their popular song, “Cake by the Ocean.” Once the brothers had parted ways with Disney, Joe started bad-mouthing the company. He wrote a 4,500-word rant in New York Magazine about the pressures of fame, admitting: “Being a part of the Disney thing for so long will make you not want to be this perfect little puppet forever. Eventually, I hit a limit and thought, ‘Screw all this, I’m just going to show people who I am’...Disney made us more famous than we ever knew we could be.” He says he and his brothers were under too much pressure and execs softened their lyrics and image. Who could forget those purity rings?!
7 Ashley Tisdale
Remember Maddie from Suite Life of Zack and Cody? She was much older than most of the teens on this list when she got her start with Disney—she was 19 years old when she joined he show. Ashley Tisdale played the part of Maddie for three years, but left because she was getting tired of playing such a sweet, innocent character (are you noticing a trend here?). But, Tisdale didn’t leave Disney right away; she went on to star as Sharpay in three High School Musical movies. Though the third installment was reported to be her last Disney movie (since she was looking land roles that are “racy and edgy”), it wasn’t her last. Ashley also starred in the spin-off to HSM, Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure (2011). Then, she left Disney and indeed, landed a role which was racy and edgy—that of a prostitute in Amateur Night. What a way to shed the good girl image!
6 Ross Lynch
Ross Lynch started off as a musician. His band, R5, signed with Disney’s label, Hollywood Records in 2010. Then, in 2011, he was cast in Austin & Ally, playing the role of the title male character (a teenage singer). He also appeared in the movie Teen Beach and its sequel. But, it seems like Ross’ time on Disney has run its course. While we can’t confirm whether or not he will ever return to Disney again, he did make some comments that caused some to think he was ready to move on. He says: “When you’re a part of the Disney family per se, they do kind of give you guidelines… But I actually don’t think the rebelling is because you were a part of Disney…People start to think that because you come from Disney that you’re a certain way, or people just perceive you in a certain light that a lot of people don’t want to be perceived as…When you come out of Disney you have a certain perception that people think of you, and I think that’s just what people want to break, and they just do it with extreme measures..You are perceived to be such an angel, and really you’re just an actor that booked a job.”
If you’re a fan of the High School Musical series, you definitely know who Jemma McKenzie-Brown is. But, just in case you didn’t catch the movies, she starred in the third installment, as Sharpay’s assistant (Tiara Gold). That was way back in 2008, when she was just about 14. It seemed like she had a promising acting career ahead of her. So, where’d she go? Well, she quit acting altogether (even turning down a spot in High School Musical 4, reportedly) and is now a fitness trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp. Her biography on the company’s website states that she discovered the franchise back in 2008 in L.A. and knew she had to join when they opened a location in London. Hey, good for her for doing something she loves and inspiring others to be healthy.
4 Shia LaBeouf
Ah, Shia LaBeouf—where do we even begin? Well, let’s take it back to the year 2000, when Disney’s Even Stevens first aired. The show starred a 13-year-old Shia LaBeouf, as Louis Stevens, a mischievous child, who was always getting on his older sister’s nerves. We can all agree that these were the good ol’ days for Shia. But, when Even Stevens ended in 2003, Shia wanted to shed the Disney image. He says, “I went a whole different route. I never came out with a music thing, even though [Disney will] push you that way… I never really felt like I fit in there.”
So, Shia went on to star in unexpected films, like Disturbia and later, the Transformers franchise. Shia then turned his focus to performance art projects, including one in which he wore a paper bag over his head which read, “I am not famous anymore.”
3 Hilary Duff
Hilary Duff has grown up before our eyes—and thankfully, she didn’t go down the dark path that so many child/teen stars do. Can you believe she’s almost 30 years old and has a child? But, back when she was just 13, she starred in Disney’s Lizzie McGuire. The show followed Lizzie—a shy teen dealing with regular issues that teens face—and it often featured funny commentary from an animated version of herself. Thanks to the show, Hilary quickly became a teen idol and appeared in Disney movies (like Cadet Kelly) and on Disney soundtracks. She even released two successful albums through Disney Music Group.
Seems like Disney was treating the young star well, right? Well, Hilary (and her mom) didn’t seem to think so. Hilary’s mom told Entertainment Weekly, “We weren’t feeling the love. They weren’t giving Hilary the respect she deserved.” The tensions arose because Disney wasn’t offering Hilary the money she thought she was asking for (or that other networks were offering her). Disney reportedly wanted to pay Duff $35,000 per episode for a new Lizzie series, set in high school, but she just wasn’t having it. Other networks were reportedly offering her six figures per episode, so Hilary cut her ties with Disney in 2004. She went on to create a successful clothing line, perfumes, more music and more movies. Later, she stepped out of the spotlight to focus on her personal life and is now a happy mother. Clearly, she has no regrets about the decisions she made as a teenager.
2 Ashlie Brillault
Speaking of Lizzie McGuire, ever wondered what happened to Ashlie Brillault (who played Kate, the typical popular, mean girl in the show)? Well, she didn’t just quit Disney; she quit Hollywood altogether. After The Lizzie McGuire Movie, Ashlie (who is the same age as her former co-star, Hilary Duff) went in a direction opposite to that of her airhead character. She decided to pursue higher education, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from California State University and her J.D. and Certificate in law school. She is now happily married and is a mother. She says, “At the moment I'm focusing on being a mom to this amazing little human being and in the next few months I plan on looking for a job as a lawyer in the civil rights or criminal defense field.”
1 Lalaine Vergara-Paras
Lalaine is yet another Lizzie McGuire star that quit Disney, but she didn’t even wait until the series was over. Lalaine portrayed Miranda Sanchez, Lizzie’s friend who appears as being edgy and confident but is actually self-conscious. Lalaine quit before the last season to pursue other projects and also chose not to appear in the Lizzie McGuire movie, leaving fans confused. So, what were these “other projects?” Well, she was very into music and released an independent album, Inside Story, in 2003. Then she was arrested for meth in 2007. She recovered and went on to play bass guitar in the band, Vanity Theft, until 2011. Since then, she’s fallen under the radar.
Sources: MTV, EW, TeenVogue, TheWrap, DailyMail