Oh my goodness, hold the phone! Zac Efron went to rehab for — what’s that now? — cocaine! How could you do this to me, Troy Bolton?
OK, maybe I’m being overly dramatic. And honestly, I probably shouldn’t be all that surprised. He is a former Disney Channel star after all. I guess we should add him to the list of Disney kids gone wrong, along with Miley, Demi (though she has appeared to have fully recovered), Lindsay and countless others.
The Disney kids seem to be the first to go sour and it has become such a common phenomenon that barely anyone questions it anymore. Buzzfeed even came up with a list of 16 Disney Channel child stars who have been arrested — and I can only imagine there are more out there.
Even when they’re not pictured next to a big bong or going to rehab, they still seem to go out of their way to destroy their innocent reputations. Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens may have been able to keep their cools, but that didn’t stop them from taking on risqué characters in “Spring Breakers.” They’re like children who grew up with ultra-strict parents only to go absolutely crazy when they get to college. I’m talking full-on MIPs, tats, the whole nine yards.
But who can blame them? Not only has Disney created these picturesque characters for them to play on TV (I mean, what was the biggest problem that Lizzie McGuire ever had? Trying to get up the nerve to talk to Ethan Craft?), but they also expected them to act that way in person. I can only imagine how many shows Miley Cyrus had to perform where she was forced to wear cutesie outfits and act all bubbly. What was the first thing she said after she shaved her head? Oh yeah, she tweeted “Never felt more me in my whole life.” Wow. How depressing was it that she had to wait 19 years to feel that way?
As evil as Disney comes off in this story, I have to admit that it’s not completely their fault. They might be the ones firing up the assembly line but we’re the ones devouring every bite. As an audience, we’ve come to expect one-dimensional young adult TV characters whose biggest fault is being too adorable. The rest of television has adapted to include flawed characters — Ted Mosby from “How I Met Your Mother,” Gregory House from “House, M.D.,” Alicia Florrick from “The Good Wife” (is she just the coldest main character or what?) — but younger characters always seem to fit the same mold. And weirdly enough, we seem to like it that way. I have friends in college who are still watching “Wizards of Waverly Place.”
It doesn’t have to be this way though. We can have well-behaved child stars — good role models — without putting them through the cookie cutter. We can let them grow up to be quirky or weird or sweet or however they want to be without forcing them into a box. Take Dylan and Cole Sprouse (“Sweet Life of Zack & Cody”), for example. Though Disney stars for five years, they avoided the “triple threat” train (no music album for them, thank goodness!) and now attend New York University. They’ve miraculously emerged unscathed and could even go on to lead normal lives.
With more child actors coming through the machine every minute (I believe Bella Thorne and Zendaya are next on the list), we can only hope that Disney will rethink their recipe.