…it also served as a springboard for some of the biggest names in music, TV, and movies.
They may have started off as innocent kids, but as they grew up, they took on more risque projects and looks that appeal to a more “mature” crowd.
Take a look at the big changes these stars underwent.
Known for the Mickey Mouse Club, she became the biggest pop star of her generation shortly thereafter and continues to entertain millions with her music.
Like Britney, she got her start on the Mickey Mouse Club but ended up making a much bigger splash with her huge voice on the pop charts. She now stars as a judge on The Voice on NBC.
Before she was a tabloid mainstay, Lindsay was a star in countless Disney films. But she grew up. Some would say too quickly. And though she did manage to shake the title of “child star,” she wrestled with personal demons, though many believe she’s on the road to recovery.
He made a name for himself as a star in Holes and Even Stevens but became one of the biggest movie stars in America by taking on more diverse roles once he grew out of childhood.
These days, he’s a little…eccentric, but still remains a big name in Hollywood.
She was the famous star of That’s So Raven, of course. But has made a name for herself on the daytime talk show circuit since.
Another That’s So Raven alum, Brown made the leap to movies after his run on the show ended, most notably starring in Major Payne.
Unfortunately, he’s hit some hard times since the show, having been arrested several times for substance abuse violations and disturbing the peace.
She’s known for both her High School Musical days as well as her relationship with Zac Efron. Though she might not be playing high schoolers anymore, she’s still portrayed some hardcore partyers in films like Spring Breakers and Sucker Punch.
After getting her start playing Mitchie Torres in Camp Rock (which also launched the Jonas Brothers) and Sonny Munroe on Sonny with a Chance, Demi Lovato has changed a liiiiitle bit since her Disney days.
Nowadays, she’s putting out incredible jams like “Cool for the Summer” and singing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl.
Our girl Selena started her acting career on the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place and even appeared on The Suite Life of Zach and Cody.
But beyond branching out into music, she’s also cast off that squeaky-clean Disney image. Her role in Spring Breakers was significantly more mature than anything Disney would even dream about referencing on its network, and she would also executive produce the edgy (in the wrong way?) Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
Another alumni of Wizards of Waverly Place, Jake T. Austin not only made his mark on the Disney-verse, he also has some Nickelodeon cred, providing the voice of Diego in Go, Diego, Go!
While his turn to the grown-up side of the business has been less pronounced than some of his former Disney pals, he’s still focusing more on adult-targeted entertainment, taking a turn on Dancing With the Stars and playing Jesus Foster on the Freeform show The Fosters.
Making a name for himself alongside his twin brother Dylan, Cole Sprouse hit it big with his Disney Channel show The Suite Life with Zach and Cody. He played either Zach or Cody (I don’t know if it matters which).
While Dylan’s given up on acting, Cole has gone on to play perhaps the moodiest (and therefore silliest) character on the CW’s Riverdale, Jughead Jones. My man spends season one of that show solving a murder, something that happens very infrequently on the Disney Channel.
We all know Miley’s origin story — daughter of country music superstar (at least in the ’90s) Billy Ray Cyrus, Miley Cyrus landed the role of Hannah Montana on the Disney Channel show, uh, Hannah Montana. While that show was a mega-success, it didn’t take long for Miley to decide she wanted to be a sexy-ass grown up, and she set the mold for Disney channel stars who wanted to re-invent themselves.
After taking off all her clothes and riding on a wrecking ball, Miley twerked onstage at the VMAs. How many former Disney stars do you think wish they could’ve started a conversation about cultural appropriation? I bet the answer is “a lot.”
The one-time CeCe Jones on the Disney Channel show Shake It Up, Bella Thorne was deeply involved in the Disney machine. She even starred in a Disney Channel Original Movie called Frenemies, which is peak-Disney status.
And in what might be the biggest thumb-in-the-eye to Disney we’ve yet seen from one of its former stars, Thorne went out and directed an explicit adult movie. She even won an award for it, so maybe she’s found her niche?
Along with Bella Thorne, Zendaya was the co-headliner of Shake It Up. They were best buds having a fun time on a dance show! They got into many silly adventures! Haha, I bet it was a great time!
Now she does a ton of drugs on HBO’s Euphoria and contemplates whether or not the bleak existence we must all suffer through could ever be worth it. Not sure if that come up that often on Shake It Up.
Oh Phil of the Future, you were the best Disney Channel show in the mid-2000s. It was on that show that actress Aly Michalka debuted, playing Phil’s crush Keely Teslow.
Nowadays, Michalka is part of the band Aly & AJ (who you might remember from their jam “Potential Breakup Song”) and acting in more grown-up movies like the creepy Leighton Meester-lead thriller The Roommate.
And now we come to Lizzie McGuire herself, Hilary Duff. It wouldn’t be unfair to call Hilary Disney Channel Royalty, having earned the honor of being the only Disney Channel star who got to play an animated version of herself on Lizzie McGuire. (Side note: why were those parts animated? I don’t think they did anything that needed to be animated? It’s not like Hilary was playing, I don’t know, a cat version of herself or anything.)
Hilary did her best to branch out, playing a spoiled rich girl alongside her sister Haley in Material Girls and releasing albums. But just when she thought she was out, they pulled her back in, as Disney just roped her back in to playing Lizzie McGuire again in a sequel series.
Finding fame alongside his brothers Joe and Kevin in their band The Jonas Brothers, as well as staring in the Disney Channel Original Movies Camp Rock and Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, Joe Jonas was a heartthrob who found himself plastered on many a teen girl’s wall in the late 2000s.
But when The Jonas Brothers split up, Nick went in a different direction, releasing solo albums and taking up a hosting/ mentoring gig on The Voice.
Look at that little punim! If you saw little Ryan Gosling back in his days in The Mickey Mouse Club (where he got to hang with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, which seems chill), would you have guessed he’d go on to become the absolute standard-bearer for hotness in this, the year of our lord 2020?
Ryan Gosling has gotten so far away from his Disney-fied image, it’s hard to imagine that the guy who just killed a bunch of dudes in Drive and was so hot he literally became a meme dancing and singing with a cartoon mouse.
Ashley Tisdale was a dual threat for Disney, performing in both their High School Musical movies and The Suite Life of Zach and Cody. And it’s easy to see why Disney would get so invested with her, what with her earnest, fun energy and obvious singing talent.
But when it was time for her to move on from the Disney machine, Tisdale went hard after some adult roles, playing the lead in Scary Movie 5 and appearing as an escort on FX’s Sons of Anarchy.
Known as a teen heartthrob alongside Vanessa, Zac Efron has made the seamless leap to Hollywood adult stardom, popping up in movies like Neighbors and That Awkward Moment.