Transitioning out of the Disney empire seems to be hit-or-miss. For every relative success story like Miley Cyrus, you have Demi Lovato‘s emotional breakdown and rehab stay. And besides, it’s not like Miley is a model citizen for her new social circles in Young Hollywood. The pattern seems to be that these squeaky-clean, desexualized tweens amp up the drugs, naughty photos, and DUIs as a way to distance themselves from their constricting, innocent pasts. Rarely does the Mouse House actually comment on its former stars’ fuck-ups, which is why I was interested to see what Disney president Gary Marsh shared with The Hollywood Reporter.
Marsh has been in this biz longer than any of the current crop of Disney graduates have even been alive, and his six-year-old daughter fits squarely into his job’s key demographic. So when he talks about how Disney has finally beaten Nickelodeon as the kids’ number-one network (it only took 16 years) and is now considered, in food analogies, more “pizza” than “broccoli,” you get the sense that he doesn’t let some tabloid scandals faze him.
Pointing out that Disney is a launchpad for these fresh-faced kids, he says that it’s when they get signed that the real work starts, to figure out their brand. Of course, the pressure to intersect with Disney in various ways — in crossover shows, albums and singing careers, video games — probably makes these post-pubescent kids feel like they have no identity. “It’s incredibly demanding to be a 15-year-old kid and live your life in the public eye,” Marsh admits. “At the end of the day, they’re talented but they’re regular teenagers and we’re asking so much of them and it’s nearly impossible to carry the weight of your fans on your shoulders.”
What most surprised me about Marsh is what sounds like his emphasis on self-preservation. He says that while the network is obviously very involved in its stars’ lives, “at the end of the day, it’s the parents who really have to be parents. We give them all of the tools they might need, but the network is not responsible for raising their children.” That’s difficult to swallow when you have famewhores like Dina Lohan and (if the rumors are to be believed) Dianna Hart De La Garza pushing their kids into partying and working them to exhaustion. But whatever baggage you brought to the network, and whatever you carry beyond it once your show gets cancelled, is not Disney’s problem.
In case you think I’m putting words in his mouth, Marsh addresses dear Demi and her ongoing struggle with her eating disorder:
“Would our lives be easier if everyone was the perfect poster child? Of course. Do I know that’s not a reality? I do. Someone like Demi is an unbelievably talented young woman who had some challenges in her life from before we met her and will probably have those challenges far into the future. It’s not fair, if that’s the right way to express it, to lay that at the feet of the network that discovered her.”
As we learned from Demi’s MTV documentary Stay Strong, the girl has had body issues since she was a child. Consider again that stars like Demi come to Disney to be molded when they’re still impressionable teenagers who likely feel uncomfortable in their own skin and then are asked to broadcast this charismatic, branded persona. Should Disney take more blame for the ways in which their business model might have pushed kids or even warped them? I don’t know.
What I definitely didn’t expect to read about was Shia LaBeouf being among the more well-adjusted of the bunch. Marsh shares a sweet anecdote about how he wrote Shia’s recommendation letter for college, only for the Even Stevens star to call him up and ask for advice whether he should take a random action movie called Transformers. Even though Marsh wasn’t these kids’ parents, he undoubtedly had just as powerful an effect on them.
Photo: Drew Altizer/WENN.com