Somehow, Timberlake managed to stay pure longer than the ladies, but following the Spears kiss-off “Cry Me a River” and the launch of his solo career, millions watched Timberlake “accidentally” rip off Janet Jackson’s top, revealing her nearly-bare breast on Super Bowl Sunday. Once the hip-hop community starts issuing “street cred” for moves like that, consider your mouse ears officially retired. But what is it about Disney that makes some of its stars so itchy to flunk themselves out of charm school?
“Britney and Justin are the biggest examples of what happens when young stars break free of the white-gloved grip of Mickey Mouse’s magically clean world,” says Orlando native Tyler Gray, a senior editor at Radar magazine, who penned the Disney theme-park exposé “Wild Kingdom” for Radar’s Summer 2005 issue. “She shaves her head and hot tubs topless with a college hunk from her video shoot. He . . . brings sexy back.”
The cast members of High School Musical are, for all intents and purposes, the nü-new Mouseketeers — a sort of a Disney Channel–endorsed brat pack. Ashley Tisdale, who plays Sharpay in HSM, first starred as Maddie Fitzpatrick on the channel’s hit series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, so fans were already familiar with her face. But the majority of the principal cast were unknowns, including Zac Efron (Troy), Vanessa Anne Hudgens (Gabriella), Corbin Bleu (Chad), Lucas Grabeel (Ryan), and Monique Coleman (Taylor). After HSM exploded, they were flooded with offers — record deals, side projects, guest appearances — all from Disney. Efron resisted the temptation, and instead of accompanying his peers on the live HSM: The Concert tour this past winter, he began work on the latest film adaptation of Hairspray. Yep, that’s Efron as Link Larkin, shaking his hips alongside John Travolta. While his co-stars rushed to promote themselves in the easiest way possible — via Disney — in the lull that fell between the first and second HSM, Efron was biding his time.
The 19-year-old Efron can also be found on the covers of two recent and very different magazine covers: the August 23 issue of Rolling Stone and the September issue of Disney Adventures, a pocket-sized, picture-heavy booklet printed by Disney Publishing Worldwide. In the rock rag, Efron is pulling a skin-tight white T-shirt up over his tanned tummy, a stylized, awkward grin of “Whoa, how’d I get here?” delight on his face. For the kiddie tabloid, his photo-shoot is Disney-sanctioned boy-next-door adorable: toothy, rosy-cheeked, and sexless.
It has been suggested that Disney provides its teen talent with talking points for the press, though recent interviews with Efron suggest he’s not as worried about sticking to the script. Over and over again, he casually expresses his debt to Disney for putting him on the leading-man map. Except the subtext sounds more like an obligation than a compliment, and he’s been more than blunt about his future plans. Efron even admitted to New York Times television critic Jacques Steinberg that “teen music things” are “the last thing I want to be doing at the moment.”