The real reason these stars left Disney behind

Starring in a Disney project has launched many a superstar's career, but is it worth the cost? Sure, the fame is nice … until you realize you're a teenager who has paparazzi taking photos of your changing body on your beach vacation. The House of Mouse has a reputation for keeping a tight hold on its brightest stars. Some of the entertainers who've successfully jumped ship from those white-gloved claws claim they were subjected to grueling work days, intense anxiety, and standards that feel impossible to achieve. Breaking free, they say, allowed them to finally be themselves without apology.

Celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, and Rowan Blanchard left the Disney Channel — and all seem better for it. They're healthier, happier and have truly come into their own as artists, actresses and activists. Others, like Jake Paul and Mitchel Musso, appear to have crawled away from the network with their tail between their legs following a string of scandals. From DUIs and temper tantrums to finally coming of age, here are the real reasons these stars left Disney behind.

Mitchel Musso played his cards all wrong

Mitchel Musso rose to fame as Oliver Oken, Hannah Montana's lovable BFF who had a penchant for argyle and the early '00s version of a bowl cut (which was truly the best of both worlds when it came to Disney star fashion). When Hannah Montana ended in 2011, Musso got the opportunity to star in his own Disney XD series, Pair of Kings. Though the series received two Emmy nominations during Musso's run, the star was dealt an unfortunate hand that might have gotten him booted from the show.

According to TMZ, Musso fell into the tired cliché of troubled Disney stars who eventually get slapped with DUIs. In October 2011 at 3:43 a.m., the star was pulled over after he reportedly didn't "slow down for cops who were directing traffic." Musso, who was only 20 years old at the time, allegedly reeked of alcohol and failed a field sobriety test. There was no way this was playing well for the Mouse. According to E! News, Musso struck a plea deal in 2012, the same year he left Pair of Kings. Disney still kept Musso around for the animated series Phineas and Ferb – perhaps because it's tough to place a face to the DUI when you're voice acting.

Jake Paul was fired

Most of us know Logan Paul from his infamous apology tour, but being a public nuisance seems to run in the family. Long before Logan posted a video of an actual dead body and ran around Japan in a Pikachu costume while throwing Pokeballs and pretending it wasn't culturally insensitive, his brother, Jake Paul, was a Disney Channel star.

In 2015, Jake landed his breakthrough role on Disney's Bizaardvark, but two years later, he reportedly got booted from the series for his viral video antics. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporterthe star said he began getting "angry emails" from Disney's talent relations division when his content began to err on the "edgier" side. It all finally came to a head with a KTLA news segment that investigated reports of Jake tormenting residents in his posh Beverly Grove neighborhood by hosting drag races, lighting things on fire, and being a menace to society (an obvious page from the Justin Bieber playbook). The YouTuber ended up "ambushing the reporter with a T-shirt cannon," mocking his shoes (with a seriously tired Vine meme), and climbing onto the news van roof. His behavior was so bad neighbors reportedly considered filing a class action lawsuit.

After the incident, Disney gave Jake the ax. He claims the network allowed him to say they "mutually parted ways" to save some face, but make no mistake, he was roasted harder than the smoldering furniture in his drained swimming pool.

Demi Lovato was focused on recovery

Demi Lovato has been open about her struggles with mental illness and addiction, but she hasn't always approached her difficulties with such transparency. During her Camp Rock days, the Disney starlet was hiding her drug usage from the adults in her life. In her documentary Simply Complicated (via Refinery29), the "Sober" singer revealed that things finally boiled over when she punched her background dancer on tour. Her family and management staged an intervention, and the singer reportedly checked into rehab following a two-month, cocaine-fueled bender. 

In an interview with ABC News, the star also revealed that she'd been struggling with self-harm and bulimia, which she developed as a child after being bullied about her weight. "I was performing concerts on an empty stomach," she told ABC News. "I was losing my voice from purging. I was self-medicating. I was not taking medication for depression, and I literally was so emotionally whacked out that I took it out on someone that meant a lot to me." 

In April 2011, the starlet confirmed to People that she'd be leaving her Disney series Sonny with a Chance and focusing on music. "I don't think going back to Sonny would be healthy for my recovery," she said.

More money, more problems for Lizzie McGuire

There are conflicting stories about what exactly led Hilary Duff to leave behind the butterfly-clipped hair and platform Sketchers of Lizzie McGuire, but the star reportedly walked away from the franchise because of her paycheck. In a 2003 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Duff's mom-slash-manager, Susan Duff, claimed Disney was trying to "bully" her daughter "into accepting whatever offer they wanted to make" for a sequel to The Lizzie McGuire Movie. According to Susan, she and Hilary "walked away from a sequel" but Disney "walked away from a franchise." Burn!

Despite all that talk about alleged contract disputes, it seems like Duff actually wanted to move on in order to reconnect with her true identity. In an interview with Pride Source, the star admitted she "chose to bow out for a minute" after Lizzie McGuire. "I was just making records and touring and making movies, and then doing it all over again … by the end of it, I was like, 'I'm done. I don't enjoy this anymore. I'm not who I wanna be,'" she said.

Rowan Blanchard consciously uncoupled

Let's be real: We were all crushed when Disney cancelled Girl Meets World. Unfortunately, it looks like the series fell victim to shrinking ratings. According to Forbes, it lost around 3.6 million viewers between the Season 1 premiere and Season 3. Fortunately, Girl Meets World brought us Rowan Blanchard, one of the most radical Disney Channel stars to ever grace the network. Despite her young age, the actress regularly promoted the idea of intersectional feminism, rallied for the Me Too movement, and openly discussed her sexuality (Blanchard identifies as queer). That's a far cry from the stars of Disney's past — the kind who created near-scandals by simply removing their purity rings.

Blanchard made a conscious decision to separate from Disney following the cancellation of Girl Meets World in 2017. In an interview with W Magazine, she claimed that she felt controlled by "a corporation" throughout her career. Though she never specifically mentioned Disney by name, judging by her acting history and the length of the show's run, we can make an educated guess that she was referring to an entity with two big round ears. "I worked for a corporation for four years that is known for silencing and crafting your voice, so with that I just had to very much stand my ground and separate myself, which I think I did," Blanchard said. "It's nice now because now people don't really recognize me from the show, they recognize me from my activism, which has been very comforting."

Jake T. Austin beat feet after bad press

Jake T. Austin was once a well-oiled cog in the Disney-ABC machine. He rose to fame alongside Selena Gomez in The Wizards of Waverly Place, then moved on with The Fosters, a coming of age drama on ABC Family (later rebranded as Freeform). Austin must have truly had magical powers to escape his Disney Channel show without making headlines for bad behavior, but his time would come a few months after the 2013 special, The Wizards Return: Alex vs. Alex.

According to TMZ, Austin was arrested for a DUI in October 2013. The then-18-year-old star reportedly "blew a .08" during a breathalyzer test. The following month, he was involved in a four-car hit-and-run. TMZ reported that witnesses saw the actor drive into three parked cars, toss a bottle of Ciroc out of his car, then Uber away from the scene. However, a judge apparently decided he reported the accident to police "within a reasonable time" and let him off the hook. Then there was the 2014 Teen Choice awards where, as TMZ reports, Austin went "full Lohan." The star allegedly threw a tantrum backstage, pulled the "don't you know who I am?" card, and lobbed an empty shoe box at a female staffer.

Despite racking up some majorly bad press, Austin claimed he was the one who walked away from The Fosters. In a Twitter post, he claimed the network reduced his role during Season 3, so he quit to pursue other opportunities.

Hannah Montana endured some serious anxiety

Miley Cyrus came to Disney in what might just be the golden age of Disney stardom — the tabloid-driven era where purity rings and brief encounters with salvia reigned supreme. The young actress quickly went from pretend, secret pop star to highly public, actual pop star faster than she could change her wig, but the pressure was difficult to take and might have led to her decision to quit the show in 2010.

In an interview with Marie Claire, Cyrus admitted that being Hannah Montana wasn't easy. She was subject to 12-hour workdays while filming, which prompted her mother to suggest bringing in lights for seasonal affective disorder. Cyrus was "made to look like someone that [she] wasn't," which she thinks "probably caused some body dysmorphia." She also began to suffer from intense anxiety. "I would have anxiety attacks. I'd get hot flashes, feel like I was about to pass up or throw up…" she said. "…Then the anxiety started coming from anxiety … You get in this hole that seems like you're never going to be able to get out of."

Cyrus did eventually put her Disney days behind her. Her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, told Access Hollywood that Miley stuck with Hannah Montana through Season 4 because she wanted the series to have an "official ending." She retired from acting in 2013 to pursue music full-time, and she's mostly stuck to that plan.

Selena Gomez had a revival

The former Wizards of Waverly Place star reportedly left her Disney days behind her so she could true to herself. "I was being held to this expectation of being the good girl," Selena Gomez told The New York Times. "I knew deep down that this wasn't what I wanted to do — being exhausted of forcing something that wasn't right."

So, what did Gomez do? She essentially blew up her life — but in the good kind of way that makes fireworks. According to Refinery29, the starlet broke away from Disney, signed a contract with Interscope, fired her mother as her manager, and called it quits with then-boyfriend Justin Bieber. The result was Revival, a deeply cathartic record she executive produced on her own terms. "This record is me feeling like I can breathe," she told TIME. "…Working with Disney, I had a certain amount of my respect for my image … I just don't care about the noise anymore. It made me depressed, it made me not want to get out of my house and it made me not want to talk to people and trust people. That's not how I want to live my life."

Did this Cheetah Girl leak her own nudes?

Adrienne Bailon is better known today for getting Rob Kardashian's name tattooed across her bum than she is for her tenure with The Cheetah Girls. Unfortunately, her run with the Disney girl group ended in scandal when her laptop, which was apparently chock full of racy photos, was stolen at JFK Airport. The pics were subsequently leaked online, but according to her ex-publicist, Jonathan Jaxson, the whole thing was a hoax and Bailon allegedly leaked the photos herself. (It should be noted that Bailon never confirmed this and claimed to be taking legal action against the supposed thiefs).

"After they saw the evidence, she was released from her Disney contract," Jaxson wrote in his tell-all Don't You Know Who I Am Yet? (via Radar). "And her musical group, Cheetah Girls, was promptly removed from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade because of the scandal." 

Bella Thorne's bikini was apparently a scandal

Bella Thorne never exactly confirmed the reason she left Disney, but her show, Shake It Up, was cancelled in 2013 despite being the No. 1 series in two demographics. Though Deadline claims the move was normal for the network, it seems like Thorne might have been fed up with taking orders from the Mouse. In an interview for the YouTube series Under the Influence, Thorne said she took the Disney gig because her family was "about to be living on the streets." 

Her body of work — which included a recurring role on the HBO series Big Love – didn't really fit in with her Disney Channel image, and she supposedly almost got fired when someone took a picture of her wearing a bikini. The kicker? Her mom had picked it out. "They said, 'You're lucky that Bella has such a fan base that we can't afford to fire her at this moment in time. But if she does one more other thing, we will,'" she told the YouTube series.

The actress also told Nylon (via E! News), that she "literally would talk with a higher voice" in order to appeal to Disney's demographics. In other words: She was physically changing who she was. According to Under the Influence, Thorne reached a point when she was "unwilling to adhere to the Disney machine." 

This Andi Mack actor might wind up behind bars

Stoney Westmoreland has appeared on shows such as Gilmore Girls, Better Call Saul, and Scandal, but fans of the Disney Channel show Andi Mack will recognize him as Henry "Ham" Mack's grandfather. Despite his extensive body of work, this man's days in the industry might be over following his Disney firing in 2018. 

According to E! News, Westmoreland was charged with "six felony counts for allegedly trying to have sex with a 13-year-old boy" that he met online. KSL reports that the actor allegedly used a dating app to chat with and send pornographic images to a boy he believed to be underage. He also reportedly asked the boy to "engage in acts with him and to send nude photos." Westmoreland was arrested after allegedly taking a ride-share service to meet the teen. "Given the nature of the charges and our responsibility for the welfare of employed minors, we have released him from his recurring role, and he will not be returning to work on the series…" Disney said in a statement to E! News.

At the time of this writing, Westmoreland is out on bail pending a court date.

Was Kermit the Frog just protecting his image?

You might not recognize Steve Whitmire's face, but you will recognize his voice. For 27 years, he was the man behind Kermit the Frog. Whitmire worked with the Muppets since 1978, but was reportedly asked to take over the role of the famed frog in 1990, following Jim Henson's death. He seemed to outlast the franchise's jump to Disney in 2004, but he told The Hollywood Reporter he was fired in 2016 over a union disagreement and "unwanted notes" on the ABC Muppets reboot.

In that interview, Whitmire claimed he was merely standing up to changes made to his character, but the network supposedly felt he was being "disrespectful." The note in question reportedly involved an episode where Kermit lies to his nephew about his breakup with Miss Piggy (Honestly, the fact they break up is reason enough to speak out). "I don't think Kermit would lie to him … Kermit is too compassionate to lie to him to spare his feelings," Whitmire told THR. "We have been doing these characters for a long, long time and we know them better than anybody. I thought I was aiding to keep it on track."

But there's more tea (which Kermit is probably sipping slowly in silence) beyond character disagreements and union contracts. Disney claimed Whitmire was fired for "unacceptable business conduct" and an "overly hostile and unproductive" communication style. Yikes.