Quick, someone cover Mickey Mouse’s eyes!
Selena Gomez, the former star of Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place” (and girlfriend to teen dream Justin Bieber), has decided to shed some clothes as well as her squeaky-clean image in the upcoming film “Spring Breakers,” in which the 19-year-old sensation takes on subjects like sex, drugs, booze and jail all while looking like she's straight out of a "Girls Gone Wild" video.
Gomez isn’t the first post-pubescent Disney star to shun a previously pristine image. Newly engaged 19-year-old “Hannah Montana” star Miley Cyrus has had her share of controversies, including a raunchy pole-dancing performance at the 2009 Teen Choice Awards, and a YouTube video of her taking a bong hit of what she said was salvia, a legal, marijuana-like substance.
So far, Cyrus' transformation hasn't sat well with her fans, if the box office failure of her racy 2012 film "LOL" is any indication. So could Gomez’s newfound sexy image end up costing her the fans that made her a star? At least one Disney teen star doesn't think so.
"I think you have to be careful not to completely alienate the fans"
- Former Disney child star Ashley Eckstein
“She could have really loved the script. It doesn’t mean that it was plotted or planned,” said Kiely Williams, one of the stars of Disney’s wildly successful “The Cheetah Girls” franchise, who knows Gomez and her fellow “Spring Breakers” co-star Vanessa Hudgens from their time spent together working the Disney circuit. “In a movie, you are just putting on a character. It’s not like putting yourself out there in a racy music video.”
Hudgens, 23, best known for her role as Gabriella in Disney’s “High School Musical” trilogy, has had her own share of scandals. In 2007, naked pictures of Hudgens were leaked onto the Internet. Subsequently, in 2009, additional topless photos were released of the young star, who has also been involved in several lawsuits regarding “breach of contract” issues.
Unlike Hudgens, Gomez has never had nude photos released, but recent pics of her skimpy on-set bikini -- along with photos of several topless extras in some of her scenes -- have gotten people talking about her sexier image. Earlier this year, Gomez graced the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine in an uncharacteristically low-cut, cleavage-baring dress. She then continued to solidify her racier image with the viral parody “50 Shades of Blue,” a Funnyordie.com spoof on the erotic novel “50 Shades of Grey,” which features Gomez reading and fantasizing about the steamy best-seller.
“We see this time and time again where a young actor will chose a provocative role. Miley Cyrus does a provocative photo shoot to say, ‘Hey look at me I’m a grown-up young woman,’” long-time Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman told FOX411.com.
“I bet when [Mouseketeer] Annette Funicello did those beach movies back in the 1960s, it was very controversial for the time,” added Bragman, who feels that Gomez has not lost fans because of the mature nature of her recent projects.
“Change is controversial. It doesn’t mean she is rejecting [her Disney roots]. It means she is evolving," he said. "I think her fan base is growing up with her and she is just bringing them along.”
However, being part of Disney royalty and starring in family movies such as 2011’s “Monte Carlo” and 2010’s “Ramona and Beezus,” means that a good portion of her followers are in fact still very young.
“It’s easy to say, ‘It’s just acting,’ but these kids really look up to you,” said Ashley Eckstein, who played mean girl Muffy on the popular Disney channel show “That’s So Raven.”
Eckstein, 30, who currently voices the Jedi Ahsoka Tano on the Cartoon Network series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” has chosen to continue working in the genre of family programming. While she doesn’t personally know Gomez, she does empathize with her need to progress as an actor but ultimately questions whether or not the fans will be able follow along.
“A huge chunk of the fans are under 18 and can’t get into an R-rated movie. I think you have to be careful not to completely alienate the fans that got you [to stardom in the first place]. And it’s not just the kids, but it’s the parents who are the ones giving them the money to spend on your movie or merchandise,” added Eckstein. “It’s very easy to turn the parents off with your decisions.”
While some fans might not be old enough to relate to her current projects, Gomez seems to be happily pushing forward in transitioning away from her days at Disney.
"I'm nervous….It's a little edgy, but it's fun. I fought for that role,” Gomez told E! Online of her part in “Spring Breakers,” where she plays one of several female bank robbers who resort to desperate measures in hopes of being able to fund the ultimate spring break excursion.
The adult material in the movie is certainly racy, but according to Bragman, it’s in no way offensive or gratuitous.
“This isn’t ‘Showgirls’ that we are talking about. This isn’t a career killer,” he said. “Disney is the best launching pad in the world, but at the same time, you have to understand that no matter how good the launching pad is, eventually the kids want to break from it.”
Whether “Spring Breakers” is destined for box-office gold is yet to be determined. However, just because the film hasn’t been released yet (it’s slated for spring 2013) doesn’t mean it isn’t already making an impact on her career.
“I think it will evolve her career to a new place. It’s certainly going to make producers think of her in a more accurate light,” said Bragman.
Williams agrees that playing older and more provocative roles is the next step for a now grown-up child actor. She herself is currently working on a horror film called “Hola Back,” a dark departure from her “Cheetah Girls” days.
“As far as Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens, they have used a lot of grace in their transition [into more mature roles]," Williams said. "They can’t play 15-year-olds forever. That would just be nuts.”