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13 Successful Stars Discovered by Disney

In Disney’s latest animated spectacular Moana, audiences will be introduced to a vibrant new vocal talent, Auli’i Cravalho (pictured above), who plays the titular character. Hailing from Oahu, Hawaii, the actress was just 14 when she won the role of the Polynesian princess who must embark on a grand journey to save her people. Disney saw hundreds of girls for the part, and Cravalho was the last person to audition.

This is far from the first time the Mouse House has discovered talent. From the early days under Walt Disney himself to the creation of the Disney Channel and more, the studio has continually found bright young stars who go on to have successful careers. Here are just a few:

Who: Julie Andrews, 81

How old: 29

Disney debut:Mary Poppins, 1964

Did you know: Andrews was a stage star when she was cast as the mysterious and magical nanny in 1964’s Mary Poppins, a part she took after losing the role of Eliza Doolittle to Audrey Hepburn in the big-screen adaptation of My Fair Lady. Andrews originated the role of Eliza on Broadway but wasn’t recognizable enough to star in the film. Thankfully, Walt Disney spotted Andrews’ potential right away and snapped her up. Andrews ended up winning the Oscar for Best Actress, beating Hepburn, who was also nominated.

Who: Kurt Russell, 65

How old: 18

Disney debut:The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 1969 (skip to the 40-second mark in the above clip)

Did you know: Although Russell already had TV credits as a child actor, in the late ’60s he signed a 10-year contract with Walt Disney. He starred in a trilogy of films as college student Dexter Riley, including The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes,Now You See Him, Now You Don’t and The Strongest Man in the World, and became the studio’s top star in 1970s.

Who: Miley Cyrus, 23

How old: 11

Disney debut:Hannah Montana, 2006

Did you know: When Cyrus originally auditioned for the show, she was told she was too young. Then, just a few weeks later she got the call that she’d won the role of teenager Chloe Stewart, who has a secret life as pop star Hannah Montana. The character’s real name was changed to Miley Stewart when Cyrus won the role. Hannah Montana still stands as the Disney Channel’s most successful series.

Who: Shia LaBeouf, 30

How old: 13

Disney debut:Even Stevens, 1999 (see some of his best moments in the video above)

Did you know: LaBeouf won a Daytime Emmy Award for his performance as the goofy “kid brother” Louis in the popular Disney Channel series. Recently, when the actor filmed himself watching all of his movies over a three-day period, he said this about the Even Stevens Movie: “The Even Stevens Movie was interesting, it’s all of our childhood. It’s mine and it’s yours. It wasn’t just me smiling like that. If you look at the freeze frames, everyone is smiling like wow, I remember Beans. I remember that stupid-f**king song. We were all looking at our yearbook together and we’re all in the yearbook.”

Who: Selena Gomez, 24

How old: 11

Disney debut:Wizards of Waverly Place, 2007

Did you know: She and her mom, Mandy Teefey, said good-bye to friends and family in Grand Prairie, Texas, to start a new Life in Los Angeles after hearing the life-changing news of Selena’s new role on Wizards of Waverly Place. Before landing the role of Alex Russo in Wizards of Waverly Place, she wasn’t a fan of either magic or the Harry Potter franchise.

Who: Zac Efron, 25

How old: 19

Disney debut:High School Musical, 2006

Did you know: In the original HSM, Efron did not sing the majority of the songs. Efron’s natural voice was too low, and the producers wanted a tenor for the role of Troy, the basketball team captain, so they used another singer. Efron, however, did do all of his own singing in the sequels.

Who: Joshua Jackson, 38

How old: 14

Disney debut:The Mighty Ducks, 1992

Did you know: Jake Gyllenhaal and Leonardo DiCaprio both auditioned for the role of Charlie Conway, the star player on a ragtag youth hockey team, but the producers ended up casting Joshua Jackson, who went on to fame on the beloved TV series Dawson’s Creek.

Who: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, 35

How old: 13

Disney debut:Angels in the Outfield, 1994

Did you know: Gordon-Levitt was 13 at the time he starred in the Disney flick. In 2012 he told Playboy magazine what made him originally try his hand at acting as a young kid. “I played baseball, did gymnastics, took piano lessons and started acting as just another one of the things I did. I wasn’t pressured into it. But it was acting I loved. I had a really cool acting teacher who taught us how to become a character, to be realistic and feel those feelings.”

Who: Anne Hathaway, 34

How old: 19

Disney debut:The Princess Diaries, 2001

Did you know: Hathaway accidentally fell off of her chair during her audition for the role of the klutzy princess-to-be Mia Thermopolis. She was hired on the spot.

Who: Britney Spears (34), Ryan Gosling (36), Christina Aguilera (35) and Justin Timberlake (34)

How old: 11, 12, 12, 12

Disney debut:The Mickey Mouse Club, 1993-’95

Did you know: The original 1950s The Mickey Mouse Club was known for introducing new young talent such as Annette Funicello, so when Disney decided to reboot the series in the 1990s, the studio ended up gathering a handful of young singer/actors who all went on to great fame. Here’s an interesting fact: Jessica Simpson and Matt Damon were both rejected from The Mickey Mouse Club. Who knew?

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