By Zorianna Kit
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - In just a few short years, Bridgit Mendler has risen to become one of the Disney Channel's most popular stars thanks to the success of her series "Good Luck Charlie" and the Disney Channel original movie "Lemonade Mouth."
On Friday, the 19-year old heads to the big screen, voicing the title character of the animated Disney film "The Secret World of Arrietty," and that has given rise to the idea Mendler may be the next Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato.
But Mendler, who was born in Washington, D.C. and raised outside of San Francisco, is quick to point out that she's her own person looking to expand her career in her own way.
"I'm not just following a trend. The Disney girls are presented with so many awesome opportunities that it's something to really take advantage of," she told Reuters.
"Arrietty" is based on Mary Norton's children's book series "The Borrowers" where a family of very tiny people live undetected underneath the floorboards of a country house, "borrowing" things they need from human beings. Mendler voices the spirited "borrower" Arrietty who breaks the family rule when she befriends a human boy who moves into the country house.
"Arrietty" was originally released as a Japanese film by Studio Ghibli in 2010 and has now been re-recorded in English with Mendler in the title role. Will Arnett, Amy Poehler and Carol Burnett are also among the cast of voices.
Mendler even wrote and recorded a song for the film's soundtrack called "Summertime." And, like past and present Disney stars such as Cyrus ("Hanna Montana"), Gomez ("The Wizards of Waverly Place") and Lovato ("Sonny With a Chance"), Mendler now has a record deal with Disney's Hollywood Records. Her debut pop album is scheduled to come out this summer.
"Working with Disney has been such a great way for me to expand my horizons," Mendler told Reuters. "They really believe in their kids and putting them out there. It feels awesome to have this pedestal that I can work off of."
RISE TO DISNEY FAME
Mendler came to Disney's attention as a 14-year-old when she auditioned for a TV pilot. She didn't get the part, but Disney Channel talent executive Judy Taylor recalls her being "so poised and so smart, it was evident there was real potential."
Disney "tracked" the young actress over the years and in 2009, booked her in a guest starring role on the Jonas Brothers' series "JONAS." That was followed up with a character who appeared in nine episodes of "Wizards of Waverly Place."
When Disney was preparing a new show, "Good Luck Charlie" about a teenage girl who creates video diaries of advice for her baby sister, Mendler was brought in for an audition.
"We needed an actress who was relatable and accessible but could also talk straight to the camera and then go right back to talking to her family," said Taylor. "That's not easy to do but Bridgit made it look effortless. She just nailed it."
The series is currently in production on its third season with Mendler singing the theme song to "Charlie." Her fan base grew even wider when the teen starred in the Disney Channel original film "Lemonade Mouth," a musical drama based on the book of the same name. A sequel is now in the works.
HER OWN PERSON
Though some of her former Disney contemporaries have gone through public battles with addiction (Lovato) or have engaged in questionable behavior (Cyrus), the diplomatic Mendler has nothing but praise for those who came before her.
"I think they all have unique ideas of who they want to be in the industry, and I think that's the way it should be," she said. "For me, I would be in music regardless of whether I was a
Disney girl or not and it's something I take really seriously."
Mendler cites former Disney male star Shia LaBoeuf as a model for her foray into the future. He starred in the Disney series "Even Stevens" a decade ago and has found success in the "Transformers" and "Indiana Jones" film franchises.
"Shia LaBoeuf is a great example of somebody who was able to transition into more serious movie roles," said Mendler, who recently strayed outside the Disney realm and shot an episode the Fox TV medical drama "House."
"There's possibilities of doing more adult material without having to be racy with it. I don't feel like I need to make some sort of aggressive transition," she said.
For now, Mendler is contracted for a fourth season of "Charlie," but as she continues with the show, as well as her forthcoming album, the singer/actress is adamant about also continuing her education.
"I just applied to college, so hopefully I'll get in and can go to school in the fall," she said. "I'm thinking that a liberal arts major would be good to start with. I want to use college as an experience to learn more about the world outside of the field that I'm already in."
(Reporting By Zorianna Kit; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)