Over the years, Kurt Russell has built his reputation as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. From blockbusters like Escape From New York and Big Trouble in Little China to his recent turn in Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, Russell has well deserved his standing as a Hollywood favorite.
Which makes it more notable how Russell has one of the longest Disney tenures of many Hollywood actors. It goes back to him as amazingly a Disney teen idol to some cult favorites as well as one of the most loved Westerns ever. As he celebrates an amazing legacy in Hollywood, here’s a quick look at Russell’s work with Disney and why he could be called something of a Disney legend.
The Teen Idol Years
Something about Kurt Russell just caught Walt Disney’s attention. Having been working for a few years in some TV shows and minor movies, Russell caught the eye of Disney casting agents. Walt was so impressed that he signed the then-15-year-old to a 10-year studio contract, claiming he saw something special in him.
Russell made his debut in Follow Me Boys! The 1966 comedy had him as a member of a Boy Scout troop whose leader (the always dependable Fred McMurray) somehow gets involved in a mess with the U.S. Army during World War II.
The film was one of the last Walt himself oversaw, and according to reports, one of the last things Walt wrote before his death in December of that year was Russell’s name. Russell kept up his work, such as the now-infamous The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band. While that was a bomb, it did prove vital as it was where Russell met his future life partner, Goldie Hawn.
Russell kept up his Disney work, which led to his first starring role as Dexter Riley, a college student who somehow keeps getting involved in super-science experiments that make him the smartest man alive (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes), invisible (Now You See Him, Now You Don’t) and a powerhouse (The Strongest Man in the World). Each one was a success, with some fun supporting turns of Dexter outwitting mobsters.
It’s fun to see Russell here, so young and vibrant, more a smiling youth as he handles these crazy antics with that grin of his downright infectious. It’s little wonder he connected so well with moviegoers (especially the teenage female ones) and proved his star power.
There was also The Barefoot Executive and Charley and the Angel. On top of all that, Russell was featured in a popular episode of The Wonderful World of Disney, where he and the Osmond Brothers did musical numbers while introducing the Haunted Mansion to the masses.
The brief return
Russell departed Disney after his contract was up for bigger roles in other films. He made a nice comeback, however, in the beloved 1981 animated film The Fox and the Hound. His turn as Copper, the hound whose friendship with fox Tod (Mickey Rooney) turns into enemies, highlighted one of the more mature Disney animated films and made it a favorite.
The later return
After a long time away, Russell made a fun return to Disney in 1992’s Captain Ron. He played the title role, a quirky captain who handles the boat inherited by a suburban family man (Martin Short). Russell clearly had a blast in the role with a couple of Disney-themed lines like mentioning “the Pirates of the Caribbean” with Short replying, “Been to Disneyland one too many times?” In the audio commentary for their cult classic Big Trouble in Little China, John Carpenter got a fun line on how this was “probably Kurt’s best performance,” with Russell laughing along.
Russell made another notable Disney film at this time, Touchstone’s Tombstone. Russell was perfectly cast as Wyatt Earp, the famous Old West sheriff handling a deadly showdown. He was backed by a stellar supporting cast of Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Dana Delaney, Billy Bob Thornton and, of course, Val Kilmer stealing the movie as Doc Holiday. The scene of Russell standing in a rainstorm warning the outlaws, “I’m coming…and Hell’s coming with me!” was glorious and among the reasons the movie became a hit that’s since turned into a meme-worthy showcase.
The final Russell turns
Russell made two more Disney movies, both of which showed a softer side to him but still terrific. The first was Miracle with him as Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team, building the squad behind the “Miracle on Ice.” The highlight of the performance was Russell delivering Abrams’ epic pre-game speech before facing the Soviets, which has been copied numerous times since.
Russell’s last go-around with Disney was the 2005 comedy Sky High, playing Steve Stronghold aka The Commander, the world’s greatest superhero. The fun dynamic was Russell playing the role of a classic superhero in costume and then a regular dad, happy to realize his son has inherited powers of his own. His performance helped sell this underrated film.
Not counting his turn as Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, that was the end of Russell’s Disney works. But hopefully, he can come back and do some sort of film for them, as Disney helped make Russell a star, and it’s fun seeing this evolution to one of Hollywood’s best faces.