Why Disney thought it necessary to remake this classic body-swap family film eighteen years later, we'll never know. Recasting the roles that Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster played in the original with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffman (respectively) is akin to recasting Olivier's Hamlet with Jim Varney. Not that Freaky Friday is on a par with Hamlet, precisely, but you get the idea.
Freaky Friday takes place, of course, on a Friday the 13th in the late Seventies. You can tell it's the late Seventies because everyone has fly-away hair and flared trousers. Earth tones are very big in house decor, further tipping one off, and Dick van Patten's appearance is sure to pin this film down, era-wise.
Other than that, though, Freaky Friday is a fairly accessible movie. It relies on the great truths of suburban family life, such as: "cool" big sisters hate their perfect little brothers, perfect little brothers idolize their big sisters, and moms just don't understand their children. True, the Andrews' household still clings to some idyllic 50's stereotypes (the family is supported by Dad's income), but overall we think kids and parents can identify with the characters presented. (Chris' wife commented that, having not seen the movie since her own teens, she was shocked to find that she now identifies more with Harris' mom-character than with Foster's daughter-character.)
Foster's character, Annabel Andrews, is a rather ornery adolescent girl. Misunderstood by her mother, practically ignored by her father, and fed up with her anal-retentive brother (whom she calls "Apeface"), she slouches around the house, being uncooperative. Her grades are low, her sarcasm level high, and her usual breakfast is rum-raisin banana ice cream. Needless to say, she thinks her mother has it easy, hanging around the house all day watching TV.
Ellen Andrews, on the other hand, is having trouble understanding her daughter Annabel. She doesn't understand Annabel's lack of interest in her own appearance, her fascination with field hockey, or her apparent lack of appetite in the morning. She thinks that Annabel has it easy, lolling around school all day, taking typing lessons.
Foster & John Astin.
On this fateful morning, when of course numerous important events are due to take place, Ellen and Annabel switch bodies due to some unexplained magic. (At least the makers of Freaky Friday had the presence of mind to leave it unexplained. This avoids painful scenes involving scarabs or witch doctors or, worst of all, magic potions.) Annabel's mind is catapulted into Ellen's body, where Ellen is doing dishes. Ellen finds herself eating rum-raisin banana ice-cream at the local soda fountain. Ellen's reaction: Oh no! Annabel's reaction: Whoopee!
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Freaky Friday is that Foster and Harris are both entirely convincing as their alternate personalitied-selves. Most body-swap movies involve actors trying to imitate each other and failing miserably. These actresses, fortunately, perform flawlessly. Harris is almost too good as the bubble-gum chewing, rock-n-roll dancing Annabel-as-Ellen, and Foster draws a few laughs herself as she prisses around, using a very adult Ellen-as-Annabel voice. Throw in supporting performances by Sparky Marcus as Apeface and John "Gomez Addams" Astin, and how can you not watch this masterpiece?
Freaky Friday is perhaps the most underrated of Disney's family films made in the 70's, but who can compete with Hayley Mills, Don Knotts, and Herbie the Love Bug? By the way, we hear a remake of The Parent Trap is due out in 1998.