Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action edition. Freaky Friday.

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. We have finished with the animated films, so we are moving on to the live-action films. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Freaky Friday

Year: 1976

Source materials: The 1972 novel by Mary Rodgers

Budget: $5 million

Box office: $26 million

Plot: Ellen Andrews and her daughter, Annabel Andrews constantly quarrel. Following a disagreement on Thursday, before Friday the 13th, Annabel leaves to join a friend at a local diner. In sync, Annabel and Ellen (who is in the family home’s kitchen) both wish aloud, “I wish I could switch places with her for just one day.” Their wish comes true when they switch their bodies. After a brief scene where they are shocked at seeing their new appearances, both ladies proceed as each other normally would.

Annabel is now a housewife, tending to laundry, car repair, grocery deliveries, carpet cleaners, dry cleaners, her housemaid, and the family Basset hound, Max. As though Annabel did not have her hands full, Bill Andrews coerces her to cook dinner for twenty-five people as his catered dinner party plans fell through. Annabel enlists Boris, a neighbor whom she has harbored a crush, to look after her younger brother and help make a chocolate mousse but all three manage to mess everything up, then later saving face by making everything into a smörgåsbord.

Annabel does have a bright spot with her brother, Ben, such as getting to have personal discussions with him, when she picks him up from school. He tells her which qualities he envies about Annabel, and is able to share her loathing over the housemaid, who is constantly complaining about Annabel’s sloppiness, and then confesses when he tried to be messy to connect with Annabel, the housemaid said he didn’t know better and cleaned up after him. Plus, between all the talks, they play baseball which adds to their affection. These combined situations lead to Annabel’s remorse for misjudging Ben and getting a different outlook on him.

Meanwhile Ellen, now a high school student, struggles with marching band, destroys her entire typing class’s electric typewriters, exposes her photography class’s developing film, and loses a field hockey game. However, Ellen does have one bright point, in a U.S. history class where she accurately recounts the Korean War, having lived through the 1950s as a little girl.

In an effort to escape school, Ellen (as Annabel) runs to Bill’s office. There, she encounters Bill’s new attractive, young, and immodestly dressed secretary. Ellen attempts to intimidate the young woman by sharing how frightening “her mother” is. This effort appeared successful as the secretary adopts more modest clothing, glasses, and an unflattering hairstyle. Ellen (as Annabel) asks Bill for access to his credit card in order to make herself over as her braces were scheduled to be removed that afternoon. Bill approves, and chalks up his secretary’s awkward appearance to personal problems at home as her son is sick and her husband was wounded in the Vietnam War, causing Ellen to scold herself for not trusting her husband.

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The day ends when the mother-daughter pair wishing a new request: to return to themselves. This does happen, although in a different manner than before. They are physically transferred, with Annabel suddenly sitting now behind the wheel of a car with Ben and Boris, with none of them knowing how to drive and attracting the attention of several squad cars. Ellen in turn finds herself water skiing as she (as Annabel) was scheduled to participate in an aquacade. Bill, who has prospective clients at the aquacade, fears unemployment as he sees Ellen flailing helplessly on skis, but her antics amuse the clients so much that Bill wins the account.

With a new understanding of each other’s lives, mother and daughter forgive each other. Following the events of Freaky Friday, Annabel begins dating Boris. Bill is playing cards with Ellen, still trying to understand what happened. Ellen and Bill are fine with Boris taking Annabel to a pizzeria for a date, and Annabel surprises Ben by letting him tag along with them.

Ben complains that he never gets to do fun stuff like his dad, who is getting ready for a business trip the following Saturday dirt biking with a Japanese motorcycle firm looking to enter the U.S. market, while Bill says Ben should be more appreciative of a worry-free childhood. Ben remarks he would love to spend one Saturday in his dad’s shoes, while Bill says the same about Ben, causing Annabel and Ellen to get nervous and urge Bill and Ben to drop the matter. As they wish to switch their places, the same creepy music is heard when the ladies switched. Ellen nervously throws her cards into the air while Annabel facepalms.

Background: Mary Rodgers is the daughter of Broadway legend Richard Rodgers and she is best known for writing the musical Once Upon a Mattress. Neither Barbara Harris nor Jodie Foster did any actual water skiing in the film. In both cases, these scenes were achieved with the use of professional water skiers in long shot on location, and cutaway shots of the actresses in front of a rear projection effect.

Changes from the Source Material: A major difference between the novel and the films is the presence of an outside influence switching the often-bickering mother and daughter against both their wills. Because of this, both serve as protagonists, and the films start shortly before the switch, illustrating the conflict between the two, then follow the trouble both have adjusting to their new circumstances, and the new respect and understanding they both come to have for each other before switching back.

Songs: “I’d Like to Be You for a Day”, written by Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha.

Cast: Dick Van Patten returns as Harold Jennings. Ruth Buzzi and Al Marinaro make cameo appearances

Barbara Harris as Ellen Andrews/Annabel Andrews. She appeared in such movies as A Thousand Clowns, Plaza Suite, Nashville, Family Plot, Peggy Sue Got Married, and Grosse Pointe Blank. Harris won a Tony Award for The Apple Tree. Jodie Foster as Annabel Andrews/Ellen Andrews. She made made her film debut with Disney’s Napoleon and Samantha. She appeared in the musical Tom Sawyer and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. She appeared in Taxi Driver as a child prostitute. 1 She appeared in The Accused 2 and The Silence of the Lambs. 3 Other roles include the films Sommersby, Maverick, Contact, Anna and the King, Panic Room, Flightplan, Inside Man, and The Brave One. She has directed the films The Beaver and Money Monster as well as episodes of Orange Is the New Black, House of Cards, and Black Mirror.

John Astin as Mr. Bill Andrews. He is best known for starring as Gomez Addams in The Addams Family. Notable film projects include West Side Story, That Touch of Mink, Move Over Darling, National Lampoon’s European Vacation, Teen Wolf Too, and The Frighteners. He had a reoccurring role in the series Brisco County, Jr. Astin was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film for his directorial debut, the comedic short Prelude. Patsy Kelly as Mrs. Schmauss. One of her early memorable roles was as Etta, the cook, in Merrily We Live. She also made a memorable appearance as Laura-Louise in Rosemary’s Baby. She appeared in the revival of No, No, Nanette the1971 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. Her last role in a feature film was in another comedy for Disney, The North Avenue Irregulars.

Sorrell Booke as Mr. Dilk, the Principal. He is best known for his role as corrupt politician Jefferson Davis “Boss” Hogg in the television show The Dukes of Hazzard. He appeared in films such as Black Like Me, A Fine Madness, and Fail-Safe. Sparky Marcus as Ben Andrews. He started acting at five playing Shelby on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. As a voice actor for cartoons he is probably best known for his role as Richie Rich. He later had regular roles as a voice actor on Shirt Tales, Space Stars, Space Ace, Challenge of the GoBots, The Puppy’s Further Adventures, The Reluctant Dragon, Cabbage Patch Kids: First Christmas, Banjo the Woodpile Cat, and The Get-Along Gang.

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Marc McClure as Boris Harris. He known for playing Jimmy Olsen in the Superman series 4 and Dave McFly, the older brother of Marty McFly, in the Back to the Future films.

Critical Reception:

  • Richard Eder of The New York Times wrote, “Toward the end there are some amusing car-chase scenes. Elsewhere the humor is clotted by the feeling that the jokes are chasing the reactions, instead of the other way around.”
  • Variety wrote that “a promising concept” had been “bungled by a talky, repetitive screenplay and overbroad direction.”
  • Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and wrote, “The problems resulting from the switch of identities are fairly predictable, but fun: This is one of the better recent Disney productions.”
  • Gene Siskel also gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and stated that the two leads “do a serviceable job with mediocre material.”
  • Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times thought that the movie “has the stuff of a stronger, more sophisticated film but has been processed to fit into the bland, synthetic Disney formula. Even so, both Miss Harris and Miss Foster make the most of their offbeat opportunity.”
  • Gary Arnold of The Washington Post wrote that the film “suffers from sluggish exposition, mediocre direction and a one-closeup-after-another method of composition advertising the film’s eventual retirement to the Disney TV series, but it probably salvages things with juvenile audiences by finishing fast.”

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Legacy: Freaky Friday has had three different remakes, all produced by the Walt Disney Company: a made-for-television film in 1995 starring Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann, a live-action theatrical release in 2003 starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, and a musical version for television starring Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Heidi Blickenstaff.

 

My take: I think the only way a concept like this works is if both actors are good enough to be convincing as the other. Foster had the maturity to pull off acting like and adult, and Harris had the energy and verve to pull off acting like a thirteen year old

Next Week: Pete’s Dragon