The fourth film version of Mary Rodgers’ classic novel Freaky Friday is also the latest Disney Channel Original Movie, or DCOM if you’re hip. In addition to three filmed versions, Disney Theatrical produced a musical version in 2016, which has now been adapted back to film in this version. Disney really underplayed the fact that this was a musical, likely surprising its core audience. Hopefully for the better, because we need more musicals, amiright?
Ellie is a rebellious teenager whose been dreaming of the Hunt, a nighttime scavenger hunt lead by her high school crush. It’s the kind of activity her controlling mother Katherine wouldn’t let her participate in anyway, but especially not this Friday, which also happens to be the night of her wedding rehearsal dinner. And if that wasn’t enough conflict, while having a fight over an hourglass given to Ellie by her deceased father, the two somehow switch bodies when the hourglass breaks!
The three previous adaptations lived and died by the situational comedy of characters in the wrong body failing to act their age. While there’s plenty of laughable moments in this version, its strength comes from the catchy songs peppered throughout the film. Eight songs from the stage musical by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey are reused here, along with one new song to close the show and an introductory song written by Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who plays Ellie. For a deeper analysis of the music, click here for our soundtrack review.
I grew up watching the original Jodi Foster/Barbara Harris version and the TV remake starring Shelly Long. I was so in love with both films that I even read the trilogy of Mary Rodgers books and saw the Lindsay Lohan/Jamie Lee Curtis version several times in theaters. I was impressed with the nods and homages to all previous film versions in this production. The animated opening harkens back to the 1977 classic film and the dog’s name is Boris, who was Jodi Foster’s love interest. During another scene, a song in the background sounds like an instrumental version of “You Make Me Feel So Young,” a song used heavily in the Shelly Long version. And the wedding subplot and ending rock song feel like a shoutouts to LiLo’s version.
This musical DCOM version of Freaky Friday does a great job of adapting the stage version to the small screen. While I preferred the stage production (which starred Heidi Blickinstaff) to this film, it’s still a nice way to access the story and songs in a condensed form. The stage version was created with an older audience in mind, so this film sugarcoats some of the lyrics and downplays some of the themes. The body image message is present in the film, but is a much bigger part of the story in the stage version, for example.
The actresses that have lead this same story before left some big shoes to fill, but Cozi and Heidi do an excellent job. Heidi delivers some of the biggest laughs as the immature adult and Cozi’s apparently effortless maturity makes her role believable. Dealing with the loss of a father/husband, this version has more emotional weight than the previous iterations and both actresses sell it with ease. The ending will leave even the most calloused viewer misty eyed.
The full musical is currently being licensed to community theaters and schools. I encourage any fans of the Freaky Friday DCOM to make an effort to see a stage production to get the full experience. While this offers a satisfying experience, nothing beats the full live theater experience.
I give Freaky Friday 4 out of 5 magic hourglass wishes.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.