A Live-Action Disney Remake Is Secretly a Sci-Fi Classic

This update is now nostalgic in its own right, and for good reason.

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It’s common to hear Disney fans complain about the studio’s onslaught of remakes and reboots, with the term “IP Movie” going from industry jargon to a derogatory label. But while The Lion King and The Little Mermaid may be getting all the attention, this isn’t a new practice. Twenty years ago, another wave of live-action reboots swept over the Disney catalog. And while many are best left forgotten, one turned a genre that was the stuff of hokey B-movies into a powerhouse.

In the ‘90s and ‘00s, Disney refurbished a wide variety of lesser-known live-action movies: The Parent Trap, The Love Bug, and Freaky Friday were all remade, and those were just the ones that starred Lindsay Lohan. Less-than-stellar duds were given a facelift with new stars, like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes with Kirk Cameron and The Shaggy Dog with Tim Allen.

But 2003’s Freaky Friday easily outshone them all. Based on the comedic novel by Broadway Mary Rodgers, the story was then best known for a 1976 movie starring Jodie Foster. Though it’s been adapted multiple times, no other version has stuck in the collective consciousness like this one, and it’s easy to see why.

Freaky Friday follows punk rock teenager Anna (Lohan), who’s constantly at odds with her mother, Tess (Jamie Lee Curtis), especially since Tess is preparing to remarry after being widowed. When Anna’s band gets a once-in-a-lifetime audition on the night of her mom’s wedding rehearsal, the two get into a huge fight in the middle of a Chinese restaurant. A helpful waitress gives them a fortune cookie that sparks an earthquake and swaps their bodies.

Now Tess has to deal with mean teachers and teen crushes at school, and Anna has to deal with exhausting clients. Only through understanding each other can they swap back.

It’s the perfect plot for a feel-good family comedy, but there’s a lot of ingenious sci-fi storytelling at work here. While other body swap stories like Your Name borrow this trope, Freaky Friday is the purest example. The swap is simple and inexplicable, and when initial efforts to swap back (like running into each other) don’t work, the two begin to understand each other and come to terms with their new lives.

Odds are good that a 25 to 30-year-old in your life can do a spot-on impression of Anna in Tess’ body saying, “I’m like the Crypt Keeper!”

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Unlike in many Disney remakes, the acting here elevates a simple premise and straightforward script into something great. Lindsay Lohan is in peak Mean Girls mode, and Jamie Lee Curtis managed to nab a Golden Globe nomination. Not bad for an IP movie.

It’s also very of its time, which is actually a plus here. From Anna’s garage band, to Tess’ hardcore makeover when Anna takes over her body, to Anna’s crush Jake (played by quintessential 2000s heartthrob Chad Michael Murray) singing Britney Spears, it’s the perfect time capsule of millennial culture. For a while it looked tacky and dated. But now throwbacks to its time are all the rage, so much so that a sequel is in development with Lohan and Curtis attached.

Calling Freaky Friday a sci-fi movie may seem like a stretch, but it’s the archetypal body swap movie. Any story that tries to put someone in another person’s brain is paying homage to it in one way or another. Yes, even Face/Off.

Freaky Friday is streaming on Disney+.

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