TV MOVIE "Freaky Friday"
WHEN | WHERE Friday at 8 p.m. on Disney Channel
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Ellie Blake (Cozi Zuehlsdorff, both "Dolphin Tales") is having a rough day. She wants to participate in some high school-wide game called "The Hunt," but her mom, Katherine (Heidi Blickenstaff, Broadway's "The Little Mermaid" and "Something Rotten!") won't let her, so an impasse begins. Katherine, meanwhile, is under pressure: Her wedding day is approaching (she's a widow) and a fashion magazine wants to do a spread on the preparations, which she's managing. In a pitched argument, both Ellie and mom grab on to the (as it turns out) magical hourglass her father had left Ellie before his death, and . . . zzzzzzappp . . . they instantly switch bodies. This latest "Freaky Friday" — based on the 1972 YA novel by Mary Rodgers — is actually a musical, with music and lyrics by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey (2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, "Next to Normal"), that has had a run in several regional theaters over the past couple years.
MY SAY Every generation apparently needs its own "Freaky Friday." In the first one (1976) Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris swapped bodies on that particular Friday. Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann managed the feat next (1995). Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis headlined the most recent and best-known adaptation (2003). Besides Zuehlsdorff and Blickenstaff — who are particularly good here — this latest version has an added bonus: An upbeat, driving score by Kitt and Yorkey that forges a link to another iconic Disney production, "High School Musical."
Music almost seems to come naturally to "Freaky," perhaps because it came naturally to its creator. Rodgers — daughter of Richard Rodgers — had two enduring credits, the other that fractured fairy tale and high school stage perennial, "Once Upon a Mattress." But she got more mileage — and sequels — out of this one. In an interview before her death in 2014, she said of her own upbringing, "I remember thinking 'This is a very powerful pair of people I'm living with here, and if I don't fight for my own identity, I won't have any.' So I was adversarial whenever humanly possible." That adversarial relationship was the wellspring of "Friday," but the magic was in the compassion and empathy. "Friday" was about understanding and identity, but especially about that most unique of all relationships, the mother-daughter one.
This latest version (wisely) doesn't scramble the formula, as if that were even possible and — with an the idea this basic, and themes so universal — it's probably not. Zuehlsdorff's Ellie is a teen with (what else?) confidence issues and a tumultuous inner life. Blickenstaff's Katherine is a control freak who balances (precariously) her job, motherhood and an impending wedding day. Neither understands the other, neither possibly could, until they trade places for a day. Only then do they see their future and their past and finally come to recognize that they are — for all their idiosyncratic particulars — essentially the same person.
There are more than a few amusing lines in this version because "Freaky Friday" (after all) almost writes itself. Or almost: This latest version was written by respected veteran producer Bridget Carpenter ("Friday Night Lights.") It's fun. It's lively. It's (what else?) freaky.
BOTTOM LINE A colorful "Friday" with the Disney touch, while Zuehlsdorff and Blickenstaff shine.