Disney's LL Remake Trilogy
I recently watched The Parent Trap (1961) again – thanks to TCM – with my daughter, since it’s a movie we both enjoy, and we’ve also watched The Parent Trap (1998) a couple of times together as well. TCM's December 2008 Spotlight - The Family Classics - not only featured the original, but also included the two other Disney productions that the studio later remade with (pre-rehab) Lindsay Lohan: Freaky Friday (1976) which starred Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster and The Love Bug (1968) with Dean Jones, Michele Lee, David Tomlinson and Buddy Hackett (among others). We actually saw LL’s Freaky Friday (2003) – which also stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Mark Harmon – before the original and, though neither of my kids has seen the ‘Bug’ movies (LL’s updated version is titled Herbie Fully Loaded (2005)), I watched them both recently (I hadn’t seen the original since I was a kid myself) in order to complete this article. Therefore, you should appreciate my sacrifice (if not what follows).
The original Parent Trap was the second Disney feature starring Hayley Mills, daughter of British actor Sir John Mills and younger sister of Juliet Mills; it was preceded by Pollyanna (1960). The story is about a pair of identical twins who discover each other’s existence at summer camp – they’d been separated at a very young age by their parents, who’d divorced when they were too young to have remembered (one twin for each parent) – then decide to switch places in order to meet their non-custodial parent and subsequently plot to ‘trap’ their parents into a reconciliation when they learn that their wealthy dad is about to remarry a much younger blond gold-digger. Even though the story’s eventual outcome holds no mystery (and despite the absurdities: the parents’ original arrangement and inability to distinguish the child they’d raised from her twin), the formula worked so well that it could be successfully remade with only minor updating thirty-seven years later. Of course, both movies succeed in large part due to the cute charisma of their child stars – Mills and Lohan playing both twin roles with sufficient credibly – and the considerable (comedic) acting abilities of its title characters: Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith in the original, Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson in the remake. As an added bonus for classic film fans, the original also features Charles Ruggles (as O’Hara’s father), Una Merkel (as Keith’s longtime housekeeper), and Leo G. Carroll in a hilarious role as a reverend that’s tickled by the circumstances which transpire. In addition to Joanna Barnes (who plays her character’s mother in the remake) as the gold-digger, there’s Ruth McDevitt and Nancy Culp as camp counselors and John Mills himself (before his knighting in 1976) in an uncredited role as Keith’s caddy. Even though the remake’s supporting cast isn’t nearly as strong, I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it (especially for the chance to see preteen Lohan, who was such a talented little darling before she morphed into a cliché).
While I’ve definitely been critical of remakes in this space in the past, I have to say that Freaky Friday (2003) is a much better movie than the original, which comes off today as silly and terribly dated due in large part to its poor special effects (which were overused for too many sight gags). Fourteen year old Jodie Foster had already established herself in Disney television and film productions, and she would soon earn her first recognition from the Academy for her supporting role in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) – released in February of that year – shortly after Freaky Friday (1976) was launched in theaters across the country in January, 1977. Though her performance as a more typical wholesome teenager in the Disney movie is adequate, she can’t overcome the overacting of her counterpart, Barbara Harris (whose over-the-top phony psychic role in Alfred Hitchcock’s last feature film Family Plot (1976) seems to have carried over to this one) as her mother. One of the only reasons to watch the original is to play “name that TV actor” among the supporting cast appearances, which include: The Addams Family’s John Astin, Eight is Enough’s Dick Van Patten, Laugh-In’s Ruth Buzzi, The Mother-in-Law’s Kaye Ballard, (film noir’s) Marie Windsor and Dallas’s Charlene Tilton. On the other hand, despite its tired body switching plot (the mother’s soul temporarily inhabits her daughter’s, and vice versa, giving each a chance to experience the other’s POV) – which Hollywood finds a way to recycle in some form or another every few years – the up-to-date remake features surprisingly lively performances by Lohan and Curtis, who happens to share my birth date (though she’s a little bit older than me), and a catchy soundtrack.
After watching The Love Bug (1968) and LL’s Herbie Fully Loaded (2005) back-to-back, let me first say that the latter movie is not so much a remake as it is a sequel. Its story does mimic much of the original, while it simultaneously plays homage to it in several scenes, but it begins with a montage (of clips from the original and its earlier sequels) that recounts the lovable bug’s glory days through the ‘present’ day, when proud Herbie finds himself in a junkyard (where he’s destined to be crushed into scrap metal). Even though the titled car is still a pearl white 1963 Volkswagen Beatle deluxe ragtop sedan, the 2005 movie’s incarnation is a mechanically-animated humanized character: its headlights (and their covers) operate like eyes, opening and closing, winking and blinking to reveal emotions – ‘we’ even get to see the world from Herbie’s viewpoint – and its bumper curls like a mouth into a frown, its chassis lowers to shrug or raises up to strut. In the original, the other characters (and the audience) had to project and attribute feelings upon an inanimate object. In both movies, Herbie improbably wins races by besting a seemingly more capable rival (Tomlinson’s auto racing enthusiast role is played by Matt Dillon, as the reigning NASCAR champion, in the most current movie; both are the foil primarily used for comic relief), and is responsible helping the lead character to find and fall in love with another: Jones falls for Lee while Lohan finally realizes that Justin Long (the Mac guy in Apple Inc.’s TV commercials), who kind of plays Hackett’s role (a supportive friend), is for her. There are some minor differences in the remake-sequel’s narrative (for instance, Lohan’s character accepts Herbie’s ‘unique personality’ rather quickly whereas Dean Jones’s didn’t until nearly the end); the most significant is the addition of a few extra characters: Michael Keaton and Breckin Meyer as Lohan’s father and brother, respectively. Both add emotional depth to the story: for instance, Keaton’s has reasons why he wants his son to follow in their family’s racing tradition while, as a widower, he doesn’t want his daughter (the “spitting image” of her mother) to die from a mishap on the track. Thankfully, the latest film’s soundtrack features only a brief interlude of that annoying Caribbean reggae music (which played in the background during the races of the original); instead, it’s been replaced with a more contemporary sound, chockfull of classic rock and roll hits.
As for Lohan, while she’d played her age in each of her three previous Disney feature films – Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) was the third – at eighteen years of age in Herbie Fully Loaded (2005), her character (who graduates from college at the beginning of the movie) was perhaps four years older than the actress was at the time (not that she doesn’t pull it off; like Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, she matured physically earlier than most). Earlier this year, she finally turned her Herbie movie age twenty-two, but only after many public tribulations. I wonder if she wishes that she could have skipped over those same years in her personal life.
© 2008 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog