Disney is currently in the midst of a remake frenzy.
In addition to the glossy, big budget adaptations of their classic animated features (which continues in 2019 with starry, filmmaker-driven takes on "Dumbo," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King"), they’re also launching high-profile remakes for the studio’s upcoming streaming service and this Friday, a musical redo of “Freaky Friday” hits Disney Channel and it’s easily one of the buzziest television events of the summer.
But not all of Disney’s remakes have become sensations. In fact, there are a whole bunch that you probably haven’t even heard of. It’s these uncelebrated oddballs that we’re taking a look at today. And while most of these have languished in obscurity, we think they’d make a great fit for the streaming service. Don’t you?
1. 'The Parent Trap II' (1986)
1961’s “The Parent Trap” was one of the few live-action triumphs in Walt’s era. (Seriously … his magic touch rarely extended to productions with actual actors.) So it makes sense that Disney would choose to do a remake/sequel for the Disney Channel (then in its relative infancy, before they had even introduced the Disney Channel Original Movie banner) in the form of "The Parent Trap II."
Amazingly, Hayley Mills returned for the dual roles that made her a household name, this time joined by a bewildered Tom Skerritt and all of the production value sheen you’d expect for a basic cable movie in 1986. The remake/sequel proved so popular that it spawned two more films -- 1989’s “The Parent Trap III” and “Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon,” which shared more of the same cast/continuity and were once again anchored by Mills.
2. 'The Absent-Minded Professor' (1988)
Everybody remembers “Flubber,” the zany Robin Williams-led remake of 1961’s “The Absent-Minded Professor,” even if it isn’t all that memorable. But there was another remake, made less than a decade before “Flubber,” that is somehow even more forgettable, 1988's "The Absent-Minded Professor."
This version starred the late Harry Anderson (a staple of many Disney productions, including some truly inspiring specials about the theme parks) in the Fred MacMurray role of the scatterbrained scientist and Mary Page Keller and aired as part of “The Magical World of Disney”, a brief rebrand of “The Wonderful World of Disney.” This version followed more of the story beats of the original film, with much less dancing flubber. Sorry.
3. 'Polly' (1989)
No, this has nothing to do with polyamory, although that was a good guess. Instead, 1989’s “Polly” was a remake of Disney’s 1960 live action classic "Pollyanna," which starred Hayley Hills and secured her contract with the Disney studio. What makes “Polly” kind of revolutionary was that it remade the original film as a musical and with a completely African-American cast (including Keshia Knight Pulliam, Phylicia Rashad, and the final performance of Butterfly McQueen). It also featured direction and choreography by the legendary Debbie Allen.
It was such a hit, in fact, that it inspired a sequel (“Polly: Comin’ Home!”) in 1990 and was one of the few of these sequels/spin-offs/remakes to receive a modern day home video release, although it was through the relatively closed-off Disney Movie Club program.
4. 'The Shaggy Dog' (1994)
Again, there was a fairly high profile theatrical remake of 1959’s Fred MacMurray-led “The Shaggy Dog” (a smash hit in its day and hugely influential on the direction of Disney’s live action productions), but that wasn’t released until 2006. (That "Shaggy Dog" starred Disney favorite Tim Allen and a pre-career comeback Robert Downey, Jr. and incorporated elements of the 1976 sequel “The Shaggy D.A.”) But, to paraphrase Obi-Wan, there was another!
Emboldened by the success of a 1987 made-for-television sequel that was set in between the events of the original two films (fun fact: it was co-written by future Oscar winner Paul Haggis), “The Shaggy Dog” premiered on “The Wonderful World of Disney” in the fall of 1994. Directed by frequent Adam Sandler collaborator Dennis Dugan (who had his own Disney history, having starred in 1979’s “Unidentified Flying Oddball”), this version of “The Shaggy Dog” starred Scott Weinger, who was reaching a Disney zenith since at the same time he was starring in “Full House” and essayed the title role in “Aladdin.”
5. 'The Barefoot Executive' (1995)
It sort of makes sense that there would be a mid-nineties remake of “The Barefoot Executive” on “The Wonderful World of Disney,” considering how the original movie was somewhat memorably was turned into a serialized version in the fall of 1973 and given the remake/sequel craze of cable channels in the 1990s (“Birds II: Land’s End” or “Psycho IV: The Beginning” anyone?) But also … why?
The original 1971 film (about a chimpanzee that can predict the popularity of upcoming television shows) wasn’t exactly a classic, and the "Barefoot Executive" remake (directed by Susan Seidelman, who helmed the pilot of “Sex and the City”) … even less so.
6. 'The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes' (1995)
The original 1969 “The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes” (which starred Kurt Russell as a poor college kid who, after a freak accident, becomes a living computer) spawned something of a franchise, including two sequels (“Now You See Him, Now You Don’t” and “The Strongest Man in the World”) and a prominent reference in the Imagination Pavilion at Epcot Center. (It was also part of something of a shared universe, taking place at the same fictional university from “The Absent-Minded Professor.”)
In 1995, the "Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" concept was revisited, with a pre-religious zealotry Kirk Cameron, flanked by Larry Miller and Disney favorite Dean Jones (who, amazingly, wasn’t also in the original film). Maybe most fascinating of all was that the project was directed by Peyton Reed, the filmmaker behind “Ant-Man” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp.”
Clearly, he’s had a thing for experiments run amok since the beginning.
7. 'Escape to Witch Mountain' (1995)
Again, you might remember “Race to Witch Mountain,” a 2009 remake of Disney’s spooky 1975 feature “Escape to Witch Mountain.” After all, it starred Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and had a lot of jazzy visual effects. But in 1995 there was another remake of “Escape to Witch Mountain,” this one airing as part of “The Wonderful World of Disney.”
While the behind-the-scenes talent is less than stellar, the cast for this movie is truly bizarre and included prominent roles for Robert Vaughn, Vincent Schiavelli and Brad Dourif and was led by a young Elisabeth Moss. Insane.
8. 'Freaky Friday' (1995)
Clearly, you can’t keep a good body-swapping comedy down. The 1976 “Freaky Friday” (starring a young Jodie Foster) was a charming family film with an irresistibly hooky premise that predated the glut of body-swapping comedies in the 1980s and, in the message of parents and children experiencing each other’s lives, also seemed to inspire “Back to the Future.” It inspired a pair of sequels in 1984 (“Summertime Switch” and “A Billion for Boris”) and, a decade later, a made-for-television remake in the form of 1995’s “Freaky Friday.” The success or failure of any “Freaky Friday” rests in the lead performances, and this has a pair of comedic whoppers, supplied by Shelley Long and a young Gaby Hoffmann.
Of course, before Friday’s musical adaptation, there was one more remake, 2003’s terrific “Freaky Friday” with Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan. Body-swapping and life lessons never get old.
9. 'The Love Bug' (1997)
Reed returned to the Disney remake game in 1997 with “The Love Bug,” which is part remake (of 1968’s “The Love Bug”) and part sequel, in that it’s set after the events of 1980’s “Herbie Goes Bananas” (the fourth film in the Herbie series).
Dean Jones even appeared as his character from the original films (!), narrating the tale of a small town mechanic (a very charming Bruce Campbell) who uncovers Herbie the Love Bug, the sentient VW Beetle, after he had been neglected by an egomaniacal race car driver (John Hannah, a couple of years before his breakthrough in “The Mummy”). This is one of the best remakes of the bunch, not that anybody remembers it, since -- in 2005 -- there would be another film that borrowed the remake/sequel premise, only this time it would be the starry, theatrically-released (and not-nearly-as-fun) “Herbie Fully Loaded.”
10. 'Phenomenon II' (2003)
Um … yes, there was a remake/sequel to the John Travolta supernatural drama “Phenomenon.” But instead of Travolta, the made-for-TV production of "Phenomenon II" cast Christopher Shyer (!?) as the afflicted everyman and Terry O’Quinn as a mysterious government operative. (Disney subsidiary Touchstone produced the original film.)
Honestly, if there wasn’t a shadily uploaded one-hour-and-23-minute YouTube video, it’s hard to imagine this actually existing. Never has “The Wonderful World of Disney” been less wonderful.