Body Swaps and Llamas: The Magic of Movie Transformations | Rooftop Cinema Club

Rooftop Cinema Club


Body Swaps and Llamas: The Magic of Movie Transformations

Transformations have always been utilized to tell stories on the big screen. Whether it’s body transformations like those in the Universal monsters movies Frankenstein and Dracula or the countless character makeovers in films like My Fair Lady and She’s All That; from characters turning into animals, like in Pixar’s recent triumph Soul, to the straight body swaps like the mother-daughter switch in Freaky Friday, transformations are a familiar yet ever-changing part of cinema.

From the sweet and silly to the downright horrifying, here are some of our favorite movie transformations!

Body Swap Movies

The body swap movie has become so popular it’s now its own subgenre, even adding a new entry in 2020 with the horror comedy Freaky. While the trope existed before 1976, it’s hard to think of another movie that led to the rise of the body swap movie like the original Freaky Friday.

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Freaky Friday

The setup is simple enough; a mother and daughter (played by Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster) have their wish granted to become the other for a day. Why and how does this happen? It’s never really explained (and it doesn’t really matter, right?). After the pair switch bodies, hilarity ensues. They each survive a day of shenanigans, which results in the two having a newfound understanding and mutual respect for each other. This probably all could’ve be avoided if they talked and listened to one another, but where’s the fun in that?

Disney doubled down on the concept a few times, but their only other theatrical release was a modernized version of the concept from 2003. The hugely successful remake starred Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsey Lohan and became a cult favorite celebrating the actresses’ wildly fun portrayals. 

The premise of having a young person in an adult body to both grow as a person and put themselves in ever-escalating hilarious situations didn’t stop with Freaky Friday.

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Tom Hanks seems to have become an adopted part of every movie lover’s family. He’s like your dad and brother and uncle all rolled up into one. Before he was turning in Oscar-winning roles in the ‘90s, he jump-started his career with hysterical comedic turns in some ‘80s classics. The biggest of which was…Big.

Unlike the original Freaky Friday, we know why a 12-year-old gets turned into a 30-something Tom Hanks. It has to do with some mystical fortune telling game called Zoltar. OK, it’s not much of a “real” explanation, but it’s something. Again, that’s not what matters. What matters is we get to see Hanks playing a 12-year-old trying to make his way in New York City (including that iconic moment on the giant floor piano in F.A.O. Schwarz) and it’s somehow even more delightful than words can say. In a way we get to see Tom Hanks be a different version of each of your family members all in one movie!

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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and The Next Level

The most recent of these body changing movies are the Jumanji films that have rebooted the series with two massive global blockbusters. It’s a pretty clever take on the premise, with high schoolers who find themselves uploaded into a video game in the bodies of notable stars like Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. Highlights include The Rock playing the deeply insecure nerd and Jack Black the self-obsessed teen girl. This gives the quartet of actors a great opportunity to strut their stuff, and the sequel ups the ante by inviting Danny DeVito, Danny Glover and Awkwafina to get in on the fun!

Animal Transformation Movies

Most animal transformations in films are reserved for horror movies, but this section is dedicated to humans turning into the more fuzzy and cuddly variety of the animal kingdom.

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The Emperor’s New Groove

David Spade voices a narcissistic emperor who, after drinking the wrong vial of potion, transforms into…a llama. Since llamas are naturally a ridiculously silly looking animal, some of the jokes are obvious. But Spade, along with the voice talents of John Goodman, Patrick Warburton and Eartha Kitt(!), definitely elevate this as one to remember.

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The Sword in the Stone 

One of this Disney classic’s main characters is the great wizard Merlin, so pretty much anything is game – that invariably means humans will get turned into animals. What’s not expected is how many times this happens to move the story forward. This includes fish, crabs, goats and squirrels – and even the film’s villain – turning into a dragon. The characters may not stay that way for long, but for the sheer number of times this happens, The Sword in the Stone is the best bang for your buck when it comes to cinematic animal transformations.

Monster Transformation Movies

Whether it’s a classic monster like a werewolf or a more subtle version like, you know, a cold-blooded serial killer, these movie transformations come with all kinds of different variations and types.

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Teen Wolf

In 1985, Michael J. Fox was on top of the world. He was the star of the #2 sitcom in the country, Family Ties, and Back to the Future was a box office juggernaut. The third feather in his cap that year was playing a teen who discovers he’s a werewolf (a family issue, we find out) and ends up gaining popularity by being a basketball-dunking star of the school. The film works wonders in taking the Universal horror werewolf premise and turning it upside down through the lens of the absurd teen comedy genre. The immense likability of Fox also helps!

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So, this isn’t necessarily transforming into a conventional monster, but John Woo’s action thriller evolves the transformation trope with John Travolta’s FBI agent undergoing an experimental face transplant to take on the identity of a terrorist, played by MEGA acting legend Nic Cage! One problem though: the terrorist (Cage..well now Travolta) has done the same thing. Travolta and Cage have the time of their lives playing these characters through their cat-and-mouse chase. Heavily peppered with epic scene-chewing by the actors and Woo’s legendary action set pieces, Face/Off is the transformation movie you didn’t know you needed.

Makeover Movies

There are so many great makeover movies that it might be best to condense our faves lightning round style!

My Fair Lady

Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins set the blueprint for pretty much all makeover movies that followed. Not much more to add…oh, wait, the songs are pretty fantastic, too!

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The Princess Diaries

Anne Hathaway plays an awkward high school student who finds out she is the princess of a small European country called Genovia. Now, she must play (and look) the part. Best of all is that it’s none other than Julie Andrews showing her the way!

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She’s All That

By now we all know that slo-mo walk down the stairs to “Kiss Me.” And sure, you’ve probably heard the countless jokes about how this movie tried to make someone as beautiful as Rachael Leigh Cook out to be anything other than that by just having her wear glasses. It’s all true. Even so, this ‘90s teen comedy became a mega hit and remains endlessly watchable.

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Never Been Kissed 

Drew Barrymore is absolutely perfect as a 20-something newspaper reporter who goes undercover as a high school student for her paper. That’s makeover #1. Her experience mirrors her actual (terrible) high school days and she just wants to quit. That’s when we get makeover #2. She decides to embrace her honest self. Oh, and while it’s not important, she does end up writing a story for the paper. This film is basically a blueprint on how to use Drew Barrymore’s greatness to cover up a pretty thin plot. She’s just that good, so we ain’t complaining.

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As we’ve shown through our programming over the years at Rooftop, movie transformations have come in all different types in every genre imaginable! And, lucky for all of us, it doesn’t look like that’s changing anytime soon!

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