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THE PARENT TRAP

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Hayley Mills, Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Joanna Barnes
Director:  David Swift
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  129 Minutes
Release Date:  May 7, 2002

“Excuse me, but…haven’t you noticed?  We look like each other!”

Film ***1/2

As someone who’s quietly clamored for Disney to release their classic live action family films to DVD for years now, I was thrilled to learn about the first wave of “Vault Disney” titles finally making their way to disc.  I was even happier to learn that one of my all time favorites, The Parent Trap, would be one of the first four.

I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw this movie, but it was on television (“The Wonderful World of Disney”, probably), and I never forgot it.  It was a film with both laughter and heart, anchored by a wonderful cast highlighted by the delightful Hayley Mills.

Ms. Mills, who earned a special Oscar for her title role in Pollyanna a year earlier, returned to the screen for Walt Disney and director David Swift for this charming comedy.  Only this time, she pulled double duty, playing twin sisters!  The effects, though simple by today’s standards, were always convincing to me.  Even now as an adult, I find myself forgetting that there’s really only one Hayley Mills!

She plays Susan and Sharon, two long separated twins who meet for the first time in summer camp.  Their parents, Maggie (O’Hara) and Mitch (Keith) had split up when they were babies, and while Maggie took Sharon with her to Boston, Mitch kept Susan with him on his ranch in California.  But in the thirteen years since, neither ever remarried!

This gives the plucky girls an idea…switch places at the end of camp!  Sharon gets to meet the father she never knew, while Susan enjoys her mother’s company for the first time.  And sooner or later, the parents will have to switch them back, which will bring Mom and Dad face to face again…voila!  Perfection.

Or is it?  Their perfect plan starts to unravel with the invasive presence of Vicky (Barnes) in Dad’s life.  A young, pretty gold digger, she has her eye on marriage and Mitch’s money!  Will Sharon and Susan see their perfect plan of a reunited family unravel before their eyes?  One thing’s for certain…they’re not giving up so easily.

This movie always made me laugh with its spirited comic hijinks, but it always touched me with its sentiment, too.  For every belly laugh, there was a moment of emotional purity, too, from the sisters who realize their relationship for the first time, to the parents who were once in love but may be too far gone to ever get it back.  Writer/director David Swift created a terrific family film that wasn’t afraid to touch on more than one base.

Even after 40 years, The Parent Trap remains a shining picture in the Disney library.  It’s still pure, vibrant, and funny, and most of all, delightfully entertaining.  I don’t think it will ever grow old.

Video ***

I’m pleased to see this movie in anamorphic widescreen for the first time…that being said, I think the transfer could have been a little better, but I’m generally satisfied.  There is a touch of grain apparent throughout, but usually only noticeable if you’re really looking for it.  Early scenes with the girls in camp seem a tad soft, with slightly poorer definition, but by the time the girls split up, everything seems to be coming into view much more cleanly.  Colors are good and solid throughout, and tones and textures improve from that point onward, with better levels of detail.  One noticeable flaw that carries over from the VHS days…each time Hayley and Hayley are together in a twinning effect, there is a bit of a flickering effect.  This may have been caused by the filming, but I’d hoped it would have been attended to here.

But as I said, overall, the results are still quite satisfactory, if not exemplary.

Audio **

Again, I was pleased to see a new 5.1 mix for the film, but like most re-mixes for classic films, the results aren’t mind-blowing.  Timidity is often the name of the game…engineers don’t seem to want to toy with the original TOO much.  The music by the Sherman Brothers sounds terrific…I’ve always enjoyed this score as it tends to flow comically from one theme to another.  Dialogue is perfectly rendered with no complaints.  I noticed no distracting noise or aging artifacts.  Dynamic range is minimal and rear stage use is slight and hard to notice…it’s mostly there for a little ambience from time to time, but nothing major.  I have no real complaints…the soundtrack is fine, just not particularly noteworthy.

Features ****

What a features package!  I had almost as much fun going through the bonus disc as I had watching the movie.  Disc One starts with a cartoon short (just like in the old days of theatrical presentations), and it’s a good one…Donald Duck starring in “Double Trouble”.  There is also a commentary track with star Hayley Mills and writer/director David Swift, which is welcome, but not quite as good as I hoped.  It’s a little sparse, with too many gaps and too little good information. 

Disc Two, as mentioned, is the real crown jewel.  Set up like a true “Vault Disney” with terrific animated menus, you’ll find a plethora of great extras at your fingertips.  Start with the “Caught in the Act” featurette…a look back at the film featuring all new interviews with writer/director David Swift and stars Hayley Mills, Joanna Barnes and Maureen O’Hara (still stunning, in my opinion).  There are other featurettes as well:  one on the Sherman Brothers and their terrific compositions for the film, a video for “Let’s Get Together” with a new sounding arrangement, and “Who’s The Twin?”, bringing to light the woman who played Hayley’s double in many of the movie’s scenes…she and Hayley are still good friends after forty years!  Even sweeter is the tribute Walt Disney himself paid to her at the wrap party…you’ll have to see it for yourself.

There is an extensive production archives section with EVERYTHING…trailers, TV spots, production photos, posters, merchandise (including the comic book version of the film), a tribute to Hayley Mills featuring some of the Disney Studio’s top actors from over the years, audio archives (set up like a juke box) where you can hear songs, audio mixes from the film one layer at a time (dialogue, music, sound effects, et cetera), plus a radio ad.  There is also classic featurette on title makers starring Walt Disney himself.

Rounding out the disc are a featurette with director David Swift together with legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball, a look at the twinning effects of the film, and a Disney Studio album for 1961…a peek at what all the studio was working on for that year.

Great stuff, all…if you like this movie as much as me, you’ll love these extras!

Summary:

If The Parent Trap is indicative of what we might expect in the future from the “Vault Disney” collection of DVDs, fans have plenty to look forward to.  This two disc set is one of the studio’s best offerings in terms of truly enjoyable features, making it a double dose of fun.  Highly recommended.