"It's strictly a laugh affair!" Whatever that means.
In 1960, Walt Disney discovered a secret weapon in Hayley Mills, the talented ingénue of his hit family film Pollyanna. In 1961, Walt decided to re-team young Hayley with her Pollyanna collaborator, writer-director David Swift. But rather than stake the success on the performance of one Hayley Mills, the filmmakers decided to enlist two Hayley Millses, thanks to some nifty, cutting edge special effects. The story of twins separated at birth who conspire to reunite their parents, The Parent Trap makes its DVD debut as part of the "Vault Disney" Collection.
Facts of the Case
Sharon McKendrick (Hayley Mills) and Susan Evers (Mills again) meet at summer camp. At first, their identical appearances are the source of an intense rivalry, but Sharon and Susan soon discover that they're actually sisters, separated at birth by their divorced parents. Sharon and Susan secretly switch places for the remainder of the summer, so they can meet their respective parent. At the end of the summer, they plan to reconvene and reunite Mom and Dad. All goes smoothly until the girls' father Mitch (Brian Keith of TV's Family Affair) reveals he's planning to re-marry—a younger woman that the girls deem is merely after Mitch's money. Sharon and Susan reveal their switch, which forces Mitch and the girls' mother, Maggie (Maureen O'Hara, Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation), to meet once again. But the girls quickly learn why their parents split up in the first place—they argue incessantly. Sharon and Susan attempt to recreate Mitch and Maggie's first date, hoping to spark a romance that will reconcile their family permanently.
The Parent Trap is a self-ascribed Disney classic. In fact, it's something of a franchise for the Mouse House. This simple little family movie has spawned three made-for-Disney-Channel movies (The Parent Trap II, The Parent Trap III and The Parent Trap Hawaiian Honeymoon), not to mention a well-received 1998 remake. So I was surprised to find that the original film left me dissatisfied. I love Disney movies (and Hayley Mills too—see my glowing review of Pollyanna), but The Parent Trap, frankly, is a dud.
Admittedly, The Parent Trap is one of the few Disney movies I missed in those formative, early movie-watching years, so my disappointment now isn't even tempered with the nostalgia that a DVD like this is obviously trying to generate. I think the biggest problem with this film is with its premise—divorcing parents decide to split up their twin daughters, and hide the fact that each has a sister. Even if you can fathom giving up one of your two children forever, how cruel is it to deprive them of their sibling as well? So I was poised to detest Mitch and Maggie from the get go, especially since a suitable reason for separating the girls is never given. The Parent Trap takes all of this in stride, and expects us to like Mitch and Maggie anyway. The problem is, I didn't. The final third of the film is devoted to the two heartless parents and their courtship. Unfortunately, Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara have little chemistry, so the problem is confounded. Perhaps I'm taking the premise way too seriously, but I couldn't get over the fact that poor Sharon and Susan are going to need some expensive therapy (could that be what all the sequels are about?). Another factor working against this film is the long-running time. At 129 minutes, The Parent Trap drags, particularly at the end of the film, when the girls take an unnecessary camping trip to sabotage Mitch's gold-digging fiancée.
Thankfully, Hayley Mills is on the scene to lighten the load, and she does so admirably. She doesn't quite have the acting chops to distinguish dramatically between the two girls' personalities, but the camera work is exceptional, and by the end of the film you almost forget that a single actress is playing both roles. The Parent Trap also features several terrific character actors making gracious swan song appearances, including Una Merkel (Destry Rides Again), Charlie Ruggles (Bringing Up Baby), and Leo G. Carroll (North By Northwest) as the hilarious Reverend Mosby. Also enjoyable is the catchy title song sung by Disney perennials Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands.
The Parent Trap is presented in its original aspect ratio, an anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 transfer. The image is very impressive (especially for a movie that is over 40 years old) with almost no dust on the print. I noticed no instances of edge enhancement or color saturation, and black levels are solid. The only complaint about the visual presentation is the cheesy looking process shots, when it's obvious that the actors are simply standing in front of a screen and walking on a treadmill. But that's not really a transfer issue and besides, how often do we see that in movies from this era?
The audio is presented in THX-certified, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. It's an impressive mix, but as a dialogue-driven movie with few sound effects, it doesn't stretch the capabilities of the format. There are no instances of hiss or distortion. Also included on the disc are Spanish subtitles.
For their "Vault Disney" Collection, Disney is truly sparing no expense in the extra features department. On the first disc, aside from the film itself, there is a Donald Duck cartoon, "Donald's Double Trouble," the short that ran before The Parent Trap in theaters. It nicely recreates the theatrical experience. Also on disc one is an audio commentary by Hayley Mills and the late David Swift. Actress and director recall the film fondly, and give details about the numerous camera tricks. Despite some long gaps of silence, this is a decent commentary, and especially important given Swift's recent passing.
Disc two contains the 20-minute "Caught in the Act: The Making of The Parent Trap," with recollections by David Swift, Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, and Roy Disney. The doc covers Walt's development of the original German novel, "Lisa and Lottie" and the brilliant technical contributions of Ub Iwerks. "The Sherman Brothers" is a 15-minute retrospective with Richard and Robert Sherman, the wonderful songwriters of many great Disney songs, including those in The Parent Trap. "Let's Get Together" is a music video of sorts, setting the tune to clips from the film. "Lost Treasures—Who's The Twin?" is a touching five-minute interview with Susan Henning-Schutte, the unseen double for Hayley Mills in long and reverse shots.
"Production Archives" not only contains theatrical trailers and TV spots, but a 20-minute featurette devoted to entirely to Hayley Mills' life and career and a 10-minute featurette on the film's trick photography. "The Titlemakers" is an excerpt from the old Disney TV show detailing the creation of the amusing Parent Trap title sequence. "Kimball and Swift" is an interview with legendary Disney animator Ward Kimball and David Swift. It's cute, but oddly has little to do with The Parent Trap. The audio archives section contains radio spots and full songs related to the film. The still galleries section features production art and biographies of the major players. Finally, the "1961 Disney Studio Album" is a three-minute highlight reel of the Disney productions that year including 101 Dalmatians and The Absent-Minded Professor. The amount of material on this disc is simply staggering, and it should more than satisfy even the most rabid Parent Trap fan. Disney has really given this release royal treatment.
Let's face it, if The Parent Trap is one of those films that if you grew up with and loved it, you're going to pick it up no matter what I think. Disney collectors won't think twice either, since this collection is jam-packed with hours of solid supplements. If you're new to The Parent Trap, consider it as a rental first.
Hayley Mills and Hayley Mills get two life sentences, but because they're both just so gosh darn cheery I'll give them time off for good behavior.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director David Swift and Star Hayley Mills
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