The Parent Trap, starring blond British cutie Hayley Mills, is at its most simple, the realization of a common childhood fantasty – how to reunite divorced parents and make them fall in love again. Twins Susan and Sharon, both played by Mills, meet at summer camp, and it's hate at first site. Despite the fact that one has long hair and the other's hair is cropped, they are identical. A few practical jokes and arguments later, they are forced by the camp's administration to share a cabin together, where after much soul-searching, they discover they are twins who were separated at birth, with their parents deciding to keep one twin each and live on opposite coasts.
Susan and Sharon hatch a plan to trade places in the hopes of getting their parents back together so they can live as sisters under the same roof. While it seems like a good plan, there are flaws in it; there is the pressure of having to remember details about the other's life, the twins' father has taken up with a selfish, catty woman he intends to marry, and even the family dog is suspicious. How the remaining events play out are a comic delight, with an undercurrent of family values and love.
Hayley Mills is absolutely perfect in this dual role. She is pretty but not intimidatingly so, and although the premise of the film is somewhat farfetched, it is still a delight. Parents will enjoy introducing their children to this brilliant family film, which has held up incredibly well over the decades.
The other engaging quality about this film is the fantasy element. The girls meet at summer camp, which is full of activities, dances with the boys camp next door, and the opportunity to get into mischief away from the watchful eyes of parents. And what child hasn't dreamed of the opportunity to get away and live another life for a while? Each twin gets to experience a different lifestyle; one a stuffy existence in the East, and another, the laid-back atmosphere of a California ranch. The resolution of the complicated plot is both satisfying and enjoyable, making The Parent Trap one of the best live-action Disney movies ever made.
I wish I could say the same about the other film included in this collection, The Parent Trap II, the sequel to the original, where a now-grown Sharon is a single mother. Her eleven-year-old daughter plots with a friend, Mary, to unite Sharon and Mary's widowed father, played by Tom Skerritt.
This movie has none of the charm of the original. Instead of a summer camp setting, it is set at summer school. What on earth is fun about summer school? The child actors sound as though they are reading a bad script from a school play, and the plot is predictable, plodding, and uninspired. Hayley Mills and Tom Skerritt are fine, but the movie is beneath them. You may recognize, Bridgette Andersen, who plays Mary, as Savannah from the delightful early-80s family film, Savannah Smiles.
What would have been better in this collection is if Disney had replaced The Parent Trap II with the updated 1998 version of the original film, starring Lindsay Lohan as the twins. That movie was very well-received, and it would have been fun to compare the original and the update.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, The Parent Trap, despite its age, has been digitally mastered for your viewing pleasure, and the picture and colors are sharp and bright. Overall, it is a lovely viewing experience. A made-for-TV movie, The Parent Trap II is the standard full-screen presentation, and the experience is no improvement over what one would expect to see on television. The colors are muted and the picture is about as tired as the storyline.
The Parent Trap features Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, which sounds terrific, although a slight echo reminiscent of films of this period that were filmed entirely on soundstages rather than on location, can be heard at times. The Parent Trap II features Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround Sound, which is unremarkable.
This collection is a 2-disc set, with the two films on Disc 1, and a generous selection of bonus features included on Disc 2. It does not appear to be an oversight that the features focus almost exclusively on the original film, and they're wonderful.
"Caught in the Act: The Making of The Parent Trap" features present-day interviews with the filmmakers, who discuss with some humor the difficulty of filming a movie about twins using one actress to play both. It is also interesting to hear a discussion of the fact that this was truly cutting-age filmmaking for the early 1960s. Be sure to also check out the "Seeing Double" and "Kimbal and Swift: The Disney Years" featurettes; the former provides further insight into the filmmaking process, and the latter features an interview with a prominent Disney animator who provides great insight into Walt Disney's vision.
"The Sherman Brothers" features an interview with the beloved Disney songwriters, as they discuss several songs for the film, including "Let's Get Together," which is sung by Hayley Mills. Mills was not known for her singing ability, so the Sherman brothers' discussion of how she pulled it off is quite fun. Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands sang the title song, which is played over the opening credits, and hearing the brothers reminisce about Funicello is like a walk down memory lane.
"Disney Legend: Hayley Mills" takes a look at the career of Hayley Mills, who was in some ways the Shirley Temple of the Disney live-action franchise in the 1960s. She also appeared in Disney films such as That Darn Cat!, Pollyanna, Summer Magic, and a lesser-known personal favorite, The Moon Spinners, which is a more grown-up tale of intrigue and crime on a Greek island.
Although all the special features are excellent and a terrific investment of your time, the crowning glory is "The Lost Twin," in which actress Susan Henning, who was uncredited in the film, discusses playing opposite Mills, from the casting process, to the end of filming, when she received a special award for her efforts from Walt Disney himself. This present-day interview is fascinating, and Henning's sunny optimism and reflection on the experience is engaging. Although this is not mentioned in the interview, viewers may also be interested to know that Henning was prominently featured as an audience member in Elvis's '68 Comeback Special.
As someone who loved renting The Parent Trap as a child, I was surprised as an adult to find out about Henning. I had never considered the presence of an "unseen" twin, so the interview with Henning was enlightening, one of the benefits of DVD technology for those who wish to learn everything there is to know about the making of a film. Henning's revelations give viewers who have seen The Parent Trap many times to re-experience the film with a fresh perspective.
The original film and the bonus disc make this collection a must-own for any Disney fan. Whether The Parent Trap is an old favorite or one you haven't yet seen, make it your next purchase. It is one of the rare films the entire family can truly enjoy together.