The Parent Trap
directed by Nancy Meyers
(Buena Vista, 1998)

Walden is an exclusive summer camp with more resources than most Western industrialized nations, and it guarantees pre-teen girls the experience of a lifetime. This summer, however, two of its campers will take home something none of its alums have ever taken home before: each other.

On paper, Hallie Parker and Annie James would seem to have little in common. They come from different continents, speak with different accents, live different lifestyles and sport wildly different hairstyles and clothes. But there's one thing they do have in common: DNA. Unbeknownst to them, Hallie and Annie are identical twins, separated shortly after birth by parents who separated shortly after their births.

A similar claim might be made about the Disney studios' two Parent Traps. The Parent Trap of 1961, starring Hayley Mills, and the Parent Trap of 1998 are identical formulas worked out in very different ways. They share the same characters, the same plot, even much of the same dialogue. Yet the results are very different.

Gone are the names Sharon and Susan; Annie and Hallie are here to stay. Out is New England for Sharon's background; only the real England will do for Annie in this upscale version. Susan's ranch has been replaced, too, by a Napa Valley vineyard that's definitely to die for.

Even the style of the stars has changed.

Gone is stern father Brian Keith, replaced by Dennis "Get into my arms you little squirt" Quaid, looking very James Garnerish as the ever-befuddled dad caught between his daughters and his fiancee. Gone, too, is strait-laced but spunky society woman Maureen O'Hara as the dutiful mother. In her stead is career mom Natasha Richardson, who's just as determined but much more vulnerable.

Most importantly, the new Parent Trap features a fluidity that was never the hallmark of live-action Disney films from the '60s. They always looked as if they were being acted out on a grand stage by people who seemed very nice but a bit square.

The new Parent Trap -- once it's past the contrived, high-volume shenanigans of Camp Walden -- seems to be taking place in the real world as we speak.

Part music video and part travelogue, it sweeps you from the streets of London to the boat clubs of San Francisco and back, with a strong sense of immediacy and verisimilitude that only add to the fun as Hallie and Annie, both cunningly played by Lindsay Lohan, resort to the old switcheroo to bring the estranged lovers back together over everyone else's objections.

Consequently, Parent Trap is what a remake should be. The writers and director Nancy Meyers have taken a stiff, formulaic film and given it wings. There's good reason the new Parent Trap has hung around in theaters even after it was released on video. It's not only watchable, it's re-watchable. (Just ask my kids: they've already seen it seven times.)

Once upon a time we had nothing to draw on but our memories when we compared remakes to their originals. Thanks to the VCR, those days are gone. Watch the original Parent Trap sometime, followed by the remake. You'll have no trouble telling those two apart.

review by
Miles O'Dometer


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