Besides geeking out over Once Upon A Time, one of my favourite things to do is watch back old movies I saw frequently in my childhood and teenage years – and see how well they hold up. Blame my addiction to the Nostalgia Critic for that. But here we go. A famous Disney classic from the 60s starring Maureen O’Hara and Hayley Mills. It’s a story about identical twins and the main selling point is that Mills plays both of them – thanks to some nifty camera work and special effects. It’s a huge hit, spawning three sequels. So again in the middle of the 90s, producers at Disney put their heads together. They wonder if they can update the film with a remake. They’ll use more advanced special effects and introduce this classic story to a new generation. Is there any way it’ll work? Hell yeah! I was one of many young kids who crowded into the theatre with their families to enjoy this. So now years later the star has gone off the rails, society has moved on and filmmaking techniques have advanced. How well does The Parent Trap hold up?
The plot concerns two eleven-year-old girls. Annie James is a sophisticated rose from London. Hallie Parker is a spunky chick from California. They’re both attending the same summer camp when one day they meet. They find it funny how similar they look. When they compare stories, things get even stranger – they’re both allergic to similar things, they both have similar quirks when they eat and they even have the same birthday. Hallie only has a father and Annie only has a mother. When they reveal the pictures of their parents, they discover they are in fact twin sisters. They come up with a plan to get to know their respective lost parent; for the rest of the camp, they’ll each work hard to properly imitate the other girl. Annie will then go to California to get to know her father, while Hallie will go to London and do the same with her mother. But things aren’t as simple as they seem; when Annie arrives in California, she finds daddy has a new girlfriend. And this girlfriend has her eyes on his huge bank account. The twins realise the only way to save their father from this gold digger is to have their parents meet again – in the hope that they’ll fall back in love.
The film boasts quite a nice cast if I may say. Playing the parents we have Dennis Quaid and the late great Natasha Richardson. Quaid is pure gold as the clueless and bumbling Nick while Richardson is even better as the seemingly sweet but deeply neurotic Elizabeth. They both steal practically every scene they’re in. There are too many to list right now because I have to save something for my ‘favourite scenes’ paragraph. Fun fact: one of my friend’s mothers looked like Natasha Richardson did in this film. I mentioned it to my mother who mentioned it to the lady in question (her name was Lizzie too funnily enough) – her reaction was reportedly “I knew I always liked that boy”. Elaine Hendrix plays the evil girlfriend Meredith Blake and she has a ball. She makes such a good pantomime villain and has great comic timing – especially the scenes where she discovers the girls are twins. She just has this brilliant way of making her eyes widen whenever the scene requires it. There are also nice supporting roles filled by Lisa Ann Walter playing Nick’s witty nanny Chessy, Simon Kuntz as Liz’s campy butler Martin, Ronnie Stevens as Liz’s suspicious father and Maggie Wheeler (“Oh. My. GAWD!”) as one of the camp counsellors. We also have a fun little cameo from Joanna Barnes – who played the evil girlfriend in the original. In this she plays Meredith’s mother, and her name is also Vicky.
“Hello pet. You may call me Aunt Vicky”
Now you may have been noticing the big redheaded elephant in the room. But our star gets a whole paragraph to herself. Both twins are played by an eleven-year-old Lindsay Lohan. Years before the drinking, the drugs, the lesbianism, the reckless driving, the diva behaviour, the jail time…you get the picture. If Lindsay’s disastrous young adulthood were a story then this movie could be her Start of Darkness. It is almost a little disturbing to watch this film with the knowledge that this is how Lindsay was introduced to Hollywood. This film was potentially the start of her downward spiral. The thing that’s more disturbing is that Lindsay is fantastic in it. Of course if you’d seen Freaky Friday or Mean Girls, you knew she was a decent actress. But this film shows just how talented an actress Lindsay could be. She managed to convince an entire generation of kids that there were two Lohan sisters. You genuinely forget it’s one girl playing both twins for the whole film; Lindsay is that good. She not only has to demonstrate individual personalities for both sisters, she also has to play each of them pretending to be the other one. She also gives Annie an English accent that is actually quite decent. It’s an astonishingly convincing performance from Lindsay that really has to be seen to be believed. Thanks to body doubles and split screen effects, you’d never be able to tell it was only one actress. Supposedly the hardest scene to film was the one where she and Annie are talking in bed – because she had to keep switching back and forth from the different accents.
Although this is a fun and whimsical family film, it does betray a sort of horror in hindsight. If you take a step back and start thinking about it – you might realise it. Think about it – pictures torn in half, twins separated for eleven years, parents never seeing their children, family members lying…if this weren’t a Disney film then the characters would all be psychological messes. In fact, imagine how they’ll be a few weeks down the line from the ending. How on Earth are those girls going to react when they comprehend the fact that they have been lied to for their whole lives? Hallie alludes to soon going through her “messed up teenage years”. Those parents are in for hell when their daughters become teenagers. Hallie is already quite fiery and just imagine how she’ll behave when all that emotional drama hits her and she’s got hormones raging about. Who else knew about the split? Chessy clearly knew. Did Martin know as well? Did Elizabeth’s father know he had another granddaughter he was forbidden from seeing, or even contacting? One could even assume that the twins’ suppressed aggression and anger at this whole situation could have been projected onto Meredith. They do some pretty nasty things to her (that she did deserve mind you) – especially that last part with the mattress. There also is the big question of where everyone is going to live now. Nick has a whole vineyard to take care of in California. While Liz has a studio and clients in Europe, as well as the girls having their own schools and their own friends. Someone is going to have to make a transatlantic move and drop everything. The film leaves a few loose ends that would have been great grounds for a sequel – though one that would probably be a little darker in tone.
There is another issue in the matter of the parents. I’ve read a lot of criticisms about how it sends an unrealistic message to kids. I’ve decided I’m going to side against all of those. Not every divorce lasts forever right? Not every couple who splits up doesn’t get back together. The film does make a good point about how young and foolish the parents were at the time. It’s heavily implied that Elizabeth wasn’t really planning to walk out on Nick – she was expecting him to stop her. They say as much themselves about their “stupid tempers”. It’s to be expected from a marriage that happened so quickly. So they were a dysfunctional couple that didn’t want to break up but their own pride forced them to. Now they’re eleven years older and much more mature. They get a chance to properly talk and sort out some issues. There’s clearly still some kind of spark there, judging by Nick’s reaction when he sees Elizabeth again. There’s also the fact that neither of them were involved in serious relationships before reuniting. Annie says that her mother has never come close to getting married again. Meanwhile Nick is tempted initially by Meredith and her long legs but he isn’t stupid. He does figure out soon enough that she is no good – and probably would have after they were married. This film also serves to address some of the criticisms of the original as well. Maggie and Mitch fought a lot when they were together and they had a scene where Maggie actually punched him. The remake sort of addresses that as Nick reminds Elizabeth that she threw a hairdryer at him once – prompting a very guilty look from her. She definitely seems to have worked on her temper and they have a perfectly civil relationship whenever they’re together. They do seem to have a chance of faring better than the couple from the original film.
In watching this film back, I’ve realised how much I don’t like Hallie. It seems that not having a mother has gotten to her after all. Quite frankly, she’s a brat. Watching the arguments the girls initially have at the camp, Hallie is the one who initiates all of them. She pulls Annie into the water trough because she’s a sore loser. She insults Annie’s appearance when everyone remarks they look similar. She steals Annie’s clothes at the end of the poker game (while Annie followed through on the deal). And she gets especially mean-spirited with the third prank. Hallie just behaves like a brat for the rest of the trip and it’s Annie who makes the effort to be nice at first. When the twins start the switch, Annie really gets the short end of the stick. She has to have her hair cut and she has to have her ears pierced. When she gets to California, all she gets is one conversation in the car with her father – before immediately having to deal with the Meredith problem. And when she calls Hallie looking for help, Hallie initially refuses to – because she’s too busy having fun with Elizabeth. Hallie does have a couple of Pet The Dog moments but she’s really a rotten child overall.
There are plenty of scenes in this that just make me crack up. Even years later when I’m less inclined to laugh at people getting pie in the face, this film can still do it. My favourite scene has to be the first part of the hotel. Elizabeth has been nervous about seeing Nick again and we discover she apparently drank everything in sight on the plane. Our introduction to this is Martin opening the door and holding his hand out for her – only to get her foot instead. His reply “other end, madam” became a timeless joke in our family. In fact, the entirety of drunk Elizabeth is comedy gold. Watch some of the highlights below:
Meredith also provides a few classic moments in the film. My favourite Meredith moment comes when she discovers the twins for the first time. Hallie appears on one side and Annie on the other – with Meredith screaming and jumping back and forth to face them. A brilliant comedic performance from Elaine Hendrix.
Nick: “Honey, did I ever tell you that Hallie was a twin?”
Meredith: “No, I’m afraid you forgot that little detail”
Another of my pet scenes in the film comes when Nick tells Annie (as Hallie) that he plans to marry Meredith. She gets so flustered she starts rambling in French (not knowing that Hallie isn’t supposed to know how to speak it) and then runs off. Nick turns to Chessy – who at this point has just been clued in on ‘the plan’ – and she suspiciously says “don’t look at me; I don’t know a thing”, closing the shutters in his face.
But this film does have a heart underneath all the family whimsy. The final few scenes are a real tear jerker for anyone who didn’t see the happy ending coming. The montage of everyone saying goodbye to each other as Liz and Annie prepare to head back to England for good. The choice of music and shots really pulls on your heart strings – especially the two sisters sadly hugging each other, about to be separated yet again. Yet the sentimental viewers will soon cry tears of joy when Liz discovers that Hallie and Nick have followed them back home. It’s a truly heartfelt performance from Natasha Richardson as she basically goes ‘to hell with it’ and reunites with Nick. Even the most cynical viewer probably won’t be able to smile at the family getting back together.
All in all, this film has held together really well. I’ve tried to watch the original back and it looks a tad dated right now. This is one of those often-ignored things called remakes that were better than their predecessor. And this film was indeed a big hit – it made Lindsay Lohan a future star and made Quaid and Richardson iconic amongst children of that era. Indeed when Richardson passed away, she would be referred to as ‘the mother from The Parent Trap’. They even used a clip from this film to salute her at the Oscars the following year. The film overall does sugar-coat and gloss over certain family issues but I think it does present the plot in a fairly realistic way. And hey, it’s a Disney film – you know you’re not going to get things too dark and everything will end in a happy way. There’s nothing wrong with a happy ending is there? My final rating is an 8/10 – a brilliantly uplifting and enjoyable family entertainment.