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David Swift
Hayley Mills, Maureen O'Hara, Brian Keith, Cathleen Nesbitt, Charles Ruggles
David Swift, based on the book by Erich Kastner

It's Strictly a Laugh Affair
Rated G.

Widescreen 1.78:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English, Spanish

Runtime: 129 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 5/7/2002

• Audio Commentary from Director David Swift and Actor Hayley Mills
• “Donald’s Double Trouble” Animated Short
• “Caught in the Act: The Making of The Parent Trap
• “The Sherman Brothers”
• “Let’s Get Together”
• “Kimball and Swift: The Disney Years”
• “The Titlemakers”
• “Seeing Double”
• “Lost Treasures”
• “Disney Legend: Hayley Mills”
• Storyboard to Scene Comparison
• Production Gallery
• Disney Studio Album
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Galleries
• Audio Archives
• Sneak Peeks
• THX Optimizer


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The Parent Trap (1961)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Although ostensibly set in the real world, 1961’s comedy The Parent Trap really resides in the realm of fantasy. A big sloppy love letter to the children of divorced parents, it tells them that if they use a little cleverness and ingenuity, they can restore their broken homes. I think this is a somewhat dangerous message, as it promotes unrealistic hopes, but the movie provides a reasonably entertaining little romp nonetheless, and it doesn’t get too bogged down in its social implications.

The movie starts with a wildly improbably premise. Pampered but sweet early teen Bostonian Sharon McKendrick (Hayley Mills) heads off to summer camp for the first time. There she encounters another girl who looks just like her. Susan Evers (Mills again) comes from California, and she displays a wilder, more typically American personality in contrast to Sharon’s reserved semi-English demeanor. Initially the two loathe each for reasons unknown; apparently they resent their resemblance. However, after they get stuck together in isolation as a punishment, they come to care for each other.

That process accelerates when they discover that there’s a good reason for their physical resemblance: they’re actually twin sisters! Their parents split when they were very young. Father Mitch (Brian Keith) took Susan to live in rural California, while mother Maggie (Maureen O’Hara) brought Sharon to reside with her parents in Boston. Quickly the two decide that they no longer want to live apart, and they also don’t want to have to spend half their time in one place and half in the other.

So the twins concoct a plan. Unbeknownst to their parents, they’ll switch places; Sharon will go to California, while Susan will head to Massachusetts. For a time, they pretend to play each other, and they also bask in the pleasures of their unknown parents. However, after a while they need to spring “the parent trap” and reveal their altered identities. This process gets accelerated when Mitch becomes engaged to gold-digging Vicky Robinson (Joanna Barnes), with a wedding date set for the very near future. Even after more than a decade apart, Maggie retains love for Mitch, so she accompanies Susan out west to try to regain her man.

From there the movie follows mainly a comedic path as the sisters work their magic. They try to sour Mitch on Vicky and vice versa, all which they attempt to make Maggie seem like his perfect match. This leads us toward an ending that I won’t reveal other than to indicate that it seems absolutely inevitable.

As I noted initially, Trap rarely exists in the real world. Whether this comes across as a positive or a negative remains up to the viewer to decide. For me, I found it to be a problem. The movie relies on far too many coincidences and stretched situations for it to work. Even if we accept the notion that somehow two separated twins could end up at the same summer camp, this concept abandons reality due to their disparate residences. Had they gone to some unique camp I might accept it, but the one depicted in the film seems quite ordinary. Why in the world would families who live thousands of miles apart send their kids to this place? It makes no sense.

In addition, I thought it seemed unlikely - and somewhat cruel - that Mitch and Maggie kept their kids oblivious for so long. What parent willingly abandons one child and pretends the other doesn’t exist? While I can appreciate that they may want to offer the greater stability this situation boasts, it remains cold-hearted to totally deprive a child of such close family members. Each girl spent more than a decade away from her sister and a parent, and that’s unforgivable, especially since the movie posits no solid reason for the separation.

Like I mentioned earlier, I also found that the movie extended false hope to the children of divorced parents. It seems to say that all split couples really remain in love with each other, and the kids just need to exploit those fires that still burn. In some cases, this may well be true, but for the majority of divorced couples, there’s nothing left to resuscitate. The easy way in which the kids work on their parents makes the whole thing all the more tough to swallow.

Yes, I recognize that I may have taken Trap too seriously, but these issues bugged me. If I viewed the film on its own merits, I thought it seemed sporadically entertaining but inconsistent. Part of the problem stemmed from its lengths. At more than two hours, it appeared considerably too long for this kind of fluff. The movie could have lost a good half an hour and worked just as well, if not better.

On the positive side, the film offered some amusing comedic bits, and I found it to be surprisingly well acted. Mills often seems unsure which accent she’s supposed to use, but she provides a good sense of character for the two girls. She helps make them distinct and fairly engaging. The movie also boasts a simply terrific double for her. It shows many scenes in which Mills clearly needed to interact with a look-alike, and the other girl appeared quite convincing; this allows the flick to show her in more revealing situations than I’d expect.

It also handles the split-screen two Mills shots pretty well. Despite the age of the movie, the effects hold up reasonably nicely. I remain confused as to why Sharon has a British accent, however. While her grandmother (Cathleen Nesbitt) shows one, her mother and grandfather (Charles Ruggles) don’t, and since she appears to have grown up in New England, the English tones make no sense. I’m sure they exist simply because Mills is British, and the filmmakers also wanted a vocal manner to differentiate the two girls. Since Mills had enough trouble with the Susan’s broad Californian accent, I’m very glad they didn’t saddle her with a Bostonian vibe, even if it would make more sense.

The remaining actors also fared quite well, especially in regard to the parents. Despite the unlikely nature of the story, Keith and O’Hara helped make their potential reunion more believable. They exhibited very solid chemistry between them. However, I must admit I found it odd that everyone always commented on how young Vicky was. She indeed may have been years junior to the others, but I thought she looked as old if not older than O’Hara! She never came across as the young hottie described. (For the record, O’Hara was 40 and Barnes 26 when they made Trap, so I guess there was a substantial age difference - you wouldn’t know to look at them though. By the way, as shown in the DVD’s supplements, O’Hara looks amazing today - it’s almost impossible to believe she’s in her eighties!)

Ultimately, The Parent Trap offered a problematic but moderately enjoyable flick. I disliked its overtones and thought it suffered from a terrible lack of logic. It also ran much too long and got tiresome after a while. Nonetheless, it boasted a pretty strong cast who helped make it more entertaining, and it worked acceptably well as a whole. All that and it beat The Patty Duke Show to the punch!

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio B / Bonus B+

The Parent Trap appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall the picture seemed fairly solid, but it suffered from a minor mix of concerns.

Sharpness generally appeared positive. Occasionally, wider shots came across as moderately soft and fuzzy, but those problems didn’t occur with any great frequency. Otherwise, the movie remained reasonably crisp and distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects offered no issues, while I also detected no edge enhancement.

Print flaws presented some light problems, but they appeared fairly light considering the age of the film. Light grain showed up periodically, and I also noticed occasional examples of grit and specks. Some of these occurred due to the heavier-than-normal use of effects work. I expected a fair number of these because of the split-screen techniques required to show two iterations of Mills, but some odd scenes featured process shots. For example, a picnic was clearly shot on a stage and featured film of a park behind the actors! Why this occurred I don’t know, but these instances suffered from a slightly elevated level of defects. Still, the movie generally looked reasonably clean given its age.

Colors appeared acceptable much of the time, but I found them to often appear somewhat bland. Unlike fellow “Vault Disney” release Old Yeller, I saw no design reason for the moderately pale hues. They simply seemed a bit flat and faded much of the time, though they never came across as excessively problematic. Generally they remained acceptably accurate, but I felt they needed a little more life. Black levels appeared pretty deep and rich, and shadow detail usually seemed appropriately dense. A few low-light sequences came across as somewhat murky, but the movie generally provided the right mix. Ultimately, The Parent Trap didn’t offer a terrific image, but it seemed fairly satisfying.

I felt the same way about the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Parent Trap. If you’ve read any of my prior “Vault Disney” reviews, you’ll know what to expect from this one’s soundfield. As with Yeller and Swiss Family Robinson, here we found what I call broad mono. That meant much of the audio remained firmly anchored within the center channel. Actually, music showed reasonably decent spread across the front speakers, but I detected virtually no instances of any effects or speech that came anywhere other than the middle. In addition, the surrounds provided only the most general of reinforcement. A little light music may have popped up from the rears, but otherwise they remained very passive partners.

Audio quality showed its age but appeared acceptable. Speech seemed somewhat thin and flat at times, but most of the lines came across as reasonably clear and distinct, and I noticed no concerns related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects played a fairly minor role in the film. Nonetheless, they appeared fairly clean and accurate, and they displayed no signs of distortion. Music remained the strongest aspect of the mix. The score and songs showed pretty decent depth and dynamics. While low-end response never seemed outstanding, the music demonstrated solid bass given the age of the material. The soundtrack for The Parent Trap never seemed very ambitious, but it succeeded for a film of this vintage and genre.

One footnote about the music: I hereby nominate “Let’s Get Together” to join the ranks of the worst movie songs ever recorded. It doesn’t help that the vocal performances - whether by Mills or Annette, both of whom attempt the song at various points - seem terribly flat and irritating. Even without that problem, the tune is simply banal and grating. At least it let us see Mills’ laughable attempts to look like she could play guitar. I recognize audiences used to be less sophisticated about this kind of thing, but surely someone could have given her some rudimentary lessons!

All four of the initial “Vault Disney” releases come as two-DVD sets, and the majority of the extras reside on the second platters. However, each of the first discs includes some good pieces. For Trap, we start with an audio commentary from actress Hayley Mills and director David Swift. Both were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Although it sounded like they enjoyed their reunion, this didn’t translate to a very interesting discussion. Oh, occasionally some interesting information appeared, such as the identity of one extra and the use of Mills’ double, but much of the track simply seemed like bland nostalgia. In addition, quite a few empty spaces passed by without any remarks. Dedicated fans of Trap may want to listen to this piece, but I thought it was dull and uneventful.

In addition to the audio commentary, DVD One provides a classic Disney short. In this case, we find a Donald Duck offering called Donald’s Double Trouble. From 1946, this one runs six minutes and 41 seconds and offers a decent cartoon. Donald gets chewed out by Daisy and uses a suave doppelganger to regain her affection. Unfortunately, the sophisticated duck falls for Daisy and wants her for himself. Donald has to find a way to get rid of his twin. It seems predictable but entertaining. Note that this short can be viewed on its own or at the start of the film; to replicate the manned in which Disney flicks used to be shown, the cartoon appears as a “preview” feature before the movie itself begins.

When you start the DVD, you’ll find the usual complement of advertisements. Here we get a preview of the upcoming theatrical release Lilo and Stitch as well as commercials for asasda Max Keeble’s Big Move and Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch. From the main menu, you’ll discover a Sneak Peeks area that includes all of these promos plus trailers for the upcoming DVD releases of Monsters, Inc., Return to Neverland, and Beauty and the Beast.

Lastly, DVD One features the THX Optimizer. Also found on many other DVDs, this purports to help you set up your system for the best reproduction of both picture and sound, ala stand-alone programs such as Video Essentials. I’ve never tried the Optimizer since I’m happy with my settings, but if you don’t own something such as Essentials, the Optimizer may help you improve picture and audio quality.

From here we move to DVD Two, which provides a full platter of extras. First up we discover a new documentary called The Parent Trap: Caught In the Act. This 18-minute and 47-second program offers a mix of film clips, archival materials - including a little behind the scenes footage from the set - and new interview segments with studio Vice Chairman Roy E. Disney, director David Swift, producer/writer Leslie Iwerks (relative of Ub Iwerks, who supervised the twin work), special effects man Bob Broughton, songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, and actors Hayley Mills, Maureen O’Hara, Joanna Barnes, and Susan Henning-Shutte. Although “Caught” offers the shortest of the four “Vault Disney” documentaries, it’s one of the better ones, as it packs a lot of good information into its brief running time.

”Caught” covers the project from its inception. We hear how it was based on a German novel and get an idea of the initial processes. We then learn about the effects used and get a lot of great anecdotes from the set. We even see a quick outtake in which Mills’ accent slips. As always, there’s a little fluffy stuff, but I think this program seems quite entertaining and informative.

Next we get The Sherman Brothers, a 14-minute and 43-second look at the famed Disney songwriters. We hear from them as well as director Swift and actresses Hayley Mills and Maureen O’Hara. We learn information about the movie’s title and the way the Shermans got involved with Disney. They also cover various aspects of their songwriting for Trap. Some of this repeats details heard elsewhere, but it still presents a fun and lively look at this domain.

Let’s Get Together seems pretty pointless. It pairs a slew of Trap clips with the terrible tune in a music video style presentation. Why? I have no idea. It lasts sakl and actively hurts my head to consider.

More interesting is Who’s the Twin?, found in the “Lost Treasures” area. This six-minute program lets us get to know Susan Henning-Schutte, the woman who played Hayley Mills’ double in Trap. It offers a good look at her work and provides an entertaining examination of the subject.

The Disney Studio Album gives us a montage. It runs for three minutes and 43 seconds and provides a snapshot of the studio circa 1961. We find out what they did during that year, and the information covers a wide range of topics; in addition to movies, we look at TV, the theme parks, and even projects then in developments. It’s a cool little bit.

When we move to the Production Gallery, we get a 98 second running program that shows a mix of photos. This section is solely for the lazy, as the material it contains appears elsewhere in stillframe form. Watch this one only if you don’t like to bother with frame-by-frame access. After that we find a section with two theatrical trailers and one TV spot.

Disney Legend: Hayley Mills provides a 22-minute and 33-second discussion of the actress’ career. We get comments from Mills herself as well as Roy E. Disney, matte artist Peter Ellenshaw, director David Swift, and actors Maureen O’Hara, Dean Jones, Joanna Barnes, Nancy Olson, Susan Henning-Schutte and Kevin Corcoran. We see a mix of movie clips, stills and childhood film footage of Mills and her family. We also get a look at Mills’ induction into the “Disney Legends” roster in 1998. The program seems a little mushy at times, but it gives us a very nice look at Mills’ early work, and it merits a screening.

In Seeing Double, we get more information about the film’s special effects. The nine-minute and 18-second piece provides interviews with Bob Broughton, Leslie Iwerks, David Swift, Mills, and Susan Henning-Schutte. We also see clips from the movie, stills, and examples of the effects work. Some of the material repeats information found elsewhere - particularly in “Who’s the Twin?” - but it’s still a good discussion of the topic.

To learn more about the film’s opening sequence, we go to The Titlemakers. This 17-minute and 19-second program comes from an episode of the Disneyland TV show. Hosted by Walt, it starts with a look at the stop-motion animation for the credits, and it then jumps to the recording of the title tune with Tommy Sands and Annette. The former offers a nice hands-on examination of that form of animation, while the latter just seems silly, particularly when the singers address a faux form of extraterrestrial intelligence. They also fit in some promotion for Babes in Toyland, the film on which Sands and Annette worked at the time, before we get an extended promotional look at Trap. Basically, you can cut off this one once you see the singers.

Kimball and Swift: The Disney Years pairs director David Swift and animator Ward Kimball. In this 17-minute and 34-second featurette, Swift interviews Kimball and we learn about the animator’s career and they both reminisce about the studio’s golden age. Swift does most of the talking in this reasonably entertaining piece. It doesn’t have much to do with The Parent Trap, but it’s informative nonetheless.

Sadly, the program reveals - for the only time I noticed anywhere on either of his films - that Swift died on New Year’s Eve 2001. That surprised and saddened me, for he still seemed quite peppy and lively during the supplements. Actually, Swift looked substantially heartier than Kimball. It seems odd that this fact wasn’t mentioned on Pollyanna as well.

Next we locate scads of stillframe materials. In the Galleries area, we find 148 “Production Stills”. There’s some good stuff here, and most - if not all - of it gives us a clearer version of the footage in the “Production Gallery” montage. “Production Art” splits into three areas: “Costumes” (13 images), and “Storyboards” (42 stills). The latter goes over the camping trip late in the movie. “Biographies” provides listings for actors Mills, Maureen O’Hara, Brian Keith, Joanna Barnes, and Charles Ruggles plus director Swift. Basically, these offer annotated filmographies; they lack much depth.

Within the Advertising domain, we locate nine frames of “Lobby Cards”, 10 of “Posters”, and 17 of Trap “Merchandise”; that domain mixes images of related records and a comic strip adaptation. Nicely, some frames in the “Posters” area isolate the many drawings that make up some of them. In Documents, we see 21 frames of ads and various press materials. Lastly, the Screenplay Excerpt offers the scene in which Sharon and Susan realize they’re sisters. The text runs 20 screens, and the scene itself can be viewed from here, which I thought was a nice touch.

Within the Audio Archives we get some cool material. First up we get 11 radio spots that mix ads for both the original release and a re-issue. More fun is the “Sound Studio” demonstration. This lets us hear two scenes from the film in different ways. You can watch “Twin’s Revenge” and “The Girlfriend” in their final form or with just dialogue, effects or music. This kind of feature isn’t unique, but it’s unusual to find it with such an old movie, and it’s a lot of fun here.

Two songs appear. We can listen to Maureen O’Hara croon “For Now, For Always” and hear Annette and Tommy Sands perform “The Parent Trap”. Neither did anything for me. (I’m trying to be gentle.)

Of the four initial “Vault Disney” releases, The Parent Trap offers the only film that took place in then-contemporary times. This means it also provides the most dated of the four movies, but despite that fact and a number of other flaws, it still manages to seem reasonably fun and lively. It’s way too long, but the actors make it an enjoyable ride. The DVD features good but unspectacular picture and sound plus a nice roster of extras. I’m very pleased with the treatment of the “Vault Disney” titles and I think fans of Trap should really enjoy this nice package.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4615 Stars Number of Votes: 65
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