The recycled hits just keep on coming from Walt Disney Pictures, with the studio launching yet another remake of a golden oldie. “The Parent Trap” is an updated version of the popular 1961 comedy about reunited twin sisters who want to reconnect their divorced parents. New pic is slick, sentimental and exceptionally well cast, with enough cross-generational appeal to suggest strong commercial potential. On the downside, however, contempo audiences may have trouble accepting a few of the plot elements carried over from the original.
Husband-and-wife filmmakers Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer, who struck gold with their remake of “Father of the Bride,” stick fairly close to David Swift’s screenplay for the 1961 version. Story begins at a Maine summer camp, where 11-year-old Hallie Parker (Lindsay Lohan) and Annie James (also Lohan) develop an immediate and intense dislike for each other. That they look exactly alike only serves to intensify their animosity.
It takes a very long time — almost half an hour, actually — for the girls to realize they are twin sisters who were separated shortly after birth. Years earlier, their parents, Nick (Dennis Quaid) and Elizabeth (Natasha Richardson), met and impulsively wed while sailing aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2. When the marriage soured, Nick claimed Hallie and brought her to live with him on his Napa Valley vineyard. Elizabeth claimed Annie and raised her in London while earning fame and fortune as a wedding-gown designer.
As a result of this divorce settlement, neither twin has ever seen — or even known much about — her other birth parent. More to the point, neither twin knew she had a sister until the fateful summer-camp encounter. Longing to know more about each other’s parents, Hallie and Annie decide to switch identities.
Despite a few awkward moments, the ruse works for a while. But when Nick announces his plans to remarry, Hallie and Annie spill the beans. The girls hope that, when they’re forced to see each other while exchanging daughters, Nick and Elizabeth might fall in love all over again. Trouble is, Meredith (Elaine Hendrix), Nick’s beautiful but bitchy bride-to-be, is a major obstacle to a happily-ever-after ending.
In the dual role originally played by a 15-year-old Hayley Mills, newcomer Lohan makes a thoroughly winning impression. With a little help from the special-effects team, she artfully sustains the illusion of two physi-cally similar but subtly different characters. She is particularly good at expressing each twin’s efforts to hide the joy she feels when finally meeting the parent she’s never known.
Richardson, who gracefully sways through a memorable drunk scene, and Quaid, whose megawatt smile has never been more dazzling, are disarmingly charming as the parents. And that’s important; if the actors were any less engaging, the audience might not be so forgiving of their characters.
Indeed, even with all their charm, Quaid and Richardson are hard-pressed to place a positive spin on the selfish behavior of Nick and Elizabeth. You can’t help wondering what sort of parents would tear two sisters apart, and never permit either child to know of the other’s existence.
Attitudes about divorce, custody disputes and children’s rights have changed a great deal in the 37 years since the original “Parent Trap,” not to mention the German tale it’s based upon. In light of that, Meyers and Shyer might have done better by being slightly less faithful to their source material.
Another problem: While each parent has worked hard to achieve professional success, each twin has formed a close bond with a surrogate parent — Hallie with her nanny, Chessy (Lisa Ann Walter), and Annie with her family’s butler, Martin (Simon Kunz). This enables Meyers and Shyer to introduce two amusing supporting characters — played by two fine actors. But it also raises an inevitable question: Just how much quality time has each girl really had with Mom or Dad?
Making her debut as a feature film director, Meyers keeps the mood light and bright, and never lets anything, not even the summer-camp hijinx, get out of hand. She demonstrates admirable restraint in refusing to play down to younger moviegoers with frenetic slapstick or cartoonish caricatures. Given some of the pic’s ’50s and ’60s pop-culture references, Meyers obviously aims to amuse grown-up ticketbuyers as well.
At 127 minutes, however, “The Parent Trap” qualifies as too much of a good thing. The pic’s unhurried pace comes as a welcome change during a summer season of warp-speed action and breakneck slapstick. But it remains questionable whether young viewers with short attention spans will be consistently engrossed.
Thanks to cinematographer Dean A. Cundey and production designer Dean Tavoularis, “The Parent Trap” is attractively glossy and, when it’s time to reunite the estranged parents, warmly romantic. The camera trickery that enables Lohan to co-star with herself is seamless and persuasive. And even when a flesh-and-blood double is used, great care is taken to ensure the illusion isn’t diminished.