Remember when Lindsay Lohan was a wee, freckle-faced innocent? Her talent shines in this Disney update of the studio’s own 1961 family favourite, a rare remake that bests the original. Vacationing at summer camp, eleven year old Hallie Parker (Lindsay Lohan) is perturbed to discover British girl, Annie James (also Lohan) looks just like her. The feuding girls spend weeks playing outrageous pranks upon one another, until the camp councillors force them to share a cabin. Here, the girls become friends and are overjoyed to discover they are long-lost twin sisters. It seems Napa Valley vineyard owner Nick Parker (Dennis Quaid) and London-based wedding gown designer, Lizzie James (Natasha Richardson) fell in love on an ocean cruise, but divorced after just one year and never saw each other again.
Hallie is dying to meet her mother, while Annie really wants to see her dad, so the twins hatch a devious plan to swap identities and try their best to get their parents back together. While Hallie finds an ally in newfound Grandpa Charles (Ronnie Stevens) and steadfast butler Martin (Simon Kunz), Annie gets a little help from housekeeper Chessy (Lisa Ann Walter). But things get complicated after Nick unexpectedly announces his intention to marry scheming, P.R. minx Meredith Blake (Elaine Hendrix).
The original 1949 German children’s novel, Das Doppelte Lottchen, by Erich Kastner first reached the screen as Twice upon a Time (1954), the only solo directorial outing for Emeric Pressburger. In addition to the famous Hayley Mills version there have been two movies from Japan, as well as an anime called Me and I: The Two Lottes (1991). Husband and wife scriptwriters Charles Shyer and Nancy Myers stick fairly close to David Swift’s 1961 screenplay, with a few tweaks and turns to bring the story up to date. Obviously, some suspension of disbelief is required to accept that a divorced couple could separate their twin daughters so easily (lawyers would have had a field day!), or the huge coincidence that reunites the girls at Camp Walden. And what is a British kid doing at an American summer camp anyway?
But, hey, this is a children’s movie and a lively, engaging one at that. Although Quaid, Richardson and the supporting cast offer sprightly turns to match the effervescence of Dean Cundey’s cinematography, The Parent Trap is really Lindsay Lohan’s show. Demonstrating what a gifted child actress she was, Lohan imbues each twin with a distinctive, appealing personality and pulls off an awfully posh, but nevertheless impressive British accent. From the knockabout antics of the early scenes - which clearly demonstrate little girls can play fiendish pranks too! - to the more emotional drama of the latter half, she acquits herself remarkably well and draws us into the madcap scheme. It’s especially moving to watch each girl fall in love with the parent they never had, whilst zipping around familiar tourist spots in London and Napa Valley.
Things slow down somewhat after Nick and Lizzie are reunited, with too much screen-time allotted to Hallie and Annie’s desperate attempts to drive nasty Meredith away. Thankfully, this version does not include the girls getting slapped by their would-be stepmother (unlike poor Hayley!), and wraps on a note of heartwarming triumph. Incidentally, Hallie and Annie are named after Meyers and Shyer’s own daughters, both of whom cameo here alongside Lohan’s real life siblings, which proves quite apt for this most family-themed of family movies.