Just rewatched this film (on Disney+) with my brother. It’s probably one of the best comedies produced in the 1990s, but it’s timeless in a way that makes me think even Shakespeare could have staged it.
If you haven’t seen it, The Parent Trap begins as the story of two twins – raised separately by a divorced mother and father – who don’t know they’re twins. They meet up at a summer camp, come to a realization that they’re sisters (given that they look exactly alike, this takes them a while), and hatch a plot to switch places. One meets the mother she never knew, the other meets the father she never knew. All kinds of hijinks follow. The two daughters foil a gold-digging young female with designs on their father (with a series of hilarious pranks). And they end up engineering the remarriage of their parents.
In a plot that (at least in its outlines) could easily pass for a Shakespearean comedy, families are reunited, new loves are struck up, and everything is set to rights. As in all good comedies, the “wholeness” of the natural order at the end of the story doesn’t just include the main couple. It extends to everybody. The grandfather meets his other granddaughter, the butler proposes to the maid, and (most importantly) two reunited twins become friends and then become sisters in fact.
This is hardly different from the general plot of a Much Ado About Nothing – even if it was staged and shot almost five centuries later. The characters change, the settings change, but the fact of the matter is that we humans like to see things put back together again.