The Parent Trap (1961)

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Our rating: four lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Mills and Mills.
1997 seems to have been Disney's year of the live-action remake. Between That Darn Cat, Freaky Friday, The Nutty Professor, and Flubber, there can be little doubt that those great minds at the Mouse Factory have discovered the profit involved in remaking a well-loved family film with modern actors and special effects. Continuing that trend, Disney sets its sights on perhaps the most successful and certainly the most endearing of its 1960's - 70's live-action classics: The Parent Trap.

The main characters in this movie are Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers, who meet at a summer camp and, despite their identical appearance, take an immediate dislike to each other. ("The nerve of her, coming here with your face!") Susan is a precocious pre-teen who lives in California with her father. Sharon is the baby of a very proper Bostonian family whose mother has kept her fairly ignorant of the rock & roll world in which Susan lives. Unfortunately, her naivete is often mistaken for snobbishness.

"My grandmother said to see that my tent was properly ventilated," says Sharon. The camp counselor, played by Nancy Kulp, replies sardonically: "Don't worry, McKendrick. You'll be ventilated."

The tension between the two girls becomes so heated that they are forced to spend the rest of the camp session together. The camp director reasons that they'll either learn to get along or punish each other far more effectively than she ever could. She's right: the girls do get to know one another and discover that (you guessed it) they're actually sisters who were separated soon after birth. Anxious to meet the parent on the opposite side and discover the reason for this separation, the girls arrange to switch places when camp ends.

Both girls have a surprisingly easy time integrating into their respective new households. Actually, it strains credibility, but most folks find themselves willing to suspend disbelief for Disney and also for Mills. Susan becomes Sharon, enduring music lessons and Bostonian teas in order to be with her mother (Maggie, played by Maureen O'Hara), while Sharon enjoys the California life with her newfound father -- until she learns that Dad (Mitch, played by Brian Keith) intends to re-marry. Sharon-as-Susan's explosive reaction to the news is one of the most entertaining moments in the film.

O'Hara and Keith as the trapped parents.
O'Hara and Keith are both perfect as Maggie and Mitch. Maggie allows herself to be drawn into the twins' scheme, resisting slightly until she sees the gold-digger Mitch is about to marry. Then she becomes an active participant, helping the girls to "submarine" Vicky (Joanna Barnes) and win Mitch back. O'Hara's Irish brogue surfaces when her character gets angry -- a nice touch. Keith, on the other hand, plays his part with a laid-back attitude appropriate to a California ranch man. His combination of masculine self-assuredness and cluelessness makes him the perfect victim for the trap the twins have laid.

The real star of the film, of course, is Hayley Mills. Her wide-eyed appeal is the stuff of legend, and she seems born to act this double role. Don't be surprised to find yourself breaking into a grin when she performs both halves of the duet "Let's Get Together" (by Dick and Bob Sherman, also composers of the songs in Mary Poppins). Mills' good cheer is infectious (something Disney capitalized on in Pollyanna a year earlier), and her optimistic naivete set the tone for many Disney films to come.

Despite its frank discussion of divorce in the early 1960's, The Parent Trap is still a film made under the guidance of Uncle Walt, and has the typical happy ending that defies all odds. Corny? You betcha. Old-fashioned? Probably. Entertaining? Supremely.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 1/7/98
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