Making the Grades
We are never told why a Boston aristocrat (Maureen O'Hara) and a wealthy California rancher (Brian Keith) decide to send their respective daughters to a girl's camp somewhere in the middle of the continent. Whatever the reason, the most important thing is the summer pastime brings the prissy piano player and the horse-riding tomboy face-to-identical-face.
It doesn't take long for Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers (both played by Hayley Mills) to discover their marked resemblance isn't the only thing they have in common. The girls also share a quick temper, a mischievous sense of revenge and the same birthday. This last revelation helps them realize the truth: They are really twin sisters, separated at an early age when their mother and father divorced.
As each of them has grown-up wondering about the parent they have never met, it seems completely reasonable that the two of them should swap places when it's time to go home. Although the girls prepare for the switch by spending the next four weeks of their vacation memorizing the details of the other's life, both of them know it will only be a matter of time before the ruse is discovered. But that's the best part of the plot. After the adults figure it out, they will be forced to get together to make the trade--and maybe the girls can use that meeting to help them fall in love again.
It's the perfect parent trap! Or so they think, until Sharon (pretending to be Susan) arrives at the west coast and learns dear old Dad is in the middle of making marriage plans with Vicki Robinson (Joanna Barns), a woman half his age. Believing the bride-to-be is more interested in money than romance, the frantic thirteen-year-old telephones her east coast secret sibling Susan (who everyone thinks is Sharon), and convinces her their only hope of stopping the wedding is to bring Mom into the plan.
Mistaken identities, matchmaking motives and conniving pranks all play a part of this charmingly predictable plot. Portrayed mostly as silly, a few families may be a little concerned by some of the girl's mean spirited antics--especially those directed at the citified fianc0xE9e during a wilderness excursion. Maureen O'Hara's characterization of a feisty redhead with a mean right jab might also be seen with less humor by contemporary audiences who are more sensitive to domestic disputes.
The Parent Trap sported very impressive special effects for its day. Made in 1961, the film used trick photography and stunt doubles to create the illusion of two Hayley Mills on the screen at once. For curious kids, details on "Seeing Double" are included in the bonus features of the DVD edition of this movie.
Taken at face value, this feel-good Disney classic pays tribute to the universal desire of belonging to a family, while the movie magic brings these divided family members together to mend their broken home.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Parent Trap (1961).
When the father doesn’t want to talk about the girls’ mother, he tells his daughter, “You wouldn’t like her—she was really fat.” How does that remark reflect the way we judge others by physical appearances? In what other ways does the script portray the father as easily swayed by body image? How do these stereotypes affect you?