The Parent Trap (1961) — Twins reunite confused parents

“The nerve of her! Coming here with your face!”

Justin’s rating: Double double your excitement!

Justin’s review: The Parent Trap is full of important lifehacks. For example, did you know that one of the side benefits of having identical twins is that if you, God forbid, divorce, then each of you can take a kid in the settlement? And then you can raise them completely ignorant of their other parent and sibling?

Yes, a whole lot of child abuse is the foundation for this, erm, lighthearted comedy romp. But I don’t blame Disney of the time, because it actually tapped into a shared trend among overactive imaginations. So many kids have this weird fantasy that somewhere out there is an identical twin that they’ve never known. What would it be like to encounter that long-lost sibling — and even switch places with them?

While I’ve never seen the Lindsay Lohan Parent Trap, our family frequently popped in the Hayley Mills version. It always felt a little beneath me, but I abided it because (a) you didn’t turn down any screen time when you were a kid in the ’80s, even if it was daytime talk shows, and (b) I’ve always been partial to summer camp flicks.

At a summer camp, two girls — rich snob Sharon and tomboy Susan — discover to their dismay that they look almost identical. That tends to happen when two people share a womb, but it takes a shockingly long time until they come to the realization that they’re actually related. Slightly miffed that their parents ripped apart their family and never bothered to tell each other, the twins resolve to swap places, taste each other’s life, and maybe — just maybe — get their folks back together.

Using split screen technology, clever camera angles, and stunt doubles, Hayley Mills plays both girls so well that it’s pretty easy to accept the deception. I like that they start out as each other’s camp nemesis and only gradually become best friends and genuine sisters. They’ll need all that spunky spirit, too, because the girls have to get rid of their dad’s insufferable fiancé before their parents will have a shot at reversing the whole “divorce thing.”

I find it kind of interesting that we don’t even meet the parents until Act 2, giving us a full half-hour to really get to know the girls. I’m not just talking about their personality but also their adoration for their parents and the hatching of this bonkers scheme to get them together. Yes, it’s crazy to switch places, but you can kind of buy it as they coach each other to live the other’s life for a bit. And it shows long-term planning that the switch isn’t just for themselves but for the inevitable reunion of the two families to change them back.

Will there be plenty of slapstick, sly jokes, kooky coincidences, and characters trying so hard not to break into laughs themselves along the way? Oh, oh yes. But there will also be a rekindled romance between two people who have been desperately lonely and denying it for a long time.

There are only two things that bug me about this movie, and they’re both trivial. First, everyone keeps saying that Vickie is so young, yet with her silver/platinum hair, she looks significantly older than the other adults. And second, there are a few songs thrown into the mix here, and they are short and terrible. They obviously put way more effort into the jokes than the songs, and it shows.

Even with three sequels, two remakes, and some other weird spin-offs, this is the only Parent Trap that I care to know. It still is a really funny flick — my kids were laughing like mad watching it for the first time the other day — but I can’t help but get a lump in my throat at seeing these sisters find each other and grow into a whole family.

Didja notice?

  • We don’t get a lot of stop-motion animated title sequences these days
  • Going to summer camp? Best pack your poetry book!
  • Don’t demand that your summer tent be “properly ventilated”
  • Discounted Boy Scouts
  • The tent that gets pranked is pretty epic, as is the cut-up skirt
  • Camp punishments often involve a parade and some “Bridge Over the River Kwai” whistling
  • “Isolation Table”
  • The hug when they realize they’re sisters. I’m not crying, you’re crying!
  • The girl trying to take a skunk home from camp
  • Grandmother wears the pants in this household, apparently
  • “This situation is FROTH with humor!”
  • All of the subtle little winks

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