Based upon the 1949 book Lottie and Lisa by Erich Kästner, The Parent Trap is the kind of movie Disney made in the early 60s — sure, it’s funny and financially successful, but it also has the kind of high quality that gets a movie nominated for two Academy Awards.
Teenage girls Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers (both Hayley Mills) meet at Miss Inch’s Summer Camp for Girls* and they hate one another near instantly. Their outright anger at the fact that one another even exists leads to a fight that destroys the annual summer dance, which lands them in isolation for the rest of the summer. That’s when they find out that they are twin sisters who were split up by their parents, Mitch Evers (Brian Keith) and Maggie McKendrick (Maureen O’Hara, who only made one movie for Disney because they billed Mills over her). Yes, in the non-family court world of the Parent Trap, child custody is as simple as simply taking the child you want and never communicating with each other — much less letting the kids know their twin exists — ever again, which really feels like mental child abuse.
But hey! Let’s have fun! The girls decide that they want to see the other parent they are missing, so a haircut and some studying up on each others’ lives goes down and before you know it, Sharon is Susan and Susan is Sharon. If this sounds kind of like The Patty Duke Show, well — they were cousins and producer, writer and creator Sidney Sheldon spent a week with star Duke and discovered she had two very different personalities, which led to his concept of identical cousins. Not to get super dark — I mean, I already talked about mentally abusing children, so why not, right? — but years later, those two sides of Patty’s personality would be explained because she had manic depression. And yet a hot dog made her lose control!
But I digress…
As they switch lives, Sharon as Susan learns that Mitch is getting married to a younger woman who only wants his money (Joanna Barnes, who went to the same school and won the same poetry award as Sylvia Plath; a magazine article that she wrote convinced her to become an actress. In a neat moment of serendipity — which is not just the isolation cabin that Sharon and Susan work out their differences in — Barnes would play the mother of her character’s daughter in the Lindsay Lohan-starring remake, which not only puts it in the same universe as this film, but supposes a monumental coincidence where Barnes’ character would meet two sets of families with two sets of separated twins. I am not good at math but I cannot even calculate how big of an improbably integer this must be). That’s when the girls conspire to bring their parents — who literally seem like they want to outright murder one another, which means their arrdvarking must be volcanic and always make twins — back together.
This movie has everything you want out of live-action Disney. An unreal situation in the real world. Songs by Richard and Robert Sherman. A love story. And plenty of sequels that didn’t come out until the 80s and involved Sharon hooking up with Tom Skerritt, Susan getting down with Barry Bostwick and a honeymoon to Vegas. There’s the aforementioned remake, a Disney+ series in production and more than one cover movies of The Parent Trap made in India, including 1965’s Kuzhandaiyum Deivamum and 1966’s Leta Manasulu, both of which star Kutty Padmini.
*Mrs. Inch is Ruth McDevitt, who was bird shop owner Mrs. MacGruder in The Birds. You can also find Nancy Culp in a pre-Beverly Hillbillies role as one of the counselors.