The conceit behind The Parent Trap is so simple that it is almost crazy no one thought of it before Erich Kastner’s novel that inspired the film. Two twin sisters separated at birth? It sounds like it’s a Weekly World News headline rather than a Disney film. Instead, it turns out to be one of the most cherished Disney films of all time.
The Parent Trap has long been one of my favorite Disney films because it’s so very funny, but watching it again as an adult, the appeal is so much broader. The acting is the first thing that jumps out at me now. Every character in this film is played by a top notch actor. Hayley Mills is great as Susan and Sharon, although she is not asked to do a great deal in the film. Even better is the chemistry between Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara as the childrens’ parents.
The two of them were unbelievably well cast, because every scene they have together is pure magic. You easily fall into believing that these two not only were once married, but that they have some real affection for each other. Supporting them were some fantastic character actors, all of whom contribute their own humor and fun to the proceedings.
Like most Disney films of that time, however, there is not a great deal of depth to the story. That’s not a criticism, because there has to be films that exist solely for fun, but it also sort of dates the movie. A film of this sort today would have a bit more emotional resonance and depth to the characters, as you can see from the remake. That would be a mistake.
The charm of this sort of film is the bubblegum lightness of it that allows the viewer to enjoy themselves for a couple hours without worrying about anything else. Some would call it disposable filmmaking, but quite the contrary, the charm and fun makes it more entertaining and memorable. It’s hard to realize how different this film was in the 1960s, because people did not get divorced in such huge numbers as they do now. To deal with that sort of discussion, and then allow the kids to get the parents back together was a very different statement at the time. However, it works amazingly well, because of that charm that Hayley Mills brings to the role.
While the film does drag a bit in the middle, the story itself is quite well plotted, and aided by the music of the Sherman Brothers. This was one of their first films working with Disney, and it adds to a couple of memorable scenes. The combination of that, the fabulous acting and the super sweet mindset that pervades the film makes The Parent Trap a true Disney classic.