In 1961, the 15-year-old Hayley Mills was Walt Disney's newest star. Her first film for the studio -- she'd signed a five-year contract -- was 1960's Pollyanna, and Mills' gentle British accent, blonde curls, and acting ability caught viewers' attention.
Mills' next movie for Disney, released in 1961, was The Parent Trap. The story, based on the novel Das Doppelte Lottchen by Erich Kastner, involved a pair of identical twins. Disney utilized some inventive camera work (designed by Ub Iwerks) to allow both twins -- both played by Hayley Mills, of course -- to appear on-screen at the same time.
Reportedly, the film was to include only a few of these trick shots, using a body double for the rest. However, when Walt saw how good the shots came out, he insisted on re-writing the script to include many more of them. And it's true -- the shots are beautifully done; if any seams or errors are present, one has to look very hard to find them.
And why look for imperfections in the special effects when the story is so much fun, and Hayley Mills is so engaging? The film opens with the credits, as was the custom at the time. The opening theme song, "The Parent Trap," by Richard and Robert Sherman, is sung by Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands. Funicello, Disney's other big female star of the time, and Sands played the leads (Mary and Tom) in Disney's production of Babes In Toyland, released the same year.
The credit sequence contains animation that more-or-less follows with the lyrics of the song. It was animated with a form of stop-motion animation by Disney effects wizard X Atencio, animator Bill Justice, and the oddly named T. Hee. The animation depicts a family similar to the one in the movie (oddly, with a pair of non-identical girls), with various situations concoted by the girls and a pair (male and female) of cherubs to get the parents together.
The movie proper starts up at a summer camp, where we meet Susan Evers and Sharon McKendrick. Susan lives on a California ranch with her father, their maid, and a farmhand; she has a short hairstyle, loves the outdoors, and has a huge mischievous streak. Mills barely hides her accent as Susan, but still manages to capture enough American inflection (and California slang) to differentiate Susan from Sharon. Sharon lives in a New York townhouse with her mother and grandparents; she's cultured and well-read, with long, wavy hair and a clear British accent.
The two girls quickly discover how much alike they look, which leads to an escalating series of altercations between them. As punishment, the two girls are sequestered together in a cabin, and they must spend the entire rest of camp together. But it isn't long before their feelings soften, and they discover that not only do they share a birthday, but Sharon's picture of her mother matches one that Susan once saw on her father's desk.
For fourteen-year-olds, they were a little slow on the uptake.
Now inseparable, the girls decide they don't want to be apart, but neither do they want to be shuttled back and forth between California and New York every six months. The only answer, then, would be to get their parents back together again. After all, Susan's dad still kept that picture on his desk...
Susan hatches a plan... they're identical, right? So Sharon will fly back to California and Susan will go to New York. After each one meets the parent she didn't know, they'll reveal their ruse, forcing their parents to meet to unswitch them. Susan cuts Sharon's hair short; they study each others houseplans and quiz each other on names, routines, and habits. They trade accents and no one is the wiser.
Except things go wrong.... Their dad, Mitch Evers, is engaged, much to Sharon's surprise. She calls Susan in a panic, but Susan isn't ready to switch back yet and insists that Sharon try to stall the marriage. Unfortunately, the girls' grandfather overhears Susan on the phone and figures out her secret; she soon tells her mother and they're off to California to straighten things out.
Sharon does her best to scare off Vicky, the bride-to-be, but it seems she's a bit of a gold digger and won't be deterred. Mitch remains clueless for quite some time after Maggie and Susan arrive, resulting in some obligitory mistaken-identity scenes. Finally the truth is revealed, but the marriage is still on. But before the wedding comes Mitch and Susan's yearly camping trip -- and Vicky gets to come along. Sharon and Maggie are to return to New York, but Susan and Sharon hide their identities, insisting that they all go -- all of them -- on the camping trip before they'll reveal who's who.
Maggie begs out at the last minute, to the girls' consternation, but they're still successful in their goal. They make Vicky's trip hell, using tricks they learned in camp. Vicky's already not much of a camper, and the twins' schemes convince her that Mitch isn't worth the prospects of a yearly camping trip -- particularly not with the twins.
Back at the ranch, the girls prepare a candlelit dinner, a recreation of their parents' first date. After singing the duet "Let's Get Together" (more great camera work), they let nature take its course. Sure enough, their parents realize what a mistake they made and kiss passionately.
The Parent Trap was remade in 1998 with 11-year-old Lindsay Lohan as Hallie Parker and Annie James. The story is basically the same, with the names, locations, and details changed. Joanna Barnes, who played Vicky in the original, plays the mother-in-law-to-be in the new film -- a character also named Vicky. There's a remote possibility they were even meant to be the same character, although there's no evidence for that.
The original The Parent Trap has had three TV-movie sequels. In Parent Trap II, Sharon is divorced with a teenaged daughter. Seeing how unhappy her mom is, Nikki schemes with her best friend Mary to get their two parents together. Mary's widower father is played by Tom Skerritt. Sharon wants no part of it, so Nikki calls up Aunt Susan -- she knows what the twins did to her grandparents to get them together, and she wants a repeat performance. Needless to say, the effort is successful.
In Parent Trap III, it's Susan's turn to be divorced. She's an interior decorator hired to renovate a widower dad who's about to be re-married. But Jeffrey (Barry Bostwick) has three triplet daughters (played by triplets Joy, Leanna, and Monica Creel) who don't much care for his fiancee (Patricia Richardson). They like Susan much more, and they try to derail the wedding, get Susan and Jeffrey together (with Sharon's help, of course), all while dealing with their own problems. The triplets rarely impersonate each other, but straightening out their father's and their own love lives requires some subterfuge...
Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon continues the third movie, as Susan and Jeffrey take the girls on their honeymoon in Hawaii. More twin and triplet fun ensues.
Thanks to the invaluable IMDb for various
"The Parent Trap"
Richard and Robert Sherman
Performed by Annette Funicello and Tommy Sands
He: If their love's on skids,
Treat your folks like kids,
Or your family tree's gonna snap!
She: So to make 'em dig,
First ya gotta rig...
He: Uh, whaddya gotta rig?
She: The Parent Trap.
She: If they lose that zing,
And they just won't swing,
Then the problem falls in your lap!
He: When your folks are square,
Then you must prepare...
She: Whaddya gotta prepare?
He: The Parent Trap.
Both: To set the bait,
Recreate the date --
The first time Cupid shot 'em.
Get 'em under the moon,
Play their favorite tune...
Both: Ya got 'em!
He: Lead 'em back to love
With a velvet glove,
She: 'Cuz they're much too old for the strap!
Both: Straighten up their mess
The Parent Trap.
Marsha: John, they're playing our song!
John: Oh, you know it!
John: Oooh, mama, what fools we've been!
Both: Love's on skids,
Treat 'em like kids;
Lose that zing,
Make 'em swing;
Love's a mess,
Bless our happy home!
Lead 'em back to love
With a velvet glove,
'Cuz they're much too old for the strap!
Straighten up their mess
The Par... Ent... Trap!!