The Parent Trap (1961)

The Parent Trap was the second film in the string of movies in which the young Hayley Mills starred for Disney. Her famous family had been courted personally by Mr. Disney to secure a film contract which would allow the Disney Company to make a series of films featuring the young, fresh actress.

And it is really no surprise why. Following on from Pollyanna, The Parent Trap is a masterpiece. Of course there are so many other wonderful elements which come together to make this film such a beloved production. However, there is no denying Ms. Mills’ gift. Such a young performer at the time, her portrayal of two different personalities gives this film so much heart. She is sublime. There is such truth and integrity in her work. She is inviting and compelling and adorable without being sickly. She plays the fun, the comedy and the emotion, all with equal skill and humanity.

Now we must come on to the plot briefly, for anyone who may not know. Two girls with an uncanny resemblance, Sharon and Susan, meet at a summer camp and take an instant dislike to one another. Eventually they cause enough trouble that they are punished by being put into solitary confinement together. Whilst reluctantly communicating, it comes out that they both share a birthday. And after they realise that Sharon’s photo of her mother is also the photo of Susan’s absent mother, the facts fall into place: they are twin sisters. They quickly set about scheming to meet the opposite parent they each have never known.

To say The Parent Trap was innovative is no joke. And as it turns out, this film has more in common with the early years of the Walt Disney Animation Studios than might be imagined. Not only was it personally overseen by Walt himself, but his old collaborator, master animator Ub Iwerks, developed the special effects technique which allowed Hayley Mills to play her own twin with both versions of herself on screen at the same time.

It is time to touch upon the surrounding cast. It is an impeccable one. Maureen O’Hara as the girls’ mother and Brian Keith as their father is an inspired partnership. They spark off each other so well and so believably.

Charles Ruggles as their grandfather and Una Merkel as Verbena, Keith’s housekeeper, are irresistible. They bring such mirthful warmth to the film. It is impossible not to smile when they are each on screen. They each play a gentle, lovingly meddling role which helps cajole characters into acting in their own best interests.

Joanna Barnes as Keith’s prospective young bride is coolly charming, and when her plans start going awry she displays a pleasing, juvenile naivete which has been hiding under the surface of her rather grasping, well-turned-out exterior from the beginning.

Another special mention must go to the composers of the song that the girls first hear at the dance, then perform together for their parents. The Sherman brothers had not long been working with Walt Disney, so the song Let’s Get Together was one of their first outings in a Disney movie. It is fun and catchy, perfect for the era. Hayley Mills recorded a version for general release, which reached number 8 in the US chart and number 17 in the UK.


With such a perfect cast and so many talented people working behind the scenes on this film, it is no wonder that it was highly enough regarded to spark made-for-TV sequels and even a remake.

The Parent Trap, when viewed alongside Mills’ other output for Disney, really stands out. It seems to have enduring appeal. The special effects were impressive enough that, as a child, I asked my mother “which one of the two sisters is Hayley Mills?”, believing that there must be two actresses playing these two roles.

Mills’ time at Disney started so strong, with Pollyanna, and continued to soar with The Parent Trap. If you have a spare 128 minutes, head over to Disney Plus and enjoy a couple of hours of pure fun, laughter and a few tears. The balance between comedy and poignancy is perfect. The Parent Trap is, frankly, flawless.

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