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Film / The Parent Trap (1961)

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"Let's get together, yeah yeah yeah!"

"If their love's on skids, treat your folks like kids
Or your family tree’s gonna snap!
So to make 'em dig, first you gotta rig
What do ya gotta rig? The parent trap!"

The Parent Trap is a 1961 Disney live-action comedy film, based on the 1949 German book Das doppelte Lottchen, that starred Hayley Mills. It yielded three sequels which are hard to fit into one continuity (and are pretty much forgotten about) and also a 1998 remake that starred Lindsay Lohan in her feature film debut.

Twin sisters Sharon and Susan have been separated nearly at birth when their parents, Mitch and Maggie, divorced. The year their father is considering remarrying, the sisters meet each other at summer camp. On meeting, they plot to get their parents back together, a plot that involves each pretending to be the other. Hilarity Ensues.

In the 1980s, Hayley Mills played Sharon and Susan as adults in three made-for-TV sequels. In The Parent Trap II, Sharon was the parent entrapped by her own daughter; in Parent Trap III, it was Susan's turn. Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon was a direct sequel to III featuring Susan and her new family (including identical triplet daughters).

The Parent Trap provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Hecky goes along with Mitch that the twins' pranks on Vicky are terrible, but he looks ready to bust a gut laughing, and he shoots them a wink when Mitch isn't looking.
  • Adaptational Location Change: The original novel was set in Germany and Austria. The movie adaptation relocates the setting to the United States.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The movie is based on the 1949 German book Lottie and Lisa, otherwise known as Das doppelte Lottchen.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the original book, the father's fiancée is clearly an unsympathetic antagonist, but hardly a villain — she seemed to genuinely like the girls' father (even if attracted to his fame as well), wanted to have her own children with him and only planned to get rid of his daughter (by sending her to boarding school) after the latter came to her house to openly object to their marriage. The fiancée didn't actually get to do anything villainous. However, in the movie she's portrayed as a Child Hater and Gold Digger (in the original, she's in fact much richer than her would-be husband) who Would Hurt a Child.
  • Age Lift: The twins are nine years old in the original book, but here they're thirteen.
  • Always Identical Twins: The girls being identical twins is what allows them to pull the switch off.
  • All Just a Dream: At the end, when Mitch and Margaret rekindle their romance, Sharon wakes up from her sleep claiming to her sister Susan that she had a crazy dream about their parents getting married and the twins were the bridesmaids dressed in matching clothes. It's then all revealed to be a premonition as the twins do attend their parents' wedding dressed as matching bridesmaids before the end credits roll.
  • Animated Credits Opening: With stop-motion.
  • Artistic License – Music: Hayley Mills is not moving her fingers when playing guitar Beethoven's 5th Symphony. Then on "Let's Get Together" her strumming does not match the music (in addition to not moving her fingers).
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Mitch and Margaret when they're reunited by the twins.
  • Betty and Veronica: Margaret is the Betty to Vicky's Veronica over the Archie, Margaret's ex and Vicky's fiancé Mitch.
  • Big "SHUT UP!": Vicky yells one at Hicky as she orders him to stop talking and to get her boots and get her out of the wilderness.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The step-mom-to-be is a sheep to the dad, and a bitch to everyone else.
  • Bitch Slap: The twins give one to each other just before grabbing each other and escalating into a physical fight at the summer camp.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents: Leads to Susan and Sharon realizing that they each have the other's missing parent and that they're sisters.
  • Book Ends: The film opens with the song "Togetherness" and ends with the song playing at film's end during the twins parent's wedding.
  • Butt-Monkey: The fiancée Vicky who gets easily tricked by the twins into thinking there's mountain lions and scaring them away with sticks would help, has her bug spray swapped with sugar and water to attract mosquitoes, has her backpack filled with heavy rocks, tricked into taking a drink of water where a lizard is, accidentally falls into deep water and wakes up to find bear cubs licking honey from her feet. The last of which really sets her off.
  • The Cameo: The father's golf caddy is played by John Mills, Hayley Mills's real-life father.
  • Cat Fight: The brawl between the two protagonists, as part of an escalating series of pranks they played on each other, was fully played for comedy, fanservice, and absolute destruction of the party they were at.
  • Celebrity Crush: Susan reveals to Sharon that her celebrity crush is Ricky Nelson after she helps her with her room posters.
  • Child Hater: Vicky, the father's new fiancée.
  • City Mouse: Vicky, who's really out of her element on the family camping trip.
  • Colonel Bogey March: The other girls at the camp whistle this as the twins are escorted to the Isolation Cabin.
  • Cool Old Guy: The grandfather. To the characters who need it the most, he's supportive and easy to talk to. He ensures others get the support and space they need, and it's partly because of this that things turn out all right in the end.
  • Comedic Underwear Exposure: From one of the pranks during the dance, when Sharon surreptitiously cuts the back off the skirt of Susan's party dress.
  • Coordinated Clothes: The twins wear matching outfits several times, sometimes to confuse the others about which twin is which.
  • Could Say It, But...: The Evers' housekeeper, a flagrant busybody, often concludes her gossip with "But I'm not saying a word, not one single word".
  • Covers Always Lie: The case of the Vault Disney Collection DVD, pictured above, seems to place too much emphasis on the parents, to the extent that the movie seems more like an oddly-titled adult romance than a kid-centric comedy.
  • Disappeared Dad: Sharon has been growing up without a father.
  • Disneyfication: The original story was far more serious — the father was distant, the mother was a wreck, and one twin falls ill.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: After Sharon gets back at Susan by cutting her dress with scissors, one of the boys dancing gets momentarily distracted by the sight of Susan's exposed underwear.
  • Disposable Fiancée: Vicky is, unusually for the female version of this trope, the kind who can be discarded without regret after being revealed to have been Evil All Along.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Susan manages to very much overreact and initiate all the fights.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: The twins actively invoke this. Mitch and Margaret are divorced and bitter toward one another but thanks to their twins and time, eventually the two rekindle their love for one another and remarry.
  • Don't Split Us Up: The twins' plan is to get their parents back together so they can be together as well.
  • Doomed New Clothes: Susan's new dress is ruined by Sharon as part of their prank war.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Mom punches Dad in the eye. What he says after being punched suggests she'd done stuff like that to him when they were married: "Why do you have to get so physical? Can't even talk to you about anything, you're always trying to pelt me with something."
  • Double Vision: Used in places to have the twins interact.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: According to Vicky's mother Edna, Mitch calls Susan "Peanut Face".
  • Escalating War: The twins start off hostile to each other, and a prank war ensues. This results in them getting put in the Isolation Cabin and forced to spend time together.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Sharon isn't exactly evil, but Susan's dog still figured out that she's an impostor much earlier than the father and the maid do.
  • Expository Theme Tune: The Title Theme Tunenote  explains why and how the kids set "the parent trap".
  • The Ex's New Jerkass: When Sharon goes to California after swapping places with twin sister Susan, she learns that their divorced father Mitch is now engaged to Vicky Robinson. Vicky is a two-faced Gold Digger who acts sweet and gentle with Mitch but is haughty and rude to people behind his back, especially anyone she considers beneath her station, and she intends to ship Susan off to a boarding school in Switzerland right after the wedding. The prospect of having Vicky for a stepmother is one of the catalysts for the girls hatching their plot to try to get their biological parents back together instead.
  • Fiery Redhead: Maggie and Sharon's camp friend, Ursula.
  • First Father Wins: Gender Flipped. Maggie gets back the guy, while the Gold Digger runs off in defeat.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The opening credits tell us the story in clay animation.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage:
    • By the looks of things, Maggie and Mitch certainly didn't waste any time tying the knot for the second time.
    • While Mitch (thankfully!) never actually marries Vicky, he does propose to her in quite a hurry- it's established that Susan has never met her before, meaning that the couple had to have become acquainted while she was away at camp and thus have only known each other for a couple of months at most.
  • Friendship Song: "Let's Get Together" celebrates Susan and Sharon's companionship and their potential for accomplishing great things together.
  • Freudian Slip: Mitch has a major one when he introduces Maggie to Reverend Mosby (the pastor who is set to marry him and Vicky)- he refers to her as his wife. Needless to say, the minister is left quite confused for a few moments before Mitch hurriedly corrects himself.
  • Gold Digger: Mitch's young, opportunistic fiancée Vicky, who is only interested in Mitch's money.
  • "Good Luck" Gesture: They cross fingers (for luck) on both hands, with arms crossed (symbolizing the girls' Twin Switch).
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: The twins discover their father about to marry a new woman who's nasty.
  • Hard-Work Montage: The twins use this to give each other information and mannerisms they'll need to remember when visiting the other parent.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: Mitch towards the end of the film. He goes upstairs to "wash his hands" before having dinner with Maggie and ends up giving himself almost a full makeover- shaving, fixing his hair, changing his clothes, etc. The effect is not lost on any of his girls (the twins see him as he passes by their bedroom on his way back downstairs- and are extremely happy because they know there's only one person who could have triggered him to spiff up that much).
  • Her Boyfriend's Jacket: Or rather her ex-husband's bathrobe. Maggie wastes no time settling in at the Evers' ranch, showering in Mitch's bathroom and then donning the robe he conveniently left hanging on the door. Hilarity Ensues.
  • His and Hers: Discussed trope. Once they discover each other, neither twin is happy that in the original divorce, the twins were treated as "his and hers", as if they were a set of matched towels.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: The father toward his gold digger fiancée. She is extremely rude — to not only the girls, but also his housekeeper.
  • Human Ladder: Sharon and Susan do this while they're in the lake to try to fool Vicky into thinking the water is shallow.
  • Identical Twin ID Tag: The twins start off easily identifiable by their hairstyles, clothing and accents. Throughout the course of camp, they alter their appearances so that they are identical.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Mitch Evers has trouble seeing that Vicky is a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing because he's Distracted by the Sexy. Discussed when Sharon (posing as Susan) tells Vicky that the wool isn't pulled over her eyes.
    Sharon as Susan: I know what wonderful, delicate mystery Daddy sees in you. And I can't say I blame him there, either. You're very nicely put together.
  • Important Haircut: Susan gives one to Sharon.
  • Infodump: For everyone who is involved in the main plot.
  • It's a Small World, After All: Twin sisters, separated and living in different states, end up at the same camp one summer. This gets lampshaded more than once.
  • Karma Houdini: The parents, who pay for willingly denying their children the chance to know about one another and having multiple family members and friends lie to them for years by being reunited as a couple and a family.
  • Kick the Dog: Having had enough of Mitch and his twins, Vicky slaps one of the twins across her face telling her to give her sister the other half. This makes Mitch call Vicky out for her actions just before she breaks up with him.
  • Kids Play Match Breaker: Before they can reconcile their parents, the twins must first get rid of Mitch’s gold-digging, child-hating fiancé, Vicky.
  • Kids Play Matchmaker: The sisters initially just want to get to know their respective other parent. Then they decide to try getting them back together.
  • Like Mother like Daughters: Maggie's attitude towards Vicky is virtually the same as her daughters' (in fact if anything she's a bit bolder than they are!)- and it's implied that she deliberately manipulated the younger woman into going on the camping trip so that she and Mitch would break up.
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: The tomboyish twin has shorter hair than the girly girl.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Susan and Sharon.
  • Love Triangle: Margaret/Mitch/Vicky.
  • Meal Ticket: Mitch for Vicky.
  • Memory Trigger: Susan (posing as Sharon) smells her grandfather and tries to make his scent a Signature Scent to remember him with:
    Charles: What are you doing?
    Susan: Making a memory.
    Charles: Making a memory?
    Susan: All my life, when I'm quite grown-up I will always remember my grandfather and how he smelled of tobacco and peppermint.
    Charles: Tobacco and peppermint. Well, I'll tell you what. I take the peppermint for my indigestion and as for the tobacco... to make your grandmother mad.
  • Missing Mom: Susan has been growing up without a mother.
  • No Sympathy: Susan and her bunkmates slip into Sharon's cabin and trash the place while Sharon and her bunkmates are asleep. Even though the damage is clearly the work of saboteurs, Sharon and her bunkmates are punished for having a messy cabin.
  • Nom de Mom: Sharon McKendrick and Susan Evers have different surnames because Sharon was raised with their mom's surname and Susan with their dad's.
  • Not What It Looks Like: When Mitch and Margaret get into another argument, she punches him in the eye and he falls onto the couch as she attempts to check his bruised eye (he isn't exactly cooperative about it). The minister walks in and, since she's wearing a robe and lying atop of him, assumes he's intruding on them having an intimate moment. Lampshaded by Mitch when he tries to persuade Maggie to put on "something decent" just moments before the minister enters.
    Mitch: The priest could come in here any minute, it looks like we just...
  • Now You Tell Me: A lot of characters find things out the hard way.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • When Susan's friends see Susan dancing with a boy and then notice that her dress is cut and her underwear is exposed and they go to warn her about it.
    • Susan gasps and covers herself before running off with her friends after being told that her underwear is exposed due to Sharon cutting her dress as payback.
  • Off to Boarding School: What would have happened if the fiancée married the father.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: Used as an indirect accusation delivered with Sugary Malice. When Mitch tells Sharon!"Susan" that Vicky is about to become part of the family, she surely understands right away that he's talking about marriage. However, she pretends to innocently misunderstand him and tells him that she thinks it's really sweet of him to want to adopt Vicky. She continues making snarky references to Vicky's youth throughout the rest of the film, until Mitch finally snaps and tells her to "stop referring to her as a child!"
  • One True Pairing: Established in-universe, between Maggie McKendrick and Mitch Evers — the daughters' reason for the trap.
  • Only in It for the Money: Vicky in her engagement to Mitch. When Sharon "casually" drops this accusation during what Vicky initially passes off as an innocent heart-to-heart, she immediately drops all pretenses and warns Sharon not to do anything to interfere with their upcoming marriage, kicking off the girls' desperate plans to reunite their parents before this can happen. Oh, and Vicky's mother appears to be all in on the scheme as well.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Mitch's full first name is Mitchell, but Vicky's mother Edna is the only one who ever calls him that.
  • Only One Name: Verbena and Hecky's surnames are never mentioned.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Hayley Mills plays two Americans from vastly different regions of the United States. From character to character and scene to scene, her accent veers from flat-voweled generic American to vaguely British and back again.
  • Papa Wolf: Mitch doesn't take very kindly to Vicky slapping one of his daughters (as retaliation for the girls' pranks).
  • Parental Substitute: Verbena the housekeeper acts as a maternal figure towards Susan (and Sharon when she takes her place). Notably, she is the first person to notice that something is odd about "Susan" and it is to her that Sharon first confesses her true identity.
  • Parent with New Paramour: The father has just started dating a new girlfriend - who is a Gold Digger.
  • Parents Know Their Children: Sort of. Mitch looks each twin in the eye and declares which one is Susan; however, it's not made clear if he's right, since the twins keep playing up the charade and make him question his own judgement. He even outright names the trope, declaring "I know my own daughter!"
  • Picky Eater: Vicky refuses to eat the freshly caught trout that Mitch, Hecky and the girls enjoy on the camping trip.
  • Poster-Gallery Bedroom: Susan's bed at camp has photos and magazine clippings of 1960s teen heartthrobs. Sharon isn't so cool, so she has no idea who Ricky Nelson is. "Oh, your boyfriend." Susan gasps in disbelief. "I wish he was! You mean you never heard of him? Where do you come from, outer space?"
  • Rich Bitch: The fiancée. It may be more accurate to call her an aspiring Rich Bitch, as her Gold Digger plot falls through and so she never actually qualifies for the rich part.
  • Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense: The father falls in love with another woman and fails to notice that the target of his affections is a Gold Digger who doesn't care about him or his daughters.
  • Rule of Pool: Nature's pool in this case. When Mitch sees his ex-wife from afar, he's so stunned that he forgets to pay attention to his surroundings... which leads to him promptly tripping over a beach chair and falling into the lake on his property.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here:
    • Sharon-as-Susan does this taking off riding her horse when her father Mitch is just about to tell her his engagement plans to Vicky.
    • Vicky when she's had enough of camping with Mitch, Hecky and the twins and leaves in an angry fit.
  • Separated at Birth: The twins were separated at some point when they were both babies.
  • Setting Update: The film moves the setting to contemporary America (from 1940s Germany in the book).
  • Shipper on Deck: Maggie's father clearly has a preference for Mitch, while Reverend Mosby has one for Maggie (he calls her a "delightful woman" and remarks that he doesn't understand how Mitch "ever let her slip away"). Verbena and Hecky also happily help the girls with their plans to reunite the two (well, the latter isn't so eager at first, being that his first "duty" involves playing a gypsy, but he comes around quickly).
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title sequence references Stan Freberg's "John and Marsha" skit twice.
    • The Evers' ranch is called Golden Oak Ranch (the name can clearly be seen on the door of the pickup truck Mitch, Hecky, Vicky and the girls use on their camping trip). This is the Mouse House giving themselves a shoutout- at the time they owned a filming lot called Golden Oak Ranch.
  • Sibling Team: Once the girls discover they're sisters.
  • Signature Scent: Susan (posing as Sharon) smells her grandfather:
    Charles: What are you doing?
    Susan: Making a memory.
    Charles: Making a memory?
    Susan: All my life, when I'm quite grown-up I will always remember my grandfather and how he smelled of tobacco and peppermint.
    Charles: Tobacco and peppermint. Well, I'll tell you what. I take the peppermint for my indigestion and as for the make your grandmother mad.
  • Solomon Divorce: The parents of a pair of infant twin girls each take one with them after they divorce, and the children only find out about it after meeting each other by chance when they're teenagers.
  • Take That!:
    • A subtle one to Boston when Susan finds out that Sharon knows nothing about Teen Idol Ricky Nelson and asks if she's from outer space, Sharon replies where she's from and then Sharon snootily replies as though that explains everything; likely more to the Boston elite being very out-of-touch with social changes and fashion.
    • Another one when Mitch is trying to explain that Maggie isn't a threat to the upcoming wedding — the first quality of hers that he mentions is that she's from Boston.
  • The Talk:
    • Maggie cancels a very important meeting with the Red Cross because she's afraid her daughter might want to have sex, and takes her for a picnic to have that woman-to-woman talk.
    • Mitch decides to have the Talk with Sharon (disguised as Susan) on a golf course, assuming that's why she's wanting to know about her mother all of a sudden. After a few minutes of awkward explanation, Sharon tells him she's known about that for ages.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Sharon is a girly girl, having been raised as a child of Boston high society; Susan is the tomboy.
  • Tomboy with a Girly Streak: Susan, the tomboy sister, remarks she feels just "naked" without her lipstick, and doesn't usually dress any more boyish than Sharon; she is also adept in homemade haircuts.
  • Twin Switch: The girls swap places to get to know their respective non-custodial parents. Later they do the same just to fool them.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Vicki at the end. Oh, so much.
  • Well-Intentioned Replacement: The girls (with the assistance of Hecky and Verbena) recreate the restaurant from their parents' first date as part of an attempt to get their parents back together. Everything is quite homemade and primitive, but it's touching, nonetheless. Discussed when Maggie realizes what the girls tried to do and tells Mitch to stop laughing.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Wondered by the housekeeper about the Gold Digger dating Mitch- not that the guy is ugly, but he's usually a Regular Joe and isn't very witty or "one of those charm fellows".
  • Would Hurt a Child: When Vicky gets fed up with the girls' antics, she slaps one of them (which leads to a swift telling off from Mitch).
  • The Vamp: Vicky.
  • Vinyl Shatters: When the girls upset the table with the records while fighting at the camp dance.
  • Young Future Famous People: Look for a then-teenaged Dave Goelz, originator of Gonzo, Bunsen Honeydew and Boober Fraggle among others, in a brief appearance in a dance scene.
  • Zany Scheme

The sequels contain examples of:

  • History Repeats: The Parent Trap II and Parent Trap III have Sharon and Susan respectively finding themselves at the other end of a Kids Play Matchmaker scenario.
  • Kids Play Matchmaker:
    • In The Parent Trap II, Sharon's daughter Nikki and Nikki's friend Mary scheme to hook Sharon up with Mary's father.
    • Parent Trap III features identical triplet teens who bring Susan and their father together.
  • Same-Sex Triplets: In Parent Trap III, adult Susan falls in love with a man who has identical triplet daughters, Lisa, Jessie and Megan Wyatt. Interestingly, while the Susan and Sharon were played by the same actress (Hayley Mills), the triplets were played by real-life triplets Leanna, Monica and Joy Creel.
  • Sequel Escalation: Parent Trap III adds identical triplets.
  • Shout-Out: In The Parent Trap II, the two girls are named Nikki Ferris and Mary Grand; Hayley Mills's other child roles for Disney included Nikky Ferris in The Moon-Spinners and Mary Grant in In Search of the Castaways. And Sharon's boss is named Walter Elias.