Parent Trapped

The dystopic world of the 1961 Disney movie.

Some movies stay with you forever. And sometimes, it’s for good reason: “The Wizard of Oz” and “Lawrence of Arabia” are etched into my brain because they are classics. Movies like, say, “Troll 2” are there because they’re so aggressively bad.

Requiem For a Dream” and “Boys Don’t Cry” forced their way in because they are nightmares. I saw them and liked them (or at least appreciated them) but decided once was enough — yet they kicked down the door and have squatted there ever since.

But how can I explain “The Parent Trap”? Specifically, the original, 1961, Hayley-Mills-starring, Disney-made “Parent Trap.”

It’s old, and not bad, but not really a classic the way other Disney movies are. Yet I find myself thinking about it often.

Maybe because — in its own way — “The Parent Trap” is pretty disturbing.

Think about it: Two girls show up at summer camp with identical appearances. Yet no one at the camp — other than the two girls themselves, who start an immediate and vicious rivalry — seems all that concerned that two of their fellow campers look exactly alike for some unexplained reason.

There’s a simple explanation: the girls (Susan and Sharon) are twins, who were separated at birth.

And here’s the other disturbing part: Susan and Sharon were separated not because, say, their unwed mother couldn’t afford raise two babies and put them up for adoption.

No, it was because their parents — both of whom appear to be pretty well-off — got divorced, moved to opposite sides of the country, and set up a bizarre “Let’s each take one kid” custody arrangement.

I didn’t grow up in the 1960s, but I have to think the protocols of divorce haven’t changed that much since then. How the hell did the parents decide which kid to take? Coin toss? Paper-rock-scissors? And what kind of judge would allow an arrangement like this to even happen?

Flying nannies and lawyers turning into sheepdogs? Sure, I’ll buy that, Disney. It’s a lot less weird than the universe where “The Parent Trap” takes place.

Article © 2012 by Tom Coombe