As kids of the ’80s and early ’90s, we didn’t have much in the way of Halloween viewing. Too young for most scary movies, those of us looking for spooky, family-friendly viewing were mainly limited to Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Marc Summers’ Mystery Magical Special. (I seem to remember something about a mime doing card tricks to funky smooth jazz.)
And then 1993 happened. A year in which two Halloween adventures were released — Hocus Pocus, still one of my favorites; and a made-for-TV movie, Double Double Toil and Trouble.
Back then, if it had anything to do with Full House, I was so there, and Double Double Toil and Trouble was no exception. The second of what would become a franchise of films for twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, it capitalized on the twins’ fame portraying youngest daughter Michelle on Full House.
So, if you’re looking to resurrect a cooky, retro piece of your past, give this movie another shot. It’s better than you might think.
Unearthing it recently, I was surprised how much I remembered — but even more how much I had overlooked. There’s more going on with its themes and character development than you’d expect from a TV movie starring two 7-year-olds.
It’s a tale of two sisters who learn their Great Aunt Agatha has trapped her own twin on the other side of a mirror and, on Halloween, set out to save their imprisoned Great Aunt Sophia. But the deeper story is about two sisters who are headed toward disaster and heartbreak, who have a choice to make — choose power or choose each other.
Some spoilers ahead:
Family and Sacrifice
Agatha and Sophia are tragic examples of a sisterhood and friendship torn apart by jealousy, greed, resentment, and spite. And their grandnieces — Lynn and Kelly — are headed down that same road, if something doesn’t set them off course. That something is a visit to Aunt Agatha’s house, and a meeting with a gravedigger.
In the film’s opening scenes, we see Lynn bullying Kelly, as sisters do, first loath to share a toy wand they win at a pumpkin-carving contest, and later suggesting Kelly get a nose job so they won’t look like twins anymore. If you watch, you’ll see how Lynn takes the lead at every opportunity, and Kelly lets her, shyly positioning herself two steps behind Lynn any time they’re on equal footing with the adults of the film. But when the gravedigger tells them how Agatha used to bully Sophia too, and eventually stopped sharing anything with her sister, Lynn makes her first step toward progress — and hands the wand to Kelly.
“Here, you hold this for awhile.”
The wand changes hands at least two more times in the film, symbolic not only of the “magic of love” but also of the magic that threatens to stand between Kelly and Lynn if they end up repeating the fate of their great aunts — who sought to wish away all that made them alike, using a magical Moonstone rumored to be hidden in the depths of their centuries-old home. Agatha finds the Moonstone, but keeps it for herself.
Lynn’s journey toward humility — and humanity — is intriguing, and best illustrated at the climax when she’s confronted with Agatha’s offer to share the Moonstone’s power, in exchange for throwing Kelly into the mirror with Sophia.
Mirrors and Opposites
Normally, when you look at a mirror, you’re confronted with yourself (literally and figuratively), but by banishing her twin into the mirror, Agatha has made it so she never has to confront herself or her evil choices. She might think this is a plus, but instead, whenever she looks in the mirror, she’s confronted with Sophia — a representation of the sort of person Agatha might be, if she were to choose love over power.
Clothing also tells its own story in this film. Agatha and Sophia are dressed as opposites — Agatha in black to reflect her black heart and dark magic, and Sophia in white to reflect her purity. Kelly and Lynn, however, take on mirror images — Kelly with a red shirt and blue jacket, and Lynn with a blue shirt and red jacket. The girls complain their parents dress them “alike,” but when they look at each other, each is confronted with who she might be — as well as what makes each of them different.
It’s the sort of moment of reflection each of us might have anytime we consult a mirror or consider our reflection in the eyes of our friends. We see ourselves for how we are (and maybe wish we weren’t), but also for how we might be.
‘Show me the money’
Wealth and power are clearly motivators throughout this story. In the opening, the twins are accumulating prizes during a Halloween fair. The necessity of money motivates their mother to confront her estranged Aunt Agatha for a loan; it motivates a 50-something homeless man to accompany two 7-year-old girls on a quest; and it certainly motivates Aunt Agatha to hunt down her grandnieces with ideas of potentially murdering them. (Yeah, it’s a family film, but it has its dark moments.)
Everyone in this story is fighting for what they believe to be theirs, like a tug-of-war of assets. The Farmers are fighting the bank for control of their house. The twins fight Agatha for control of the Moonstone. Mr. N. hopes to surreptitiously obtain the Moonstone for himself. (Though it’s unclear how. Maybe he hopes the girls will relinquish it once they save their aunt, or, perhaps in Hans Solo fashion, he hopes for a hefty reward in helping them to their goal.)
Still, the wealth portrayed isn’t only material. It takes on a second meaning in the love and sacrifice the characters show for each other. As Aunt Agatha sneers at one point, it’s “the moral of the story.”
Gravediggers, Peddlers, and Clowns, oh my!
Not a theme, exactly, but it’s clear this movie is based on The Wizard of Oz.
Beware of spoilers:
- Kelly and Lynn Farmer (Dorothy, the Kansas farm girl.)
- Aunt Agatha (the Wicked Witch of the West)
- Aunt Sophia — not apparently a witch, but still representative of “good witch” Glinda
- Also, since the two are sisters, Agatha’s imprisoning Sophia within the house is like the Wicked Witch dropping a house on her own sister.
- The girls’ dog, Norman, gets them in trouble with Agatha at the beginning, like Toto gets Dorothy in trouble with the mean old neighbor (whom Dorothy calls a witch.)
- The girls run away, like Dorothy does.
- The girls get “help” from a charlatan psychic, as Dorothy meets a traveling mystic. Both use crystal balls.
- A recession threatens the Farmers’ house and livelihood, as a tornado threatens Dorothy’s.
- As Dorothy’s house flies her to Oz, the twins’ house “sends” them on their journey, so they can save their house from foreclosure.
- Dorothy takes a “rainbow” and the Yellow Brick Road to Oz; the girls cross a bridge to start their journey.
- Mr. N, the first friend the twins meet, has delusions of grandeur (or at least wealth), as the Scarecrow dreams of status gained through knowledge. Mr. N is later transfigured into a crow.
- Oscar the Clown, their second friend, is searching for acceptance, or “heart.” He lives isolated from society in the middle of the woods, like the Tinman rusting in the forest.
- Mr. Gravedigger, their third friend, is very much a Cowardly Lion.
- The girls are seeking Agatha’s Moonstone, as Dorothy is tasked with stealing the witch’s broom.
- The Moonstone is emerald colored, a shout out to Emerald City.
- All are seeking their prizes to help (and gain the favor of) a presence not physically present — Sophia on the other side of a mirror, and the Wizard of Oz projected by “the man behind the curtain.”
- Along the way, Kelly is kidnapped by Agatha and her butler, as Dorothy is taken by flying monkeys to the witch.
- Agatha also sends her ilk after the girls, as the Wicked Witch sends her soldiers.
- Sophia tells Lynn the Moonstone will protect her from Agatha’s magic. Like Dorothy’s ruby slippers keep her safe from the Wicked Witch’s magic.
- There’s a countdown to midnight, when Agatha’s spell on Sophia will become permanent — like how the witch’s hourglass counts down to when Dorothy will die.
- Once Agatha is defeated, the green Moonstone melts, drained of its magic, like the Wicked Witch melts. And the butler (revealed to be Sophia’s fiance) is freed from his spell, as the Wicked Witch’s soldiers are freed from having to serve her.
- The girls thank each of their new friends, who are welcomed by Sophia as family — much how Dorothy thanks the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion, whose Kansas representatives are later seen crowded around her bed — like extended family.
- The twins learn they had the “magic words” within them all along, as Dorothy learns she had the power all along to go home.
Renewed in Death
Despite how fun this film is, I think what I like most is what us writers call the false “all is lost” moment, which in this film is at the end of Act II. It’s the hero’s most seemingly desperate moment, when she’s lost everything and is worse off now than at the beginning.
This weight of defeat falls on Lynn when she learns her sister’s been captured. She realizes her faults and becomes willing to change.
“Oscar, I haven’t been very nice to Kelly lately. We’ve never been apart. I bet she’s scared, and I’m not there to tell her it’s OK,” Lynn says.
This moment has all the factors of a good “all is lost” moment — even what screenwriter Blake Snyder called the “black moment,” when someone usually dies, or our hero goes through a “death” of the old way of thinking. This movie has both. Though no one technically dies, Mr. N is made less than human when Agatha transfigures him into a crow.
Here, also, Lynn’s old way of thinking dies: At the beginning, she wanted to be rid of her twin. Now, she’s launching a rescue mission to get her sister back.