Twins in Media: The Parent Trap (1961)

Screenshot from “The Parent Trap” (1961), starring Hayley Mills. Copyright of Walt Disney Productions.

Hey! Hallie here!

If we’re going to talk about “The Parent Trap” we need to talk about the original movie. I’d heard a lot about this movie going into it. This definitely isn’t the first adaptation of this story. There are so many versions. SO MANY. But this is the one that the Lindsay Lohan version remade, and the one that popularized the song “Let’s Get Together”. The story of this one is pretty much the same as the Lindsay Lohan movie with only slight differences. However, most of these differences come from the twins, in this Sharon and Susie, and the way they’re portrayed. So let’s look into these girls and see how they hold up next to their 1998 counterparts.

The Bad:

  • Same actress. This trend is always going to bug me, but I don’t think it’s ever bothered me as much as it did in this movie. It can’t be stressed enough that twins don’t look exactly the same. Not even identical ones. So not only is one actress playing two characters instantly eyebrow raising for me, but it puts a major responsibility on the shoulders of the actress, director, and even writers. How do you make sure the audience can tell the difference between these two characters? Well, in this movie, they can’t. At the beginning of the movie it’s stressed that Sharon speaks and holds herself more properly as a result of her upbringing, while Susie uses more slang and bites her nails. That’s something to work with! Unfortunately, their speech patterns and mannerisms are lost as the movie goes on. The actress acts like the same person in both roles, and even has a constant habit of licking and biting her bottom lip that is prevalent in the film regardless of which character she’s playing. There’s even one scene where both twins are sitting on a bed and one starts biting her nails, only for someone to refer to her as Sharon. So apparently both Sharon AND Susie bite their nails now. Needless to say, I was very confused. As you can probably tell, this bothered me a lot, but I’ll stop ranting and move on.
  • Impersonation. This is going to be the same in both movies because it’s the whole idea behind the movie’s plot. I can count on one hand the amount of twins I know who pulled this move on purpose. The reason twins don’t really do this is because most twins aren’t separated at birth. Surprising right? We don’t really have the opportunity to switch places in any sort of satisfying way. We’re too busy spending most of our time trying to help people tell us apart so we can be seen as individual people. Trust me, most twins would find more satisfaction in you knowing the difference between them than they would in pranking you by pretending to be their sibling.
  • Different but the same. This trope kind of does the same thing as the Separated at Birth trope in this movie. Both use extremes to try to highlight the differences between the twins. I have such a love/hate relationship with this trope. It is very effective at making the twins completely different characters, but takes everything way too far. The twins must have completely different tastes in everything for their differences to be obvious. My sister and I have very different personalities, but also enjoy a lot of the same things. The remake avoids this trope by showing that both girls have similar interests while at camp. In this movie they only share an interest in pranks.
  • Mischievous twins. This one hits a bit harder than the Lindsay Lohan remake. The personalities of the twins are dropped about halfway through this movie in favor of giving the parents more screen time. Because of that, being mischievous actually does become both of their personalities. Suddenly their characters are only fun because they’re twins and tricking their parents, not because of the individual traits that were brought up earlier in the movie. It had potential at the beginning at least.
  • Psychic connection. At the beginning of this movie there’s a whole scene where Sharon says her mom tells her she’s psychic because she gets goosebumps when something big is about to happen. After that happens, both Sharon and Susie get goosebumps at the same time. Ummm no. Just no. That’s all I have to say about that.

The Good:

  • Not the same person. I mentioned some of the tropes they accidentally fall into while attempting this, but I can’t deny that it’s here. Sharon and Susie are presented as two very different people. Two people so different that they don’t get along at first. They come from different areas, have different definitions of what’s fun or what’s polite, and don’t have the same tastes. Susie has a moment where she’s trying to explain her favorite stars to Sharon, and Sharon hasn’t even heard of them. (As a side note, Sharon is from Boston in this adaptation and she’s treated like she lives under a rock, which I found kind of hilarious.) I’ll give credit where credit is due. Creating two distinct characters for twins instead of one is always a major plus.
  • Observant housekeeper. So the parents are as bad as ever in this version and the Grandfather only realizes something is wrong after listening in on Sharon and Susie’s phone call. Not great. Verbena, however, is a gem. Verbena is the original Chessy, and she is just as observant of a character. When Sharon pretends to be Susie and becomes instantly distant from Verbina, she not only notices, but also notices her change in personality. Verbina figures out the difference because she knows the difference, and for that she gets my respect.
  • Different lives. Welcome to another plus of the Separated at Birth trope. Susie and Sharon have different people in their lives who they care about in different ways. They don’t even make the same friends at camp. It’s pretty much the same as the 1998 movie, but I appreciate it anyway. This coming from a twin who is in the same friend group as my sister and chose the same college major for the last two years of college, we STILL don’t live the same life. We have different relationships with our friends and different goals we want to reach. It’s nice to see that twin characters can have different goals and relationships, even if it’s within the most extreme situation you could possibly imagine.

So how do Susie and Sharon hold up? They kind of hang out in the middle. The tropes that they suffer from aren’t great, but they aren’t as harmful as some other tropes we’ve covered before. The intent to write two separate characters is there and appreciated. I did list more bad traits than good, but there’s nothing about them I find as offensive as how the actress portrayed the two, which is more inconsistent than bad. They aren’t anywhere near a great representation of twins, but I appreciate that this movie set a precedent for future movies of the same nature. I’ve seen Separated at Birth done as a story about two people who coincidentally have the same lives because Twins! and Fate! but “The Parent Trap” has made this content less popular. For that I’m grateful.

Don’t do anything fun until I get back!

Hallie

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