Friday, June 19, 2015

WBI: Mother Gothel

In the way of variety, there isn’t much: we’re doing Disney Villains twice in a row. Lucky for you, Disney knows how to write some variety. We’re doing one of my favorite Lone Wolves today, folks: Mother Gothel, from Tangled.

via Wikipedia
Gothel longs for eternal youth and beauty, but when her anti-aging product is downed by the dying queen, she takes the child born of the flower as her own ward. However, when the girl skips town on her eighteenth birthday, Mother Gothel does everything in her power to get her precious flower back.

WBI Profile

Classification :: Σ3567&@
Role :: Lone Wolf (autonomous villain)
Motivation :: insanity/psychology (fear of aging/dying), lifestyle (dependence on flower), desperation (imminent death), personal/material gain (complete control of the flower’s power)
Bonus :: family ties (Rapunzel), name (Gothel)

A Study

not cruel—it’s worth noting that her original plan was not to kidnap Rapunzel, but merely take all that she needed to stay young; she isn’t hurtful for the sake of causing pain, but her ends justify her means

selfish—also, her biggest fear was sharing any of Rapunzel’s power with anyone, which says a lot about her

manipulative—her entire persuasive arsenal is used to convince Rapunzel that she’s not strong or smart or pretty enough to make it outside her tower, and it works

mean—suggesting that Rapunzel is not a strong, confident, beautiful young lady is just unkind; admittedly, Rapunzel’s low self-esteem is part of what keeps her monopoly on Rapunzel’s hair

intelligent—she can follow Rapunzel across the country and make tactical decisions about her next move, which sounds pretty intelligent to me

threatening—sometimes she draws a knife on a guy because she doesn’t have time to play the sexy wench

bargaining—other times she manipulates henchmen into joining her using her voice and the promise of her own daughter; she reads people very well

driven—Gothel repeatedly shows there’s nothing she wouldn’t do for youth and beauty; I don’t know how she knocked out those two henchmen, but obviously she packed some power in that punch

helpless—without Rapunzel’s power, she can’t stop aging, and we see that in the end, she doesn’t have much self-esteem either; without her youth, she is nothing

mostly dead—although she’s the only Disney villain to die a natural death, I think she will end up having a longer lasting impact on Rapunzel than any other villain does on any other princess; instead of a whirlwind week where everything goes wrong, this is a relationship of put-downs and servitude that lasted eighteen years!

(So, let’s all just take a moment and be grateful that even though Eugene has his faults, he is definitely not the kind of guy who is going to belittle or objectify Rapunzel and will probably be a vital component in empowering and encouraging her after so many years of psychological damage.)

Big Idea

scale the attachment—I have to imagine that after eighteen years Mother Gothel would have some affection for Rapunzel and even enjoy her maternal role. However, as much as she likes Rapunzel, her number one priority is and always shall be her youth and beauty. The end.

study manipulation—it’s a kid’s movie, so they don’t over-emphasize it too much, but Mother Gothel studies people like books and has a great power over them because of it. Whether it’s psychological sucker-punches to Rapunzel’s self-esteem or using a knife or her body or bribery or whatever, she knows exactly how to get what she wants depending on who she needs to get it from.

fine, now I’m the bad guy—as I mentioned, Mother Gothel isn’t unnecessarily cruel. Her ends always justify her means, but she doesn’t make Rapunzel’s life miserable. She could have raised her in an underwater grotto where she had no friends and no hope; however, until Rapunzel really showed signs of rebellion she was content to give Rapunzel freedom and kindness. Only when Rapunzel herself was getting in the way of Gothel’s youth and beauty did she finally become cruel and physically hurtful to her charge.

Also, can we just have a shout-out for Donna Murphy’s singing? BECAUSE IT IS GREAT THAT IS ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW. (Fun story: My parents and I watched this movie on our last vacation (all of my younger sisters didn’t want to) and I was able to give them a short bio of each of the three main characters’ actors as well as the full bridge of “I’ve Got a Dream” despite only just hearing the song for the first time in months during the movie. My parents I think were a little impressed and a little bewildered.)

So, as a villain song I love “Mother Knows Best,” to be honest, I really, really adore the reprise because she’s just so much more emotional and manipulative and it feels evil more than anything and ohoho, it is just mastery.

How did you feel about Mother Gothel as a villain? Would you ever write, or have you ever written, a character like her?


  1. OMG. I love your description of Mother Gothel. "her anti-aging product is downed by the dying queen." Put that way, it does sound rather rude of the queen. XD And now that you mention it, Mother Gothel is manipulative of everyone, not just Rapunzel. She does a great job of it, too -- obviously gimmicked all the towers' candles for her dramatic singing. (Which is fabulous, I mean, but unrealistic.) :P

    1. XD Well, I thought I'd be true to the spirit of Disney and put a little humor in my day. I really like seeing her manipulative side! It shows how determined she is. And yeah, she does have those candles on her side, but in the original myth she was a witch, so maybe she has mini-powers?

  2. We can never have enough Disney around here, Heather. I love how insightful your analysis of Mother Gothel is. She is definitely one of the most manipulative Disney villains out there, which makes her extremely despicable. At the same time, however, there were times where I felt almost bad for her. Like you said, she has low self esteem, and that's kind of sad. The best villains are the ones that make you feel conflicted, for sure, and Disney knows how to do that.

    1. Well then, no one will mind when I get around to posting Judge Claude Frollo, then! I like thinking of her as despicable, manipulative, and totally sympathetic. Like, in a way, she's just a woman who is trying to hold on to her womanhood, and she can't. I'd love to see more conflicted villains out there!

  3. True, true, and true. I like Mother Gothel as a villain because she's not just evil for the sake of being evil, and like you said, she's a lone wolf. She doesn't need incompetent henchmen to constantly belittle; she only involves others when they can serve her purpose.

    Of course, as a person she's despicable. But I love her character!

    1. Exactly! She has a very strict motivation behind her choices as a villain, and she wants nothing more or less than what she wants. I mean, she does kind of take the Stabbington brothers as her henchmen, but beyond them, there's not as much to them. Thanks for reading, Ally!

  4. Mother Gothel is a fantastic villain. I loved your analysis of her (also..."anti ageing product" :')). She wasn't cruel until she had to be, she did things for her own personal gain and I think that was one of her defining characteristics. She was nice to Rapunzel until there was a chance she'd leave her, you're right. :)

    1. XD I'm glad you liked it, and her character! She didn't set out to be the bad guy, and I think that makes her one of the more special Disney villains. She was concerned with one goal, not hurtfulness.

  5. This is awesome, Heather. I love disney (and the rest of my family doesn't....) and this analysis was great. she's a really interesting character and I'm glad you explored her in this way

    1. I'm sorry the rest of your family doesn't like Disney... :( You're among Disney friends here, though! Thanks for reading, Shanti!

  6. Mother Gothel is definitely over manipulative. It's scary. Especially scary that at first she doesn't seem that bad, but as the movie progresses, you get to see her. I love the way you analyze her character.

    1. She's totally scary, but they ease us into that fact, which helps make this one of my favorite Disney movies. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  7. I think she's a geunine villain, and I like that. It's not always the way with villains but here is someone who is manipulative and she really emotionally harms Rapunzel and that is so real, and until today I'd never really thought of that aspect of it. I can imagine, if there were a sequel (I think there's going to be a TV show?), the life 'punzel led and the memory of her "mother" would have been really emotionally traumatic for her.
    Also, I didn't know she was the only Disney villain to die a natural death, so there's an interesting bonus for me.

    1. She's definitely a villain, especially because she doesn't care about the damage she does to Rapunzel or to anybody else. I've heard that there's going to be a TV show too, and although I'm not sure if they're going to address the aftermath of Gothel's influence, I definitely think it would remain present.

      And yes! She's (so far) the only villain to die a natural death, although she prolonged it for quite a while.


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