Mother Gothel

February 14, 2011

"Mother knows best!"

Once upon a time, a childless couple lived beside an enchantress who owned a garden. The wife, who was pregnant, coveted the enchantress’ rampions so much that her husband stole some for her. Eventually the enchantress caught him and threatened punishment but the man asked to be spared. In exchange for her absolution, the man gave away his wife’s child at—oh what’s the point.

Rapunzel by Walter Crane, circa 1899 (via National Geographic)

Disney always reworks anything by Grimm anyway. In 2010’s Tangled, their long-gestating Rapunzel movie, the wife was a dying queen whose condition could only be cured by a magical flower. A very old woman has tended the flower in hiding for hundreds of years, her youth preserved by its power. With the help of his scouts, the king was able to procure the flower, saving the queen who went on to sire a baby girl. But then the old woman spirited away the child, who somehow inherited the flower’s magic, and has since raised it as her own.

That old woman is Gothel, and she is not your average Disney villain. She has all the ruthless vanity of Snow White’s stepmother, but only insofar as she wants to look youthful, not a beauty queen title. She has all the overprotectiveness of Judge Claude Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, only insofar as she wants to live forever, not purge Europe of vice and sin.

Indeed, Gothel could pass for any loving mother and seems intent to stay that way—so long as Rapunzel stays locked up in a tower for all time. Or she may just be biding her time until Rapunzel realizes she has more wrinkles than her “mother.” 

Gothel’s hold on Rapunzel is equal parts physical and emotional. She is quick to lay guilt trips on Rapunzel when the latter tries to venture out of prison home. “Mother knows best,” Gothel sings with the pipes of Tony-winning actress Donna Murphy. 

Donna Murphy is the voice of Mother Gothel

Her song is a virtually more affectionate version of Frollo’s “Out There.” 

In spite of it all, Gothel somehow believes she isn’t doing anything evil. To her, stealing someone else’s child and manipulating it to her ends do not a “bad guy” make.

Disney brainstormed intensively to create the animated equivalent of a nip-and-tuck-crazy villain.  

Images via Squidoo and MouseSteps

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