Mother Gothel: In the Proud Tradition of Disney Villains

Before I start this entry, I just want to warn that there might be some spoilers, read at your own risk...

In a Los Angeles Times article mainly discussing the thought process behind the music in Tangled, composer Alan Menken also discusses Mother Gothel as the villain:

For all its swift cuts and witty banter, "Tangled," says Menken, is obviously a Disney creation in many ways, right down to its potentially frightening villain.

"The whole creation of this movie I was concerned whether or not young audiences could absorb Mother Gothel as a Disney villain, or whether she will she just induce nightmares," Menken says. "She’s such a dangerously manipulative woman.

"But Disney films were dark," Menken continues. "They were always dark. You have people saying that Disney means light and for kids, and it does not mean that at all. It means fantasy and storytelling on a very classic level. It appeals to kids, but Disney can be very adult at its core."

There is something very dark about Mother Gothel and I noticed a very viceral reaction amongst young children in the theater when we discover Mother Gothel's fate. But, what is it about Mother Gothel that makes her so dark?

I wondered if perhaps it was because she actually stabs someone in the film. But, Gaston stabs the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and he didn't seem nearly as terrifying as Mother Gothel. Of course, there's something less threatening than somebody portrayed as a narcisistic brute than a mother figure with ulterior motives.

It's not the first time we've seen an evil mother figure. Disney's first animated feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, of course, had a wicked stepmother in the form of the Wicked Queen and Cinderella had the sinister Lady Tremaine.

But, I think what differentiates Mother Gothel from the Wicked Queen and Lady Tremaine is that the Wicked Queen and Lady Tremaine never really pretend to love their step daughters. They are mean and cruel from the beginning. While we understand from the beginning that Rapunzel is not really the daughter of Mother Gothel, she is also really the only mother figure we see relating to her during the bulk of the film. And, while there is this inherent dark side to her, she interacts with Rapunzel as if she does care for her. She makes Rapunzel think that everything she does she does to protect her. So, we can see why Rapunzel does have some level of love for Mother Gothel.

And, while I do not wish to speak unkindly of mothers, I think many people can relate to some of the emotional manipulation going on by Mother Gothel, especially in the "Mother Knows Best" numbers. In fact, I believe that I read the line "getting kind of chubby" was included after one of the creative team mentioned his wife's mother saying it. So, there's something very real about Mother Gothel as well.

Whatever the case might be, I like the darkness of Mother Gothel and think she makes a great villain to join the Disney family (of villains). I hope that the Disney Parks eventually make her available as a character to meet-and-greet with. I can see her having some wonderfully fun and nasty interations with guests in the same way we've seen with the Wicked Queen, Cruella de Vil and Lady Tremaine. Meeting Disney Villains in the park is just as popular as meeting the heroes. Tangled being the biggest non-Pixar animated film and it being the 50th Animated Motion Picture, I think it deserves letting its villain come alive in the parks.

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