“You want me to be the bad guy? Fine. Now I’m the bad guy.”
Imagine this scenario: Your mother took care of you for eighteen years, shielding you from the perils of the outside world, and then suddenly binds and gags you, threatening you with a knife. Well, that’s exactly what happens with Rapunzel, the star of Disney’s 2010 film Tangled. Does it sound dark and creepy? Well, yes. Because it actually is. Mother Gothel is one of a few Disney villains who are two-faced and malicious, using little but their wits to get their work done.
First of all, her age. Apparently Gothel is centuries old. That’s a lot. To stay young all those years, she used the magic of a golden flower as her personal fountain of youth. When the flower is cut and its powers transferred to the infant princess Rapunzel, what does Gothel do? She kidnaps the girl, raising her away from the kingdom, locked in a tower so that she can never escape. For eighteen years, Gothel has tricked Rapunzel into believing that she is locked in the tower for her own protection, using the magic of her hair. The creepy part is, Rapunzel actually thinks Gothel is her mother. Every time she calls her “mother”, you can’t help but feel sick.
Gothel certainly looks the part of the motherly villain. She isn’t outwardly evil-looking, unlike baddies like Ursula and Maleficent. One could say that (for her age) she actually looks good. She has intricately detailed hair, a slim and curvy figure, and expressions that could easily fool people.
Gothel is desperate to remain young forever, so much so that she goes to extreme lengths (pun not intended) to keep Rapunzel with her. When Rapunzel escapes, a mania takes over Gothel, who scours the kingdom to get the girl back.
Unlike most animated villains, Gothel does not have sorcery or magic powers to aid her. She only relies on her wits and powers of manipulation to get her way. Everyone, from Rapunzel to the Stabbington Brothers, and even the pub’s resident drunkard, is controlled by her at some point. Quite scary for someone who doesn’t have magic. Gothel’s powers of domination are brilliantly displayed through her signature song “Mother Knows Best” (equally powerfully delivered by Broadway star Donna Murphy).
One of Gothel’s signature characteristics is sugarcoating insults. She will sweetly tell Rapunzel that she takes too long to pull her up. Then she insults her point-blank (“Oh look, you’re here too”) only to pass off her words as playful banter. It’s a twisted little quirk that Gothel excels at.
Unlike in Frozen, we know who the villain in Tangled is, right from the start. We know it’s Gothel and we love to hate her and see her at work. It’s up to Rapunzel to figure it out for herself. When Gothel captures Rapunzel and takes her back to the tower, later binding her with chains (what!?), you see a side of Gothel that is desperate and heartless. You’d think after raising a girl as your daughter for eighteen years, Gothel would actually develop a soft spot in her heart for Rapunzel. But no. She is willing to tie her up forever and continue using her hair. Now that’s heartless.
Mother Gothel is a rather different Disney villain. She’s never flamboyant about herself or her plans. She prefers to keep things low scale and as blood-free as possible (well, except for Flynn). One can only imagine the damage she’d be capable of if she could use magic. Gothel may not be the most popular Disney villain, nor the most memorable, but she’s still a menacing presence and a worthy nemesis that we all love to hate.