mother gothel tangled

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Mother Gothel (Tangled)

Origin: Tangled (2010)

I love this movie. The villain is uncharacteristically sympathetic, at least as far as Disney villains go. She’s not overtly consumed with hatred or greed. There’s other facets to her, like her sarcasm and witchery. Also, she looks like Andie McDowell.

I also love the fact that the final battle is not the man fighting the villainness. It’s woman versus woman, like women fight, using words, promises, character to back themselves up, instead of a sword through the chest.

Motivation: Mother Gothel wants to stay young and beautiful. She used to be fine with a magical flower, but then the king screwed that up. I do like that the good guys are the one to set actions in motion, even inadvertently. Nevertheless, it means she has to kidnap the queen’s daughter to keep being hot (well, as hot as someone who looks like Julia Louis-Dreyfus can be).

That begs the question: why? Why does she want to stay young and beautiful? She’s not trying to nab a husband. She’s not adored by millions of fans. She’s not a beauty queen.  Is she sleeping with someone every time she goes out? What will happen if she doesn’t stay youthful? Is the psychosis of her vanity that deep?

Character Strengths: Gothel’s pretty charming. She’s funny, sharp-tongued, blithely acerbic. And she can put on a nice dance number. Like a lot of female Disney villains, she preys on the young’s ignorance/innocence. Gothel uses scare tactics and lies to keep Rapunzel from straying. She’s a little bit evil stepmother and a little bit Lilith from Cheers (I thought she was actually voiced by Bebe Neuwirth at first).

Evilness: This is one of the most passive-aggressive villains I’ve ever seen. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also means she’s not very threatening to me. However, she’s very threatening to Rapunzel.  She’s consumed with her own desires and betraying the woman caring for her for eighteen years. Anyone who has parents knows that guilt, that obligation to be a good child (or maybe it’s just me).

I’m not much for teasing.  And I think living with those mixed messages (“Look in that mirror. I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. Oh, look, you’re here too.”) would drive me nuts. Plus, once her secret’s discovered, she has no problem moving Rapunzel from the protective ward department to shackled, bread-and-water prisoner section.

Tools: Besides Gothel’s sharp tongue, her only real tool is magic. And like a lot of witches in fantasy stories (Disney most definitely included) magic works the way it does when it needs to. How does she get the youth spell working in the first place? Why does it get transferred to the baby once it’s eaten by the mother? Why does it backfire when Rapunzel’s hair get cut? Where is all her other magic? There’s no apparent rules.

More of her ability comes from being in the right place at the right time — she runs into Maximus, despite the woods being huge, which clues her that Rapunzel may be discovered. In the same forest, she stumbles across “The Snuggly Duckling” just when they’re revealing their plot. She runs into the Beagle Boys Stabbington brothers, just the people she needs to lure Rapunzel back to her.

Complement to the Hero: There’s two protagonists in this story, but I’ll use Rapunzel as the complement, even though Flynn’s the storyteller. They’re two sides of the same coin. One’s blond, one’s raven-haired. One’s experienced, one’s wide-eyed innocent. One’s got a vicious sense of the humor, the other’s whimsically silly. One’s immature for her age, and the other is responsible despite her youth. However, Rapunzel could not have turned into Gothel if the situations were reversed. Gothel is selfish and vain from the get-go, and Rapunzel is the quintessential, noble, self-sacrificing hero.

Fatal Flaw: Least points for this one. The only thing Gothel does wrong is that she doesn’t trust Rapunzel enough or overtrusts Flynn. She never expects that Flynn would sacrifice his life for her. Perhaps because she’s been egocentric so long she can’t conceive of unselfishness or love. Which is kind of convenient (see The Evil Overlord List).

Method of Defeat/Death: After Gothel stabs Flynn in the back, Rapunzel promises to stay with Gothel forever, if she lets her heal him. Eager to gain a willing prisoner instead of a potential escapee on which she’d need to maintain constant vigilance, she agrees. When she approaches him, Flynn surreptitiously cuts off all her hair with a shard of glass, destroying the fountain hairdo of youth.

Gothel freaks out, then starts aging rapidly for some reason, twists around confusingly for some reason, and falls out of a window for some reason. In traditional Disney Villain Death, all we see left of her, from very high up, are some dried bones and a cloak.

Final Rating: 4 stars

Cobra Bubbles (Lilo & Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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