The more I look at Tangled (2010), the more I’m reminded of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996). Think about it, both feature protagonists who are locked away from the world “for their own safety.” Both Rapunzel and Quasimodo are told categorically that the outside world is cruel and dangerous and that if they were to ever venture out, they (i.e. Frollo and Mother Gothel) would not be able to protect them. And speaking of Mother Gothel, wow, she is surely the female version of Frollo, if ever such a thing existed. If there’s one thing I can appreciate in any Disney film, it’s a good villain, and Mother Gothel is close to the top of my list of villains I love to hate. She is a master of blending sweet talk with put downs and threats. All of this is highlighted in “Mother Knows Best.”
Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) doesn’t know it, but she’s actually the long-lost Princess of the Kingdom of Corona (whose palace is located on the edge of sight from the tower in which she and her “mother” live.) Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) kidnapped Rapunzel when she was a toddler because the magic flower she was using to continually restore her youth was taken to help save the life of Rapunzel’s mother, and when the princess was born the magic power was transferred to Rapunzel’s hair (this is why it can never be cut, if it were, the magic power would fade away instantly). For the most part, Rapunzel has been content to live in the tower, free to paint all over the walls, master cooking, and basically do whatever Mother Gothel tells her, but now that she’s into her late teens, she (naturally) wants to explore outside the tower. She especially wants to go see the “magic lights” that appear once a year in the distant city (not knowing that the lights are a memorial to their missing princess). On her birthday, Rapunzel summons up the courage to ask Mother Gothel if she can leave the tower, just for a little bit, and Mother Gothel isn’t happy at all (she knows Rapunzel would likely be recognized on the spot if she went into the city, that’s why she’s been in the tower all this time), and decides Rapunzel needs some reminding about how the world “really” works.
Mother Gothel lists a variety of bad things that can happen in the outside world:
“Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals and snakes,
The plague!! (also) Large bugs and men with pointy teeth”
And when that doesn’t quite do the trick, Gothel goes to the old Disney standby of putting down the hero/heroine and making them feel weak and insecure:
“On your own you won’t survive…gullible, naive, positively grubby, ditzy and a bit…vague
Plus…gettin’ kinda chubby (author’s note: low blow Gothel!!)
And in case there was any doubt that Gothel was a real monster of a villain, she ends the song with a simple (if chilling) request: “Don’t ever ask to leave this tower, again…Don’t forget it, you’ll regret it, Mother Knows Best!”
Of course, when the villain makes a threat like that, you just know that SOMETHING is going to happen to cause Rapunzel to leave the tower now, that something being a someone named Flynn Rider (but that’s a story for another time).
“Mother Knows Best” was written by the incomparable Alan Menken (I think I will be beside myself when he eventually passes away), with the lyrics created by Glenn Slater. The song is deliberately done in the style of musical theater (at the request of the director) and is considered by many to be the best song in the film. It definitely stands on the same level as older songs performed by Disney villains (I’m thinking of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” in particular). I have to say, Donna Murphy turns in a brilliant performance as Mother Gothel, in fact I’m almost upset that the character *spoiler alert* doesn’t survive the end of the film because I’d have loved to see her performance as Gothel continue.
What do you think of Tangled? Does Mother Gothel rank among the best Disney villains or what? Hope you enjoy listening to “Mother Knows Best.” Have a good Tuesday! -Bex
*all images are the property of Walt Disney Studios
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