Mother Gothel is a fictional character who appears in Walt Disney Pictures' 50th animated feature film Tangled (2010) as the main antagonist. The character is voiced by American actress and singer Donna Murphy in her voice-acting debut, prior to which she was predominantly known as a stage actress. Upon learning from her agent that Disney was auditioning potentials for the antagonistic role of Mother Gothel, Murphy decided to audition for the part spontaneously. Loosely based on the witch character in the German fairy tale "Rapunzel", Mother Gothel is a vain old woman who hoards the healing powers of a magical flower in order to remain young and beautiful forever. When the flower is suddenly harvested by the kingdom in order to heal its ailing queen, its rejuvenating powers are inherited by the king and the queen's daughter, Princess Rapunzel, stripping Gothel of her access to it. With her life suddenly endangered, Gothel kidnaps the baby, imprisoning the young Princess Rapunzel in an isolated tower for eighteen years while masquerading as her mother.
Mother Gothel as she appears in Tangled (2010).
|First appearance||Tangled (2010)|
|Voiced by||Donna Murphy|
|Children||Rapunzel (foster daughter)|
Inspired by the Evil Queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Lady Tremaine in Disney's Cinderella (1950), Gothel was developed by directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard into a much more complex villain than the fairy tale witch upon whom she is based because the character is forced to rely solely on her wit, charisma and intelligence as opposed to sorcery in order to survive. The film's most difficult character to develop, Gothel's exotic appearance, whose beauty, dark curly hair and voluptuous figure were deliberately drawn to serve as a foil to Rapunzel's, was inspired by both Murphy and American singer Cher.
Mother Gothel has been mostly well received by film critics, who enjoyed the character's humor, complexity, charisma and showmanship, dubbing her a scene stealer, while praising Murphy's performance enthusiastically. However, some critics felt that Gothel was simply too passive – a weaker, less intimidating Disney villainess than Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty (1959) and Cruella de Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961).
Walt Disney himself first attempted to adapt the fairy tale "Rapunzel" into a feature-length animated film during the 1940s. However, the filmmaker's efforts were never fully realized because the fairy tale was considered too "small". In 2008, co-directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard decided to enlarge the film's scale in order to transform it into a "big event" in order for it to be successful. Meanwhile, the character Mother Gothel was developed into a much more complex villain than the witch upon whom she is based, conceiving her as "a very lonely woman who really did not know how to have a relationship of any kind". Little else had been determined about the character at the time, who was simply described as "the type of woman who ... envisioned herself in the spotlight." A departure from traditional Disney villains, Mother Gothel is not a witch or a sorceress. Because she lacks supernatural and magical powers, the character is forced to rely solely on her wit, charm, intellect and charisma, a conscious decision made by Greno and Howard. However, in the Brothers Grimm's original fairy tale, Gothel is very much depicted as a typical witch-like character, an idea that was modified for the Disney film adaptation in favor of having Gothel's agelessness instead be "derive[d] ... from Rapunzel's hair."
Seeking inspiration for Gothel and Rapunzel's "bizarre" relationship, Greno and Howard conducted a series of interviews with several female Disney employees, asking them to list qualities in their mothers that "they found annoying and cloying or restricting", specifically "the things that their [sic] mothers would do that made them feel trapped or made them feel smothered" in order to make the villain appear more relatable. Gothel's "Mother Knows Best" line "Getting kind of chubby" was in fact borrowed from one of these interviews. Gothel embodies "the darker side" of overprotective parents; at the beginning of the film, Gothel and Rapunzel's relationship resembles more-so of "a pure mother-daughter relationship." Elaborating on Gothel's "unique mothering style", Howard explained to Den of Geek that the character "has to convince this smart girl that she is her mother ... whatever her motivations are." Citing Gothel as one of the film's most difficult characters to develop as a result of her complex relationship with Rapunzel, Greno explained to Den of Geek:
"Mother Gothel can't be mean. She has to be very passive-aggressive. She was one of the hardest characters to crack. When we were developing her, people were saying that she doesn't feel enough like a villain, and people would point to characters like Ursula. And then she was too dark for a while ... Because what you do with her directly affects how you play Rapunzel in the movie. Because, if you play an extremely dominant and cruel villain, that girl is going to become meek and downtrodden, with almost nothing of a person, with low self-esteem. And we knew we didn't want a character like that ... We had to balance it out, and figured that Gothel has to be more subtle than that, rather than a one-note, domineering mother."— Co-director Nathan Greno to Den of Geek.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press observed that Gothel represents "an update" of the traditional wicked stepmother, evolving into "the passive-aggressive stepmother" instead. In actress Donna Murphy's opinion, a "classic" villainess is "somebody who wants something with such intensity and such great need but comes to a place of not being bound by any kind of moral code or any sense of what’s ethical", concluding that "They will do anything to get what they want". The Austin Chronicle observed that the directors' inclusion of Gothel as "an evil mother figure as a trigger for the storyline" remains one of the "classic hallmarks of Disney animation". According to Kay Turner, author of the book Transgressive Tales: Queering the Grimms, "Gothel" means "godmother" in German.
The directors admitted that they were not keen on hiring solely big-named, A-list celebrities or top-billed actors to voice the film's main characters. Howard explained that, in order to be cast, the actors simply had to have the "right voice" for the characters, preferring voice actors "who could ... bring a natural ease to those characters." Greno elaborated, "It was never about how big the star was ... It was always about ... who’s best for the part". Film critic James Berardinelli of ReelViews observed that this decision echoed "Disney's approach during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when big name stars where often bypassed in favor of lesser known talents." An additional asset was that the actor be able to perform well both independently and collaboratively.
Mother Gothel is voiced by American actress and singer Donna Murphy, a Tony Award-winning Broadway actress who was informed about the casting call for Tangled by her agent. Having never voiced an animated character before, the actress decided to audition for the role of the film's villain based solely on the expectation that the unfamiliar experience would be "fun". Almost immediately, Murphy developed a strong liking towards Gothel because of the character's complexity. Known for her award-winning Broadway performances, Murphy prepared herself for her Tangled audition similar to the way in which the actress would have prepared for a Broadway audition. Refusing to rely solely on her voice, Murphy also provided Gothel with an additional background that "flush[ed] out the moments beyond what we see in the film." Although Greno and Howard had already held Murphy in high regard as "a spectacular singer", the actress was required to audition a song for the directors nonetheless, performing "Children Will Listen" from the musical Into the Woods. Howard revealed in an interview that Murphy was ultimately chosen out of hundreds of actresses because she possessed "something extra"; the directors especially enjoyed the charisma and intelligence Murphy brought to the role.
Growing up a fan of Disney films, Murphy had never wanted to play a princess, preferring characters who were adventurous and "drove the action" instead. In the actress' opinion, villains continue to be the most dynamic characters in Disney films. Describing the opportunity to voice a Disney villain as a "juicy" experience, Murphy explained that this is because these characters are "not bound by ethics or moral codes or concern for what someone thinks or how it might hurt someone else", providing actors with more freedom. Upon her first session, Murphy appreciated the directors for exposing her to early concepts and ideas about Gothel. However, Murphy was not provided with a complete script because "They’re very protective about that." Murphy was directed to lower the pitch of her voice in favor of demonstrating a rather "flat" sound. Although Murphy did not base her own performance on any one individual in particular, she admitted to Babble that she was somewhat inspired by Betty Lou Gerson's performance as Cruella de Vil in Disney's One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). Comparing voice acting to Broadway, Murphy commented that, in animation, "You’re recording and you’re discovering it and giving the performance all at the same time. It’s not like you have three weeks rehearsal." Additionally, Murphy never worked with co-star Mandy Moore, voice of Rapunzel; instead, Murphy revealed that scenes with Gothel and Rapunzel were actually recorded opposite one of the directors impersonating Moore, who also explained to Murphy that Gothel's design will continue to evolve as the character begins to adapt the actress' mannerisms. Howard enthused that Murphy "nailed" Gothel, admitting to ultimately using 90% of the actress' original material and takes because "The character just came right to life when she came in."
Characterization, design and analysisEdit
Convinced that "Disney does villains better than anyone," the directors felt pressured to create a villain who would ultimately "live up to the classic villains of [Disney's] past films." Greno and Howard wanted Gothel to be both a funny and frightening character, describing her as "a commanding and powerful presence ... who could also have warmth". Greno believes that Gothel is particularly scary because she is not a witch, explaining, "She's a real-world-type villain." Considered "one of the [film's] hardest characters to crack" by Greno, he and Howard wanted Gothel to be depicted as a conniving villain who is likeable and charismatic enough that audiences would be convinced by her and Rapunzel's unconventional relationship. Greno explained, "if Mother Gothel was a mean villainess, and looked like a villainess and acted scary, you'd be like, 'Why is Rapunzel staying in the tower?'" In early drafts, Gothel was inspired by Ursula from The Little Mermaid (1989), causing the character to become "too dark." Ultimately, the filmmakers voted in favor of having Gothel be subtle as opposed to having her remain "a one-note, domineering mother," similar to Lady Tremaine, Cinderella's cruel stepmother, from Disney's Cinderella (1950).
As reported by The Korea Times, the thought of Gothel being a villain who is both a "greedy, selfish woman and a mother figure to Rapunzel" was initially "perplexing" for animator Jin Kim, and it wasn't until after Kim heard Gothel's "Mother Knows Best" for the first time that he "came up with the 1940s Hollywood screen siren motif" for the character. The directors also strived to make it obvious that Mother Gothel and Rapunzel are not related. Greno told Animation World Network, "When they're standing together, it is very clear that this is not a mother and daughter, just by the frames of their bodies, their hair, the pigments of their skin," as opposed to when Rapunzel is in close proximity with her true parents, the King and Queen. Howard added that, in comparison to Rapunzel, "Gothel is very tall and curvy, she’s very voluptuous, she’s got this very exotic look to her. Even down to that curly hair, we’re trying to say visually that this is not this girl’s mother." The animators studied footage of Murphy in order to get "ideas about facial expressions" and "gestures." After much speculation, the directors finally admitted that, in addition to Murphy, Gothel's physical appearance was in fact influenced by American singer Cher. Howard explained that this was "because Cher is very exotic and Gothic looking," continuing that the singer "definitely was one of the people we looked at visually, as far as what gives you a striking character."
The term passive-aggressive has since gone on to be commonly associated with Gothel. Critics felt that Gothel could possibly pioneer "a new kind of Disney villainess," introducing "the undermining, passive-aggressive, guilt-trip-inducing witch." The Village Voice wrote that, as a villain, Gothel "is Disney’s first villainess whose chief crime is being an underminer," warning Rapunzel that she is simply "too silly, too uneducated, too unsophisticated" to survive life outside of the tower. The Los Angeles Times referred to Gothel as "A guilt-tripping, overprotective, super-manipulative parent from hell." One film critic observed that "Gothel is one of the most understated villains Disney has used in a long time. She harkens back to the wicked step mother idea in Cinderella ... She proves it's possible to be evil without all the theatrics." The author continued, "Gothel is one for the ages with a bit of darkly comedic timing and the overall greed and menace a villain needs to be disdained." The character has received comparisons to the Evil Queen, Snow White's stepmother, from Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937).
Donna Murphy believed that Gothel did really love Rapunzel in her own way.
"I also think there is this thread of a kind of love that she does have for Rapunzel. It’s not what she set out. But she does raise this child and it’s the most intimate and certainly the most sustained relationship I think the woman has had in her 387 years or however old she might be. So as deep as the need is to get something for herself, she can’t help but fall in love with her. She’s spirited, creative, and charming and I think that stirs something in her that is confusing for Gothel. And Gothel has to keep reminding herself of what is most important, which is taking care of herself. But I think there is a genuine kind of humanity. It’s by degree, it’s not unconditional love but there is a love that develops."— Donna Murphy to Collider.
Mother Gothel performs two of the film's songs: "Mother Knows Best," described as a "brassy, Broadway-targeted tune" and an "authoritarian anthem" in which Gothel warns her daughter "all about the evils out to get Rapunzel," and "Mother Knows Best (Reprise)," both written by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater. While making Rapunzel's music more modern in the vein of a singer-songwriter, "young and contemporary and fresh," Menken decided to make Gothel's songs "more classic Broadway," described as more of "a big stage diva type" of music. Critics have observed similarities between "Mother Knows Best" and "Out There" from Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996), on which Menken also served as a composer.
Musically, the filmmakers "were open ... to ideas that [Murphy] had," as the actress had felt different about "a slightly different ending to something musically in the arrangement," requesting to try something else, to which the filmmakers responded, "Absolutely!"
Mother Gothel appears in Tangled (2010). For hundreds of years, Gothel, a vain old woman, hoards the rejuvenation powers of a magical flower in order to remain young and beautiful, while selfishly keeping the flower's whereabouts a secret from the rest of the kingdom. However, when the pregnant Queen of Corona falls fatally ill, the flower is desperately retrieved and fed to her, healing her and in turn inadvertently stripping Gothel of her access to what is essentially the only thing that is keeping her alive. Meanwhile, the King and Queen's newborn daughter Rapunzel is gifted with the flower's abilities, which manifest via her long, golden hair when a special song is sung so long as it remains uncut. Desperate to stay alive, Gothel steals the baby from the palace and she imprisoned her in a secluded tower for eighteen years, raising the child as her own and prohibiting her from leaving solely in order to use her hair to stay young.
As her eighteenth birthday approaches, Rapunzel continues to grow eager to leave the tower in order to view the mysterious "floating lights" secretly – lanterns released annually by the King and Queen in remembrance of their lost daughter – from up close. While Gothel, reprimanding Rapunzel when she asks, forbids this, she agrees to Rapunzel's request to take a three-day-long journey to retrieve art supplies for Rapunzel, giving her just enough time to escape the tower, aided by a wanted thief named Flynn Rider. However, not too far from the castle, Gothel is soon tipped off by Maximus, a guard horse who is searching for Flynn, that Rapunzel has gone missing. With her life endangered and her age rapidly increasing, Gothel desperately pursues Rapunzel and Flynn.
Enlisting the help of the Stabbington Brothers, a duo of muscular thieves who were once betrayed by Flynn, Gothel offers them both revenge on Flynn Rider and Rapunzel's gift once they agree to help her find them, not intending to keep the latter half of her promise as she only wants Rapunzel for herself. When her initial attempt to convince Rapunzel to return home with her fails, Gothel, upon a second encounter, tricks the Stabbington Brothers into immobilizing Flynn, later knocking them unconscious when they attempt to kidnap Rapunzel. Convincing Rapunzel that Flynn has betrayed her, they return to the tower. While Flynn escapes from the dungeon, Rapunzel suddenly realizes her true identity and rebels against Gothel, only to be chained and gagged. Gothel stabs Flynn upon his arrival to rescue Rapunzel, but agrees to free Rapunzel long enough to heal him on the condition that she remain with her forever. However, Flynn unexpectedly cuts Rapunzel's hair, causing it to lose its magic. It turns brown, and a horrified Gothel (failing to salvage Rapunzel's hair) ages rapidly, falling out of the tower's window but disintegrating into dust before she hits the ground, essentially dying of old age. Flynn dies in Rapunzel's arms, but is miraculously returned to life by Rapunzel's tear, and she is finally reunited with her biological parents.
Tangled: The SeriesEdit
In the 2D animated show, Mother Gothel debuts in a dream-turned-nightmare Rapunzel had in the premiere episode "What the Hair!?" a few days after her hair had mysteriously returned. She had bragged about how Rapunzel thought that she was "gone forever" and had expressed her wicked delight in seeing that "her daughter's" golden hair and its mystical properties had returned. She firmly told Rapunzel that she came back to bring her back to her tower, where she would be "safe and secure." It was then that the mystical rock spikes that resulted in the regrowth of Rapunzel's 70-feet golden hair appear all around her.
Mother Gothel has garnered mostly positive reviews from film critics. Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times felt that the character was given the film's "best lines and tunes". Film4 described Gothel as a "fun" character "to the extent that she risks making the good guys seem a bit dull." Hailing Gothel as the film's "pièce de résistance", Georgie Hobbs of Little White Lies wrote that Gothel "performs ... 'Mother Knows Best' ... with a schizophrenic frenzy worthy of the very best of [Stephen] Sondheim's crazed heroines". IGN's Jim Vejvoda penned, "Mother Gothel nearly steals the show, with her overprotective tyranny being made to seem almost rational". Dubbed Disney's "first passive-aggressive villain" by Helen O'Hara of Empire, the author reviewed, "the fact that [Gothel] is entirely bereft of superpowers and reliant on her considerable wits to keep her going makes her strangely admirable". Writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Cathy Jakicic called the character "a great contemporary villain" who "many daughters (and mothers) will find ... funny and a little too familiar". In The New York Times' A. O. Scott's opinion, "The Disney pantheon is full of evil stepmothers, though none quite match Mother Gothel for sheer sadistic intensity." According to Jake Coyle of the Southtown Star, Gothel is "one of Disney's best" villains, while Gary Thompson of the Philadelphia Daily News dubbed the character "one reason to love Disney". Michael Smith of the Tulsa World reviewed Gothel as "perfectly wicked as she kills Rapunzel's dreams". Kirk Baird of The Blade identified Gothel as the film's "strongest character". Colin Covert of the Star Tribune commented, "In her own way, Gothel is scarier than Snow White's wicked stepmother" because the character "doesn't cast spells; she's fully capable of manipulating, guilt-tripping and emotionally undermining the girl". Several comparisons have been made between Gothel and the Evil Queen in Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), while several critics observed the character's likeness to singer Cher; Peter Howell of the Toronto Star joked that Gothel is "suspiciously Cher-like in her quest for eternal youth".
However, critics were not unanimous in their praise, as some reviewers felt that the character was too passive and tame to be a convincing villain. Jeff Meyers of the Detroit Metro Times wrote that the film's "villain isn't all that villainous", while Tyler Hanley of the Palo Alto Daily News received Gothel as too "one-dimensional and generic". PopMatters' Bill Gibron wrote that, as a villain, Gothel "can't compete with traditional House of Mouse miscreants like Maleficent or Cruella de Vil". Alison Gang of U-T San Diego felt that Gothel was an "annoying" character at times, while USA Today's Claudia Puig wrote that "Gothel plays the role of Rapunzel's loving mom [only] sometimes convincingly". Although Michelle Orange of Movieline enjoyed Gothel's personality to an extant, the author criticized the character in a mixed review that "By reducing Mother Gothel to a vain woman who doesn't want immortality so much as she's determined to keep her profile taut, the film misses the chance to get seriously mythical, and as a result the narrative lacks dramatic impact."
Meanwhile, Donna Murphy's vocal performance as Gothel has garnered unanimous praise. Critics hailed the actress as a "standout" – in particular, Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly singled out Gothel as "a firecracker" amidst an otherwise "sedate" cast. Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal wrote that "Donna Murphy does evil deliciously as the voice of Mother Gothel", while Now's Norman Wilner felt that the actress successfully "channelled" Broadway actress Patti LuPone in her performance. Meanwhile, Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph compared Murphy's performance to actress and singer Julie Andrews, writing, "the Julie-Andrews-on-stimulants vocal stylings of Broadway star Donna Murphy ... makes Mother Gothel into a memorable manipulative diva". Joe Neumaier of the Daily News called Murphy's acting "deliciously mischievous". Meanwhile, Jonathan Crocker of Total Film wrote, "Donna Murphy's vocal performance as the vain, villainous fake-matriarch is marvellous", adding, "her belted-out rendition of 'Mother Knows Best' is easily the film's top musical number". Likewise, the Tampa Bay Times' Steve Persall penned, "Nobody but Murphy should be cast as Gothel", continuing, "her 'Mother Knows Best' is a knockout". Simon Reynolds of Digital Spy felt that "Donna Murphy steals the show". Similarly dubbing Murphy a scene-stealer, Canoe.ca's Lindsey Ward wrote that "Murphy ... turns into a giant spectacle with her voice, a powerful force to be reckoned with". David Edelstein of Vulture.com hailed Murphy as "Broadway's gift to animated movies", praising in particular the actress' delivery of "the movie's best line: "Oh, so I'm the bad guy now?” Quickflix deemed Murphy "wonderful", while Stephen Witty of The Star-Ledger' called her "terrific". Sandie Angulo Chen of Common Sense Media opined, "As for the dramatic tension, it's best in the form of Mother Gothel – brilliantly played by Murphy, whose signature Broadway voice ... adds the necessary punch". Chen added that Gothel "is ... a personal favorite" while comparing the character to Cher and actress Sophia Loren. The A.V. Club's Tasha Robinson wrote that Gothel was "magnificently voiced by star Murphy". Murphy's performance of "Mother Knows Best" has also been very positively received, with critics again comparing the actress to Julie Andrews. While calling Gothel's voice "to die for", Peter Travers of Rolling Stone deemed her performance of the song "comic bliss". Linda Cook of the Quad-City Times penned that the song was "belted out wonderfully by Murphy and makes the purchase of the soundtrack worthwhile". Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle opined, "Murphy brings stage showmanship to her musical interludes as Mother Gothel, which drip with sarcasm and biting wit." Slant Magazine's Christian Blauvelt, who felt that the film's songs lacked as a result of Moore's "pop-star vocals", happened to very much enjoy Gothel's performances, writing, "when Broadway vet Murphy takes to scaling Menken's octave-climbing melodies like a vocal escalator, it's a different story". Calling Gothel "one of the most potent schemers in the Disney canon", Time's Richard Corliss felt that Murphy's performance was worthy of a Tony Award for Best Actress, concluding, "no one can summon the malice in humor, and the fun in pain, like this prima Donna". In his review of the film's soundtrack, James Christopher Monger of AllMusic wrote that both "Moore and Murphy take on the lion's share of the work here, and both deliver the goods".
In addition to the popular Mother Gothel Classic Doll and appearing alongside Rapunzel, Flynn, Pascal and Maximus in the Rapunzel Tangled Figure Play Set, the character's likeness has since been adapted and modified by Disney into a much more glamorous doll for sale alongside several re-imagined Disney villainesses as part of the company's Disney Villains Designer Collection, released in 2012. Costumed in a long burgundy gown made of satin, Gothel wears her thick black hair in "a theatrical up-do."
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