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Monday, March 9, 2015

Where Mother Gothel Went Wrong: a tutorial for future villains

Mother Gothel and Rapunzel from the Disney movie Tangled. 
The Disney movie TANGLED came out in 2010 and at this point I feel it's fair to say Mother Gothel is the dumbest villain ever added to the villain pantheon. Not the bumblingest or the silliest or even the least frightening, just the stupidest villain with the least sense of how to plan an evil caper. Let's break down Mother Gothel's mistakes and see if we can't learn something from them...

Mistake #1: Keeping Her Powers Secret
- Excuse me? You have the power to heal every ailment including the power to repel death and you hid the source of power under a basket? No. You don't. A smart villain would turn that into a lucrative venture. Mother Gothel could have set herself up as immortal goddess and ruled the world.

Mistake #2: Not Healing The Queen
- So, for whatever reason, Mother Gothel didn't want to be in charge. Maybe she felt that being an immortal goddess was too hard, maybe she just was a very private person, she should have still healed the queen. One magical healing for the queen and Mother Gothel would have had anything she wanted until that dynasty came crashing down.
-- This is also why the Disney version doesn't make much sense. In the original Rapunzel the pregnant woman craved greens (rapunzel is a kind of lettuce - Valerianella locusta) and the witch takes the child in exchange. In the original you can almost pretend the witch loves Rapunzel because her parents gave her away (not unheard of in history modern or ancient).

Mistake #3: Not Changing Rapunzel's Birthday
- If you kidnap a kid there are a few things you should do right away: change their name, change their appearance, change where they live, and forge new documents for them. If you kidnap an infant princess why wouldn't you change her birthday? She was a small baby, lie. Tell the kid the wrong birthday. Celebrate the wrong birthday. Under no circumstances do you tell them their birthday is the same as the missing heiress who also happens to be the only fair-haired person in the kingdom!

Mistake #4: Not Lying About The Lights
- Imagine this exchange.
Little Rapunzel: Why are there lantern lights?
Mother Gothel: During the Festival of Lights everyone makes a wish and releases the wish with a lantern.
LR: How fun!
MG: Should we make our own lantern? 
One little lie and Mother Gothel's magic source of life wouldn't be curious any more. It'd be a fun tradition and Rapunzel wouldn't want to leave the tower because she wouldn't be curious.

Mistake #5: Not Taking Rapunzel Out Of The Tower
- The idea that someone might steal Rapunzel for her magic hair isn't that far-fetched. Even a common pick-pocket could see the retail value in someone like Rapunzel. Still, if Mother Gothel had been smart she would have allowed Rapunzel some social time. Hair dye, a quick braid, and the injunction to not use her magic in public would have been enough to get Rapunzel out of the tower and make her thankful for the sanctuary Mother Gothel provided.

Mistake #6: Not Making Villains Of The Parents
- This is simple Villain 101. When you capture someone from the opposing team you always, ALWAYS, try to turn them against the other people. When you kidnap a child you tell them their parents hated them, that they aren't loved, that the captor really does love them more. You tell the soldier their unit abandoned them and left them to die. You tell the evil henchmen that their overlord set them up to take the rap for their heinous crime. Mother Gothel had 18 years to poison Rapunzel's mind with lies about the kingdom where her parents ruled and never once thought to try a little basic psychology. It's disappointing really.

Mother Gothel's mistakes caught up with her. Too many wrong moves and you end up dead. A weak villain makes for a weak plot that no amount of funny songs can make up for.

When plotting your own villains make sure you aren't dumbing them down to make them easier to write. Mother Gothel was a thoughtless, one-dimensional villain who relied on cruelty and the heroine's stupidity to survive. That won't get you far. Write a smart villain and then write a smarter hero.

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