You want me to be the bad guy? Fine. Now I'm the bad guy.
~ Mother Gothel reveals her true colors.
Mother Gothel (simply known as Gothel) is the main antagonist of Disney's 50th full-length animated feature film Tangled (which is based on the 1812 fairytale Rapunzel by Brothers Grimm) and a posthumous character in Tangled: The Series. As her name suggests, she is Rapunzel's wicked adoptive mother, who seeks to remain youthful and immortal by utilizing the magic hair of her "daughter". In Once Upon a Time, she is known in Hyperion Heights as Eloise Gardener.
She was voiced by Donna Murphy, who originally played The Witch in Into the Woods, and Dita Mandy in Bourne Legacy.
Rapunzel! Let down your hair!
~ Mother Gothel
Before the events in the film, an old woman named Madame Gothel hides a flower born from the sun's dew that keeps her young whenever she sings to it. But one day, the flower is found and given to the queen so she would not die in childbirth. All the magical flower's power is now in the queen's daughter, so Gothel abducted her and kept her in a hidden tower for 18 years, making the little girl sing for her. Although she tried to cut a lock of Rapunzel's hair to stay young, but once cut, it goes from golden blonde to dark brown and loses its power. She spent the following years raising Rapunzel as her daughter and causing her to fear the outside world, which she describes as scary, violent, selfish, cruel and unforgiving.
Once Rapunzel turned 18, she begs to see the floating lanterns on her birthday; however, Gothel refuses both musically and angrily. In order to trick her, Rapunzel asks for special paint for her birthday, a gift that would take three days to get. While reluctant, Gothel believes Rapunzel and sets off.
However, when she sees Maximus, the guards' horse, she worries that someone was searching for Rapunzel. When she arrives at the tower, she's frightened to find that Rapunzel was already gone. Believing she was kidnapped, Gothel takes a sharp dagger from her drawer and sets out to find her. She passes by the Snuggly Duckling Inn and while listening to the thugs and Rapunzel sing, she realizes that no one kidnapped Rapunzel, but she instead left with a wanted criminal named Flynn Rider (Eugene) Deeply furious, when one of the men staggers outside and attempts to flirt with her, she threatens him with her dagger unless he tells her where they are.
When she finds their location, she runs into the Stabbington Brothers, Flynn's partners whom he abandoned. She gives them the choice of receiving either the princess's tiara that he stole or revenge on Flynn. They unhesitatingly chose revenge. She then confronts Rapunzel, saying that Flynn's only with her for the tiara. Unfazed by Gothel's warning, Rapunzel agrees to put him to the test.
Soon, the Stabbington Brothers take the tiara and knock Flynn unconscious and tie him to a boat, making it look like he was abandoning Rapunzel. They try to kidnap her, but Gothel betrays them by knocking them unconscious and comforting a heartbroken Rapunzel. When they arrive home, Rapunzel has a sudden epiphany that she's the lost princess of the King and Queen and she realizes that Gothel was not her mother at all, but merely an evil schemer after the power of her hair.
The princess furiously confronts Gothel, refusing to let Gothel use her hair again. Enraged, Gothel gags Rapunzel and chains her to the wall. When Flynn enters the tower to try and save her, Gothel stabs him from behind. Rapunzel begs to heal him and says that if she lets her heal him, she will agree to stay at the tower captive forever. While reluctant, Mother Gothel agrees but chains Flynn to the wall.
Rapunzel intended to heal him, but Flynn cuts her hair with a shard of glass from the broken mirror, partly as a sacrifice, and partly because Mother Gothel was too dangerous to be left alive. As Gothel screams in horror as her true age catches up with her, Pascal pulls the length of the cut hair, and Gothel trips over it, causing her to fall out of the tower window. As she falls, she crumbles into dust and by the time she hits the ground, all that remained of her was her cloak.
You want me to to be the bad guy?, fine, I'm the bad guy!
~ Mother Gothel revealing her true nature.
Mother Gothel is extremely vain, selfish, narcissistic, self-centered, manipulative, sanctimonious, and self-righteous, caring only about herself and her good looks, and acting as if she was the victim of Rapunzel's desire for freedom. While she pretends to be a caring and devoted mother, the fact that she calls Rapunzel "flower" and touches her hair whenever she displays "affection" clearly shows what she truly cares about. Although she did take care of her when growing up and did gain her affection through treats, birthday gifts, and pretense of motherly love, she spent 18 years subtly abusing Rapunzel, verbally and emotionally, to destroy her self-esteem and make her completely dependent and vulnerable on her. However, she may have had some degree of genuine (if warped) care for Rapunzel.
Despite being older than the kingdom, Mother Gothel proves to be quite immature and entitled. She wants things to unfold following her design, and gets very angry the second the situation starts escaping her. This shows prominently when her "sweet mother" act quickly slips away as Rapunzel expresses desire to see the outside world. She loves to see herself in the mirror, reveling in her beauty. Although she would rather regain Rapunzel's trust by making it seem like she was right, when she fully drops the act, she is not above assaulting and restraining her "daughter," and stabbing her love interest in cold blood. Also, she never keeps her word when striking bargains and betrays her allies as soon as she stops needing them.
Powers and Abilities
While the character from the original fairytale was a witch, Mother Gothel has no magic powers whatsoever, aside from the knowledge about the Magic Flower and how to use it.
However, Mother Gothel is a highly skilled and intelligent manipulator, able to make Rapunzel fear the outside world, and then by making her believe that her trust in other people was unfounded. She is very good at talking people into agreeing with her, convincing them of what she wants them to believe and lying efficiently. Finally, she displays no fear when confronted with people bigger and more imposing than her, and proves a very temperamental and dangerous fighter with a dagger in hand, though she would rather avoid direct confrontations, instead of setting traps and taking foes by surprise.
Vanity is a recurring theme around Gothel, as shown by her constantly checking and admiring her reflection in the mirror which she later breaks. This vanity is ultimately her downfall in more ways than one; breaking a mirror is thought to bring bad luck, Flynn uses a shard of the mirror to cut Rapunzel's hair and it is the sight of her aging in the broken mirror that causes her to fall to her death when she isn't looking where she's going.
According to the makers of Tangled, Mother Gothel's dress is inspired by fashion coming from the Renaissance, an era 400 years older than the rest of the setting and characters in costume in the film, which were instead inspired by the 1780s. This is meant to emphasize Gothel's immense age.
Interestingly, when Rapunzel's hair is cut off and she experiences the centuries of aging she'd avoided within a few seconds, all that remains behind is her cloak, implying her dress was similarly old and she had been using the Hair's magic to let it stay together.
Mother Gothel is very notable for representing an abusive parent accurately.