Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rapunzel and Two Witch "Mothers"

Dear Muse,

I've never been a big fan of Into the Woods. Granted, the musical has good imagery, colorful characters and a compelling plot. But, aside from "Agony" (that one good song), most of its songs have never seemed like worthwhile listening material.

However, my well-worn contempt for the musical changed somewhat after I realized that Into the Woods' song "Stay With Me" sounds almost exactly like "Mother Knows Best" from Disney's Tangled. Although Tangled featured a BIG Rapunzel story and Into the Woods featured a little Rapunzel story, I started to see many similarities between the 2010 film and the 1987 musical.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Source: play.google.com via Ariel on Pinterest

First of all, the two songs actually have a lot in common. Both "Stay With Me" and "Mother Knows Best" are about Rapunzel and her witch "mother," and both songs have similar scenarios and ideas. Come to think of it, a lot of the messages Mother Gothel delivers to Rapunzel in Tangled are practically carbon copies of those messages uttered by her Into the Woods counterpart. Is this a coincidence? Or could there really be a connection between Into the Woods and Tangled?

Source: academics.smcvt.edu via Ariel on Pinterest
Source: fanpop.com via Ariel on Pinterest

To investigate further, let's break down the similarities between Into the Woods' and Tangled's Rapunzel/Witch scenarios. What do they have in common?

  • Both feature a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship between the Witch/Mother Gothel and Rapunzel.
  • Both the Witch/Mother Gothel play an emotionally abusive and manipulative "mother" (or Beloved Smother) who tries to ensure her "daughter" remains shut off from the world and within her control
  • Both Rapunzels are anxious to expand their limited world, and are both frustrated and made miserable by their "mother's" attempts to "keep them safe." However, the two Rapunzels are just as na├»ve and impressionable, making it easier for their "mothers" to convince them to stay. 
  • Both "mothers" do this by employing a combination of guilt-tripping and scare tactics, colorfully reinforcing just how dangerous the world is and how much damage Rapunzel would do (to herself and to her mother) if she acted on her rash impulses.   
  • Most importantly: where do both the Witch/Mother Gothel show just how manipulative they are? In their respective songs, of course! Just watch the Youtube videos below and see if you can pinpoint the similarities between "Stay With Me" and "Mother Knows Best."

Uncanny, isn't it? Given how much the songs mirror each other, you'd almost think that Into the Woods directly influenced Tangled ! Still, there is a major distinction to keep in mind as well. While both "mothers" sing about very similar things, their reasons for doing so are entirely different.

Bloggers apeygirl and hellyeahtangled raise an interesting point on this subject: the key difference between Mother Gothel in Tangled and the Witch in Into the Woods is that the Witch appears to genuinely love Rapunzel. Unlike Mother Gothel, the Witch doesn't warn off Rapunzel because she sees her as a gullible ditz who can be easily cowed into submission. Instead, she expresses sincere concern for Rapunzel's wellbeing when she sings to her about the world's dangers. And unlike Mother Gothel, she seems genuinely anxious to preserve Rapunzel's childhood and protect her from the world's harshness.

To Mother Gothel, Rapunzel is nothing but a precious provider of eternal youth and beauty; a resource Gothel uses to prolong her own life. Gothel's intent to keep Rapunzel in captivity is entirely for her own self-benefit. But to the Witch, Rapunzel is like her real daughter, and she coaxes and pleads with her as if she were her real mother. Her intent is to keep her "daughter" from growing up too fast, as well as prevent any harm from befalling her. She cares about Rapunzel as a person, not as a tool. 

Yes, both Mother Gothel and the Witch are manipulative. Both are controlling. And both are fake mothers. But the true motherly love the Witch has for Rapunzel makes her the more sympathetic of the two.

Differences aside, the similarities between the two witch "mothers" certainly are intriguing. Sadly, I have yet to find concrete proof that Into the Woods inspired Tangled, or any evidence that they are in fact related. But the connection can't be pure coincidence - any more than it could be coincidence that Donna Murphy (who voiced Mother Gothel) played the Witch in the 2012 production of Into the Woods. 

Still, whether I dig up actual proof or not, Into the Woods deserves some credit. Given the in-depth analysis "Stay With Me" provoked, maybe the musical's score is a bit more worthwhile than I'd thought.


P.S. The whole Into the Woods/Tangled topic reminds me of when my friend DivaStar played Rapunzel in her high school's production of Into the Woods. She even commented on it in a letter:

Her drawing of herself as Rapunzel inspired me to draw my own picture of her. (I don't know why, but the thought of my brunette friend wearing long golden tresses strikes me as funny. Or maybe it's the thought of her singing "AAAAAAAAAAAA" for long bouts of time. Either way, the image that my mind conjures up is a silly one.)

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