Blog #1: The Wickedest Witch
In a recent attempt to review all the ‘Disney Princess’ movies, I found myself thinking about and comparing the various ‘wicked witches’ and how they related to their respective princesses, trying to decide which was the worst and why. There is a distinct difference between the interactions of the early and late Princess films, especially in character development and changes in storytelling.
The first thing that stood out to me was the antagonists. The first three movies had wicked women in a position of power over the Princess, intent on harming her. Later movies found the princess only indirectly in danger, certainly not mortal danger, and this was usually due to their own error or the misadventures of their ‘princes.’ For example, The Wicked Queen in Snow White wanted Snow White killed because she was too beautiful. Evil Vizier Jafar in Aladdin, on the other hand, has no real interest in Princess Jasmine, only seeing her as a useful tool to gain the throne when his other plans begin to fail.
The second thing, and the thing that frustrated me the most, was the lack of character development for the early antagonists. We know nothing about the Bad Fairy Maleficent, except she got snubbed at a party and decided to curse the guest of honor. I’m not even sure the princess knows who she is. We know nothing personal about Maleficent, she’s simply evil personified. The same could be said of Snow White’s stepmother. I only just found out what her name is (Grimhilde) while doing some light research for this blog.
In later films, the antagonists get more personality. The sea witch in The Little Mermaid gets quite a brash personality that’s mean, but appealing. She’s cynical and cruel, but she has a great, twisted sense of humor. She preens and dances and fawns over her pets. We see her personal life. She even gets to sing. One of the things I’ve noticed in my movie watching is that the bad guy hardly EVER gets to sing. It just isn’t done. Singing is for the good guys and their sidekicks. Ursula is, in fact, quite chatty compared to the other witches. I LIKE Ursula, and I’m probably not supposed to. Ursula set a standard for the next few antagonists. Jafar even manages a song or two, and it’s pretty difficult to get Gaston to STOP singing and preening. We know more about these later ‘witches’ and are able to relate to them better. They are not lurking background figures, but active in their own plot and have their own quests to fulfill other than ‘torment the main character.’
The witch that began this whole train of thought was Mother Gothel from Tangled. I was thoroughly disgusted by her, and began wondering why none of the other witches got such a reaction. Mother Gothel insinuates herself thoroughly in her Princess’s life, lying to her and abusing her ever so subtly every day of her life, all for the witch’s personal gain. There will definitely be no attempted killing of a princess here! At the same time, she’s not a classic witch. For one thing, she’s pretty. We don’t actually see Gothel perform any magic other than the spell to activate the magic flower/hair. There are several opportunities where she COULD use magic, but instead Gothel relies on her wits, hired help, and handy tools or weapons. Gothel felt too real to me, unlike Maleficent, who had the ability to turn herself into a fire-breathing dragon. Scary on one level, but on another there’s a suspension of disbelief that allows you to relax and say ‘that can never happen.’ You don’t get that opportunity with Mother Gothel. Instead, you watch this train wreck of a relationship between her and Rapunzel, with the witch playing on the girl’s emotions to get her way. It’s so very PERSONAL. Even the Evil Queen didn’t get that involved with Snow White. she opted to ‘kill from a distance’ with poison, rather than make a more personal death through, say, stabbing or strangulation.
In short, my candidate for wickedest Disney witch is Mother Gothel for her up close and personal emotional abuse and constant lies. (even Ursula was fairly up front with Ariel.) Her wickedness is enhanced by Disney’s change in storytelling to give antagonists more complexity, personal goals and singing ability.
You probably think I’m joking about the singing, but think about it. if you were in a dark alley and you saw a dark shadowy someone lurking up ahead, would you be more or less afraid if you could hear the person singing? (Horror movie dark alleys excluded.)