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Two Sides of the Same Coin: Bates Motel vs. Tangled (Mild Spoilers) 

When you’re watching one of your favorite animated Disney classics, a violent, schizophrenic serial killer with an Oedipus complex should be the furthest thing from your mind, right? I thought that once, until my most recent reviewal of 2010’s Tangled. I found that the take of a classic fairytale paralleled often with A&E’s Bates Motel. Hear me out: Mother Gothel and Norma Bates have very similar parenting styles and methods of discipline. Rapunzel just wants to see the outside, and starts to question her mother’s intentions and the truth about herself. Norman has little desire to see outside. He has everything he believes he needs with Norma, just the two of them, forever. Will he ever break free? This specific connection is manifested in Gothel’s menacing solo “Mother Knows Best” which is where we see just how tight the leash is that she has Rapunzel on:

Mother will protect you

Darling, here’s what I suggest

Skip the drama

Stay with mama

Mama knows best

Mother knows best

Take it from your mumsy

On your own, you won’t survive

Demonizing the outside world and appearing to be your child’s only point of security is a common strategy for abusive and controlling parents. Norma told Norman she was the only one he could trust, kept him away from girls his own age and created a negative association with being sexually aroused. Mother Gothel makes Rapunzel question her own intelligence and strength, so the only truth she knew was what her mother was telling her. Spoiler alert: they were lies. Both of these mothers lied to their children.

The kicker of this whole ordeal, is that to some extent, Norma’s smothering was justified. Norman was a murderer, who hallucinated often and was a danger to himself and others. In fact, the Bates’ ended up in White Pine Bay after Norman killed his father during a blackout. You’d keep him locked up too, right? Mother Gothel’s reasoning was far less protective than it was self-interested. Rapunzel’s hair possessed healing powers and made Gothel look young again. Though, she appears to believe 40 something is young. On top of all that, did I mention she kidnapped Rapunzel from the King and Queen of Corona?

Below are lyrics from “When Will My Life Begin (Reprise 1)” which does not appear in Tangled, but is included in the film’s soundtrack:

I’ve got my mother’s love

I shouldn’t ask for more…

…yes, I have everything- except, I guess, a door

Perhaps it’s better that I stay in

But tell me… when will my life begin?

Coming of age is a pivotal narrative in both works. 18 was the age these children decided they would break free from their parents’ tirades, or alleged tirades, in Norman’s case. Rapunzel had intuition to follow, a dream to pursue. Norman needed an identity separate from his mother, the irony in that being that his new identity would become his mother. At this time, I am to inform you that spoilers are on their way. Rapunzel broke free from her mother when her romantic interest, Flynn, cuts off her hair. Being that this has been Gothel’s source of life for longer than Rapunzel has been alive, it’s the perfect opportunity to be lazy with animation and have her disintegrate under a hooded cloak. Sound familiar? Norman’s method was a little different: He failed at a murder/suicide attempt and killed his mother of monoxide poisoning. Yikes.

In short, Bates Motel and Tangled, though presented in very different formats, are two sides of the same coin, and that coin life under an abusive mother’s roof. Gothel was controlling, Norma was manipulative. Rapunzel was a victim of someone else’s wrongdoing, Norman had a split personality that committed crimes without his knowing. They both had to make choices once they became considered adults by society, and went about them very differently. Rapunzel challenged the woman who held her in captivity, went on a self-discovering adventure and then her new boyfriend killed her mom. Norman, after a stint in a psychiatric facility, escaped and killed his mom. Now, I don’t seem so crazy, and also your mind is blown. You’re welcome.

“Two Sides of the Same Coin” is a series of cinematic comparisons, ranging from identical plots, to works only connected by themes and similar plot devices. The purpose of these posts is to be exposed to the diversity of cinema and storytelling.

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