This past week, a new documentary titled Mommy Dead and Dearest premiered on HBO, sharing the very un-Disney story of Gypsy Blanchard and the murder of her mother Dee Dee Blanchard. Well, actually, there were more connections to Disney than you'd think. As it turns out, Gypsy is quite a Disney fan... or at least she was before she was sent to prison.
Let me back up and explain a bit about this documentary without giving too much away (there's still a LOT to learn). First, yes, Gypsy had a hand in her mother's death. However, as the film shows, the story isn't nearly as clear-cut as it might seem. Gypsy was a victim of Munchausen by proxy, where she was led by her mother to believe that she suffered from a number of diseases and ailments. This, most notably, included being constricted to a wheelchair for much of her life despite the fact she could walk on her own without any issue. Because of the bad hand Gypsy and her mother had been dealt, several charities stepped in to help them, with Habitat for Humanity even building them a custom home. Many believe that these perks are what led Dee Dee to continue the charade until her death.
I was first drawn to Mommy Dead and Dearest because Gypsy and Dee Dee actually lived in my current hometown of Springfield, Missouri at the time of the crime. Because of this, I had seen short clips of the pair on the news and seen headlines in the paper, but had no idea of the full extent of the story. As you can probably tell, the film is a wild ride that gives you a lot to think about. For that reason, I'd definitely recommend checking it out on HBO Now or HBO Go (Note: the film is rated TV-MA and is for mature audiences).
But back to Disney — the first major connection relates to those charity donations given to the Blanchards. In the documentary, we see short clips of Gypsy's visit to Walt Disney World, including dining at Cinderella's Royal Table. While such glimpses into a celebratory moment are normally heartwarming, the context of these videos is unignorable, making for a very strange viewing experience.
Another major connection is Gypsy's fondness for the animated Disney classics. Beyond the generic talk of "happily ever afters" and "dreams come true," she actually draws specific comparisons to her less-than-perfect life. Speaking to director Erin Lee Carr, Gypsy explains her love of the film Tangled and how she related her story to that of Mother Gothel and Rapunzel — a princess locked in her tower by her "mother." As she explained, "At the end, Mother Gothel died — she got thrown out a window — because Rapunzel stood up for herself and tried to leave her tower." However, she goes on to say, "Life is not a fairytale... I learned all that the hard way."
The final Disney connection is another bizarre but important part of the story. Gypsy finds love on a dating site and has been digitally seeing a boy who lives in Wisconsin. Eventually, the two make plans to meet in Springfield, choosing to see the live-action Cinderella together (fun fact: they went to the same theatre where I recently saw Beauty and the Beast). Not too long after that rendezvous, the duo would draw up a plan for her new boyfriend to return to town and kill Dee Dee Blanchard.
Like I said, Mommy Dead and Dearest is definitely not a Disney story. It's also far from a fairy tale. But, if you're interested in true crime stories with lots of twist and turns, then this is the documentary for you.