Eighteen years before the events of Tangled, Rapunzel's parents, the beloved King and Queen of Corona, were anticipating their firstborn. Unfortunately, very late in her pregnancy, the Queen fell ill with what would surely result in her death, as well as her child's. Fearing the death of his love, the King dispatches multitudes of soldiers and villagers alongside the populace to search for a rumored magic flower, created by a single drop of sunlight, with the potential to heal illnesses.
After much searching, the flower, long hoarded by a woman named Mother Gothel, who has kept herself young by singing a song to it, is miraculously located and boiled into a medicine to cure the queen of her ailment. With the help of the flower, the queen makes a full recovery and soon gives birth to a healthy baby girl, named Rapunzel who, unlike her parents, has beautiful, golden hair. To celebrate her birth, a floating lantern with the emblem of the sun was released into the sky amongst the people of Corona. The peace did not last long, however. Determined to retrieve the flower that kept her young for hundreds of years, Mother Gothel broke into the castle late one night and sang the song to Rapunzel's hair. Discovering that Rapunzel's hair retained the flower's healing powers. Gothel attempted to cut a piece off, only to find that the hair lost its magic and became brown. Frustrated and desperate, Gothel kidnapped the princess and fled to her tower, hidden within an alcove deep in the forest. To protect Rapunzel's hair, Gothel raised Rapunzel as her own daughter and taught her to sing the flower's song. To further ensure her magic supply was plentiful, Gothel continuously brushed the hair to further its growth. Although Rapunzel wished to leave the tower, Gothel warned her of a dangerous world beyond the tower walls, full of selfish people that desired to steal her hair and abuse her power.
Meanwhile, the kingdom searched far and wide for their missing princess, but to no avail. As a result, each year on Rapunzel's birthday, the King, Queen, and the entire kingdom release thousands of lanterns into the night sky, in hopes that, one day, their lost princess will return.
Almost eighteen years later, Rapunzel, now a young woman with 70 feet of hair, plays a quick game of hide-and-seek with her pet chameleon, Pascal, and begins her daily seven AM routine of chores inside of the tower, while Mother Gothel (whom she views as her mother) is away. Through the morning, Rapunzel does many tasks, including sweeping, shining, candle making, baking, and brushing her hair, but after living in the tower all of her life, the tasks and time seem to pass by quickly for her. As a result of the constant downtime, Rapunzel has numerous creative ways to entertain herself. Though she is happy with her life in the tower, Rapunzel longs to someday explore the outside world. Since childhood, she has become fascinated by an annual event that seems to happen only on her birthday. That night, every year, she witnesses thousands of beautiful floating lights in the sky, brighter than the stars, rise over the tops of the alcove and into view of the tower's largest window. Wanting to know the meaning behind this phenomenon, Rapunzel develops a dream to see these lights in person, and she even draws a picture of herself watching them on a tower wall. The day before her eighteenth birthday, she decides with Pascal that she will finally ask Mother Gothel to see the lights.
Soon after, Mother Gothel finally arrives at the base of the tower and calls for Rapunzel to let down her long hair. Rapunzel complies and uses her hair and a lantern holder as a rope and pulley to bring Gothel to the window. Gothel then insensitively teases Rapunzel for her slowness and decreases her confidence in front of a mirror, before saying she loves her, as usual, and asking her to sing the incantation to her hair. Instinctively, Rapunzel pulls up a chair and sings the incantation hurriedly, causing Gothel to become younger almost instantly. With her eighteenth birthday arriving, Rapunzel has gained the courage to ask Mother Gothel if she can see the floating lanterns because she believes they are somehow connected to her and does so. Gothel spurns her request, however, informing Rapunzel through song that the world is much too dangerous for someone as naïve and gullible as her and that she wants to keep Rapunzel safe. She proceeds to warn and frighten her of men with sharp teeth, ruffians, poison ivy, snakes, cannibals, and even the plague and harshly request that she never ask her to leave the tower again. Her previous courage shattered, Rapunzel solemnly promises not to ask to leave the tower again and helps Gothel depart from the tower.
Back at the tower, a young thief by the name of Flynn Rider has just completed a daring daylight robbery at Corona Castle, successfully stealing the crown of the lost princess, betraying his partners, and eluding the palace guards, as well as a fierce military horse named Maximus. Seeking refuge from his combatants, the bandit accidentally stumbles into the clearing where Rapunzel's tower resides. Deciding to hide within the tower, he proceeds to scale the wall of the tower with arrows and enters into what turns out to be Rapunzel's room. Seemingly alone, Flynn pulls the crown from his satchel to admire his successful stolen prize but is instantly knocked out cold by Rapunzel's frying pan. Scared, Rapunzel cowers behind a dress form, before stepping forward to investigate the intruder with Pascal. Pascal advises Rapunzel to be wary of the young man since Gothel has often told stories of men baring sharp teeth, and they both fear he is a monster from the outside. However, Rapunzel finds nothing outwardly menacing about Flynn.
Concluding that he is just another person, she decides to hide him in her wardrobe, before Mother Gothel returns. It takes the poor girl many times to cram the thief into her wardrobe, but after multiple attempts, she manages to stuff him inside the closet by propping up a chair. After she finally gets him stuffed inside, she finds his satchel containing the crown. Although she has never seen a crown before and doesn't know what one is, she tries to wear it in a few different ways and sets it on her head, before being interrupted by Gothel calling to her from outside. She swiftly hides the crown and satchel and brings Gothel up the tower once more.
Invigorated by all that has transpired, Rapunzel decides she will show her mother the young man she has captured, proving that she can take care of herself, and again hopes that she will be let out of the tower for her approaching 18th birthday. Unfortunately for Rapunzel, Gothel becomes enraged when she brings up the subject of leaving again and shouts that she will never leave the tower as long as she lives. Rapunzel is crushed by her words, as her dreams of exploring outside the tower and watching the lanterns are dashed to the ground. Realizing that Gothel will never let her see the world, she keeps from telling her that she has a stranger locked away in her closet. She instead informs her that she has changed her mind about what she wants for her birthday, and asks for paint made from special white seashells as a gift instead. Although Gothel is hesitant at first and bemoans the fact that the paint requires a three-day journey, she agrees to retrieve the paint to appease her and bids her disappointed "daughter" farewell.
Once out of sight, Rapunzel takes Flynn out of her closet and uses her hair to tie him up to a chair. Pascal wakes him up by sticking his tongue in his ear, and Flynn, not seeing Rapunzel at first, is frightened by his current predicament. When she steps into view, however, he realizes that she is just a beautiful young girl and starts hitting on her, much to her confusion. She immediately assumes he's there to kidnap her and steal her hair and interrogates him, but he has no knowledge what she's talking about. When she realizes he's telling the truth, Rapunzel decided that she has found her chance to see the lanterns. Knowing that he wants his satchel, she strikes him over the head, hides his satchel within the tower, and proposes a deal. The two of them will leave the tower together and he will take her to see the floating lights the next night. He will then bring her back to the tower the following day before Gothel returns. In exchange for his efforts, she promises to give him back the crown and let him leave. Flynn reluctantly agrees, simply to retrieve his loot.
Outside the tower, Rapunzel nervously digs her toes into the grass for the first time and runs about the forest in bursts of elation and panic, like a child, while Flynn can only watch. While excited to be out in the world for the first time, Rapunzel feels equally ashamed for having defied her mother. She thinks she is a terrible daughter for disobeying her mother's directions and worries that her misbehavior will break her mother's heart. Flynn attempts to discourage her from traveling away from the tower by guaranteeing that her rebellious actions will break her mother's heart and crush her soul. He suggested she should simply give him the satchel back and return to the tower, but Rapunzel's desire to see the lanterns sees through his ploy. Despite her guilt and confusion, she assures Flynn that she is fine enough to continue the journey.
Hoping to dissuade her, Flynn takes her to the nearby Snuggly Duckling: a local tavern which is frequented by an assortment of ruffians and thugs like the ones Gothel warned of. Flynn's plan to scare Rapunzel into going back to the tower backfires when the thugs recognize him from wanted posters and attempt to hold him for a reward while one of their associates goes to tip off the guards. With the ruffians ready to tear Flynn apart, Rapunzel pleads with them to release him because she needs him to fulfill her dreams of seeing the lanterns and asks if they've ever had a dream. Their leader Hook Hand approaches as if he will strike her, but Rapunzel's innocence melts his heart and he admits he has a dream to become a pianist. The entire pub soon begins to come alive as the other members confess their dreams alongside Rapunzel, who know jubilant that she left her tower.
Unknown to Rapunzel, however, Mother Gothel has discovered she is missing and overhears the events within the pub. Although furious at her daughter, she does nothing as the associate returns with the guards and the Stabbington Brothers. Having become bonded with Rapunzel, the thugs stage a distraction to help Rapunzel and Flynn escape through a secret cellar tunnel and encourage Rapunzel to live her dream. As they traverse the cavern, Rapunzel curiously asks Flynn where he has come from, but Flynn casually refuses to answer. While he acknowledges that she too has secrets she doesn't want to tell, he can't help but ask her why she hasn't gone to see the lanterns before. She hesitates, but just then, they realize they are being rapidly pursued by the palace guards.
Heading outside the tunnel, the Rapunzel and Flynn find themselves on a ledge overlooking a quarry created below a massive dam. Rapunzel is very surprised to find that besides the palace guards, the Stabbington twins are also giving chase, having escaped their chains, and the horse, Maximus, is also on their path. Appearing to be cornered, Rapunzel uses her hair to swing to an opposing edge and leaves Flynn her frying pan, enabling him to fend off the guards and sword fight with Maximus. As Maximus disarms Flynn and corners him, Rapunzel lassos him with her hair and pulls him to safety. Unable to reach him, the furious horse unhinges a large wooden beam from the dam in an attempt to reach them but renders the dam overlooking the quarry unstable. It soon collapses and a wave of water surges into the quarry, quickly flooding it. The pair narrowly outruns the massive wave, but become trapped inside a small dead end tunnel, as a massive pillar of stone collapses and blocks the entrance.
Water rapidly begins to flood into the cave and, realizing their doom, they try to pull at the rocks to no avail, and Flynn only manages to cut his hand. They both try to look for an escape under the rapidly-rising water, but there's no light in the cave and they can barely see each other above it. As they think they're about to die, Rapunzel cries and apologizes to Flynn for dragging him into this, and Flynn admits that his real name is Eugene Fitzherbert, because he thought someone should know before he died. Rapunzel tries to make him feel better by admitting that she has magic hair that glows, only to realize that they can use her hair to search for escape in the dark water. She sings the magic song just as their air pocket disappears, and they end up underwater, where Rapunzel's hair illuminates the cave. In the lit water, Flynn discovers a break in the rocks where water flows out and manages to dislodge them, releasing them out the other side.
That night at the campfire, Rapunzel heals Eugene's hand with her hair. The dumbstruck thief just manages to keep his cool, and Rapunzel explains everything to him, including her lifelong imprisonment by Gothel to protect her magic hair, and that if the hair is ever cut, it will turn brown and lose its power. Flynn is empathetic toward her ambiguous feelings over returning to the tower. When questioned about his real name, Flynn tells his childhood story of growing up as an orphan and reading a book called "The Tales of Flynnagan Rider", the escapades of a daring adventurer with every benefit to an exciting life full of dangers, riches, and ladies. Flynn has chosen to adopt the name and lifestyle, even though the real Flynn Rider wasn't a thief, and feeling anything would be a better option than being a helpless orphan. Rapunzel tells him that she likes the name Eugene Fitzherbert much better than his adopted name, and the pair forms a close bond. When Eugene leaves to collect more firewood, Gothel appears and tells Rapunzel they are going home. Rapunzel refuses, believing that Eugene is beginning to like her. Gothel presents Rapunzel with Eugene's satchel and challenges her to return it to him, warning her that he will simply abandon her as he only wants the satchel back. Gothel then disappears, leaving Rapunzel feeling doubtful about her new romance.
The next morning, Rapunzel wakes to find that they have been discovered by Maximus, a high-ranking palace horse on a personal mission to bring Eugene to justice. Rapunzel calms and befriends the frenzied horse, and requests that he refrain from arresting Eugene for the next 24 hours so that they can see the lanterns. Maximus and Eugene make a reluctant truce and journey into the kingdom with Rapunzel and Pascal. Eugene and Rapunzel enjoy each others' company greatly as they spend the day touring the kingdom and indulging in everything it has to offer. Along with that, Rapunzel makes a wondrous impression on the villagers, bringing whimsy and excitement to their already enjoyable festival, winning their hearts instantly. She also learns of the Lost Princess, though she doesn't recognize it's her in the mural of the royal family, and before she has time to ponder further, she engages in more fun-filled activities with the villagers and Eugene. During the day, their feelings for each other become strong. At dusk, Eugene and Rapunzel row out onto the lake to watch the lanterns rise into the sky.
As they wait for the lanterns to appear, Eugene notices that Rapunzel is not too happy; in fact, she's terrified. She confesses that after all of the excitement that has built up inside her about seeing the floating lights, she is worried that they may not be everything that she expected. Eugene assures her they will be, and if they are, she gets to go find herself a new dream afterward. That night, Rapunzel is overjoyed to finally be living her dream as she enchantingly watches the lanterns float from the streets of the kingdom to the boats on the lake. When Eugene presents her with a pair of their own lanterns, Rapunzel shows him his satchel, saying she was scared to give it to him before. Eugene refuses the satchel and says he knows how she feels. As Rapunzel watches the lanterns, Eugene unexpectedly takes her hand, much to her delight, and they finish singing "I See the Light" together. They are just about to kiss, when Eugene pulls back apprehensively as he sees the Stabbington Brothers on the other side of the lake, unbeknownst to Rapunzel. He assures her everything is fine and quickly takes the boat ashore. He then takes the satchel and walks off into the fog, promising to return. Rapunzel becomes worried as Eugene leaves, and she ruminates on Gothel's warnings.
After a moment of waiting, she sees a figure returning to her through the fog. She sighs with relief that Eugene did not take the crown and leave her. But the figure actually turns out to be two tall and brutal thugs whom she recognizes as two of the men from the dam. They inform her that Eugene did actually leave her. At first, she doesn't believe them, but they show her a boat sailing across the lake towards the kingdom with Eugene's silhouette at the helm. Rapunzel has little time to grieve as the two men show interest in her magical hair. They scheme to kidnap her and use her powers to earn them money, but Gothel appears and rescues her. Believing that she has been deserted by the man she thought loved her, a heartbroken Rapunzel goes with Gothel back to the tower.
Back at the tower, as she mourns over losing Eugene, Rapunzel discovers that the emblem of the kingdom of Corona has been unwittingly sketched into all of the pictures she has painted over the years in her room. A sudden wave of memories and emotions from lying in her royal crib to trying on her tiara floods her mind, causing her to realize that she is the lost princess of Corona. Rapunzel then confronts Gothel, expressing her repulsion at everything Gothel has done and that she has been hiding with the person she should have been hiding from all along. Gothel says that she only wanted to protect Rapunzel and informs her that Eugene is scheduled to be hanged. Rapunzel becomes even angrier and states that she will never let Gothel use her hair again, but before she can leave, an enraged Gothel gags her and chains her to the wall.
A little while later, she hears Eugene calling to her from outside but can say or do nothing as Gothel throws Rapunzel's hair out the window for him to climb up. As Eugene gets to the top, Rapunzel attempts to warn him through her gag, but Eugene is fatally stabbed in the stomach by Gothel before he can do anything. Rapunzel's attempts to reach him are in vain as Gothel leaves Eugene clutching his side on the floor and prepares to make her escape with the captive Rapunzel and leave Eugene to die in the tower. Rapunzel, with a lot of struggling and fighting, manages to get the gag off and declares that she will never stop fighting Gothel as long as she lives, but makes a promise to submit to her if only she is allowed to heal Eugene. Gothel, knowing Rapunzel never broke her promises, agrees and chains Eugene down to prevent him from following them. Eugene begs Rapunzel leave him and escape, but Rapunzel refuses, saying she won't let Eugene die and promises him that everything will be alright. Eugene, however, chooses to die rather than let Rapunzel be a prisoner again, so he cuts her hair before she can heal him. Rapunzel reacts in shock and watches in despair as the endless lengths of golden hair turn brown and lose their magic.
With her source of magic gone, Gothel begins to rapidly age, losing her youth and beauty in a matter of seconds. Seeing her true form revealed, Gothel falls into a fit of hysteria, shrouding her face with her hood as she does so, and failing to realize Pascal tugging on a length of Rapunzel's dead hair, which she immediately trips over, falling out of the tower's entrance and plummeting to the ground. By the time she hits the surface, all that's left of the witch is her cloak and piles of dust. After a brief moment of shock over the death of her false mother, Rapunzel rushes to the side of a dying Eugene, in hopes of saving him. Rapunzel desperately cradles the dying Eugene and sings the healing incantation, but Eugene interrupts her as he weakly tells her, with his dying breaths, that she was his new dream. Rapunzel, in reply, says that he was hers as well. Eugene then dies in her arms, leaving a heartbroken Rapunzel to hopelessly finish singing the incantation. She begins to cry over his body, letting a single teardrop fall onto his cheek, which is revealed to have the same power of the magic flower, as it glows as it sinks into Eugene's body and heals his chest wound, reviving him. An overjoyed Rapunzel jubilantly embraces him, and the two then share their first kiss, finally proclaiming their love.
Eugene accompanies Rapunzel back to the kingdom. Though the King and Queen fail to recognize her, at first, the Queen takes a closer look and takes note of the striking resemblance; realizing her daughter has finally returned. It wasn't long before the King learns the truth, as well, and the family is reunited for the first time in several years. Eugene watches on, and knowing the former thief played a part in the safe return of their daughter, the Queen welcomes him into the reunion, as well. In celebration of Rapunzel's return, the kingdom rejoiced with a party lasting an entire week. In the closing narration, it is said that Rapunzel became a beloved ruler and governed her land with grace and wisdom. Meanwhile, Eugene is accepted into the royal family and pardoned for his crimes. According to the former thief, after "years of asking, and asking, and asking", he finally accepted Rapunzel's proposal to marry, only to be corrected by his bride. Eugene then amends that he asked her, which Rapunzel supports by stating that they are living happily ever after.
- A daughter of her named Anxelin appeared in School of Secrets, but another named Ruby appeared in Descendants: Wicked World.
- She is the fourth and last protagonist to be raised by a villain, the first being Snow White, the second Cinderella, the third Quasimodo.