A single drop of sunlight falls to Earth and becomes a golden flower filled with magical properties. A woman named Gothel discovers the flower and hoards its ability to restore youth for hundreds of years. The pregnant queen of a nearby kingdom falls deathly ill, leading the king to seek out the legendary plant. Despite Gothel’s efforts to hide it, the flower is found and ground up into medicine for the queen. It heals her, and as a side effect the newborn princess inherits the plant’s healing powers – which manifest through her golden hair. Gothel, wanting to reclaim her immortality and youth, breaks into the royal nursery to cut a lock of the princess's hair, only to discover this causes it to lose its magic. She kidnaps the princess instead and names her “Rapunzel”, raising her as her own in an isolated tower. The king and the queen honour their missing daughter by releasing floating lanterns on the night of her birthday each year.
For her 18th birthday, Rapunzel asks Gothel for permission to go outside the tower to see the source of the annual floating lights, but Gothel refuses. Meanwhile, Flynn Rider and the Stabbington brothers steal the tiara of the lost princess. During the ensuing chase, Maximus, horse of the Captain of the Guards, is separated from his rider but continues on his own. Flynn outwits his accomplices, takes the tiara, and stumbles upon Rapunzel's tower. He climbs up into the tower, but Rapunzel knocks him unconscious with a frying pan and puts him in a wardrobe. When Gothel returns, Rapunzel tries to show her the captive Flynn to prove she is capable of handling the outside world, but Gothel cuts her off by saying she is never leaving the tower. So Rapunzel instead asks Gothel for a special paint, the ingredients for which require three days' of round-trip travel. Gothel leaves, and Rapunzel rushes to get Flynn from the wardrobe. She ties him up in her hair and then tells him that she will give him the tiara back if he takes her to see the lights. After much arguing, Flynn agrees. While en route, he takes her to the Snuggly Duckling Inn, which is full of Gaul thugs, in hopes of scaring her into giving up her quest. The thugs, however, are charmed by Rapunzel, who encourages them to follow their dreams.