Disney villains never really think it through. Maybe that's why they're the ones who always end up falling into a bottomless pit or getting crushed by a boulder or getting sucked into a swirling green portal to hell. Tangled's Mother Gothel isn't much different, even though she's been around lots longer than Ursula or Frollo or that racist pug from Pocahontas.
If you remember, the movie opens with Flynn Rider magically narrating events he had no way of knowing transpired. As he tells it, a piece of sunlight dripped onto the earth, and on that spot a magical flower bloomed. This special plant had miraculous healing abilities, which would be great for the general public when it comes to sick children or this one mole on my arm that i'm not sure about -- but Mother Gothel hordes the flower power for herself.
Gothel's only illness in this case is the one everyone is afflicted with eventually: old age. So whenever she wants to get rid of the encroaching crow's feet around her eyes, she rolls on over to the flower, sings a special song and poof, she's youngish again.
While exact numbers vary from source to source, most agree that Gothel has been doing this for hundreds of years before Rapunzel's story begins. Hell, she's been suckling on that nectar since even before the kingdom was timelapsed into being.
So far, it's not a bad plan as far as evil schemes go. Even though Gothel has to keep renewing her youth more and more often as the years pass, in general the immortality racket has gone much better than say, Scar's questionable "Kill Mufasa and pillage the Pridelands so hard everyone is starving in five years" plan.
The problems start when the pregnant Queen of the nearby kingdom falls ill, and some soldiers nab the flower to heal her majesty. Not only does the Queen pull through, but the flower's mojo has been transferred to the newborn baby daughter, who we know as Rapunzel.
With the flower used up, Rapunzel's magic hair is the only thing that can restore Gothel's youth. And since cutting that hair renders its powers inert, Gothel naturally kidnaps the royal baby and hides her away in a tower. We see in the movie that Rapunzel's "mother" still very much depends on her "daughter's" hair to survive.
This was sort of a long walk to take to get to the gist, but that's kind of the point here. Gothel has been around a long, long time. At some point, she probably thought she'd live forever. But now that the flower is gone, all Gothel has is this girl -- a girl who will one day grow old, and die. And then where will she be?
Seriously, Gothel doesn't seem to be worried at all that her unlimited lifespan suddenly has an expiration date. She puts a ton of effort into appearing like a caring mother, all for a flimsy band-aid solution.
Now, this is pretty dark, but there is one way she could indefinitely increase her longevity: If Rapunzel had a child, the magic hair could theoretically pass onto the son or daughter. Gothel hasn't shown us anything to indicate that she'd be above breeding a flock of golden-haired life machines. Hell, if the family grew out enough, she could kidnap and imprison them all over the land, giving her convienent fill-up stations wherever she goes. And yet, when Rapunzel shows interest in a guy who could give her that life-extending child, Gothel brushes it aside.
That romance is her only shot at living into the next century, and she's still still overprotective. To be fair, that need to hoard power is part of her character, so it's only fitting that not sharing it would lead to her demise. Then again, you'd think that someone who's managed to survive for centuries would be a tad smarter than Gaston.
Gothel isn't just an idiot for not addressing the temporal problems of her royalty-kidnapping plan -- she's also the one responsible for inspiring Rapunzel to leave in the first place. Yes, after years and years of being cooped up, just about any teenager would probably want to leave the nest, but mommie dearest has done an exceptional job at keeping her prize posession locked away.
But Rapunzel doesn't leave just to leave -- she wants to go see the lights, the ones that float in the sky once a year. Rapunzel is so obsessed with these sparkling mysteries that she paints them on her wall. And hey, she's got a pretty good reasoning behind her fascination.
Imagine that you're trapped in a tower with nothing to do but clean, read one of three books or trade helpless shrugs with the local chameleon -- you'd latch onto any mystery about who you are or where you come from. And if the sky lit up on your birthday, like a million candles on the cake of the far horizon, you'd do anything to find out the truth.
The viewers at home know that the lights are in fact for Rapunzel. Each year, the King and Queen join the kingdom in setting off thousands of lanterns into the night, in hopes that they might guide their lost princess back to them.
Of course, Rapunzel eventually figures out that the candles are for her, but she never should have gotten that far. Gothel's dumbest, most baffling move in her (again, very long) lifetime was telling Rapunzel that her birthday was on the same day that the lanterns lit up the sky for the lost princess. Literally any other day than her real, actual birthday would have avoided the events of the entire movie, and saved Gothel one 70-foot deathtrip to the ground at the end of the movie. Bett yet? Rapunzel is a captive who knows nothing about the outside world -- just don't tell her about birthdays at all!
That just goes to show you: Never do anything nice for anyone. Especially anyone you've kidnapped.
Someone who has been locked in a tower for their whole life is going to have some... disadvantages in the outside world. The uh, extreme homeschooling Rapunzel has been enrolled in has prevented her from learning life's basics, like how Flynn's groady goatee is basically a huge neon sign that says "I AM A DICKBAG." We can overlook a lot of this sort of thing in favor of keeping the story going, but then there's the matter of the water scene.
After a rollicking chase scene breaks a dam, the two heroes become trapped in a cave while the water rises. Rapunzel uses her glowing hair to light the way, and the two escape.
Rapunzel felt grass between her toes for the first time mere hours before, and all of a sudden she's clearly swimming with ease. Plenty of grown adults in the real world don't have this kind of underwater control, but this girl who probably hasn't ever had to wear shoes is a regular Ariel.
You could say that she's just aping what Flynn is doing, but that doesn't really explain what happens after they break out of the cave.
It doesn't seem like Flynn is helping her out here -- Rapunzel made it to shore by herself, while holding a frying pan. There are some things you can brush off, but unless there's a deleted scene where Morpheus uploads a Michael Phelps tape into Rapunzel's brain, this doesn't make any damn sense.
When it comes to a fairy tale about a girl trapped in a tower who uses her hair to let people climb in, you can let some of the smaller stuff slide. We accept that her hair is strong enough to hold the weight of grown adults, and that it isn't ridiculously painful for Rapunzel whenever she uses it like a grappling hook. We also accept that her hair would have to grow unnaturally fast to be 70 feet long at age 18, and that its inherent special properties keep it from getting dirty (and duh, tangled). The hair is magic, and we just have to accept that.
But what isn't acceptable is defying the rules, the very basic tenets of a movie set on Earth, with humans, in something resembling our reality. Tangled does just this with Rapunzel's escape.
She easily lets herself down from the tower and bundles up her hair and has a merry (and frankly, delightful) adventure. The only problem? Rapunzel should have plummeted to her death. Her hair simply isn't long enough to use a pulley to rappel down the tower.
Before you get all "But it's just a movie!" on me, let's look at the facts and then we can reassess your stance. In the framework of the movie, we see that Rapunzel's hair is just about as long as the tower is tall. That makes sense, because her whole deal is letting down her locks for people to climb up like the nicest-smelling rope in gym class. We even get a nice wide shot of the hair's length here:
Though we don't have an official estimate on the height of the tower, we do know that Rapunzel's hair is officially 70 feet long. Judging by the official concept art, the tower is just about the right height. As noted by Tumblr user TheNamelessDoll (who previously mocked up some stunning Disney Princess mermaids), this means that this method of doubling up her hair strands to reach the bottom should be impossible.
You can see she's holding onto two different sections of hair as she falls, letting one of the sections slide through her hand until she "brakes" about a foot above the ground. To put it plainly, this is not how time and space works, even when it comes to magical Disney hair. TheNamelessDoll put together a pretty good visual aid of what would have really happened here.
If Rapunzel is going to double-up her hair, she would have to literally double-up her hair -- in order to climb down 70 feet, she'd need 140 feet of human rope attached to the back of her head. As it is, she should have fallen to her doom about halfway down, making Tangled the most depressing Disney short ever, or about 10% as tragic as the first 10 minutes of Up.
It's obvious to us for the entire movie that Rapunzel is the lost/kidnapped princess because, well, the narrator straight-up says so. Everyone else in the movie doesn't have that benefit, so we can't very well expect the other characters to know about Rapunzel's magic hair or that her birthday is on the same night that the lanterns take the sky. But the princess herself has access to a ton of relevant information, but she never puts it all together.
The one thing that triggers her memory is looking at the royal seal, and realizing she's been painting it all around the tower for all of her life. Cue improbable baby flashback:
She had to figure out who she was at some point, and even though we were screaming it at her for the whole movie, we can't blame her because she didn't have the same information we did. Or did she?
Looking back, the signs of her royal heritage were much more blatant than the subconscious art designs on her bedroom wall. Really, Rapunzel's eureka moment should have come when she was in the town square just before the lanterns were lit.
Again, the whole reason that we're here in this town square is because Rapunzel wants to see the lights and learn what they mean. After getting her mane under control with the help of some underage hairdressers, Rapunzel then sees and hears something that explains everything: A mural of the King, the Queen and their baby daughter. At the base of the mural are many flowers and trinkets, which a little girl handily explains is a tribute for "the lost princess."
Since she almost died getting there, you'd think that asking one of the hundreds of townsfolk about the "floating lights" would be a top priority for Rapunzel. She could ask any number of pertinent questions like "Who is this princess?" or "How long has this lanterns thing been going on?" but nah, she just starts a dance montage. This is all despite the fact that she just stared super-hard at the eerily familiar royal baby.
To the audience, it's super-clear that this is Rapunzel, because that's what we've been shown. But even in the world of the film, it would be hard to look at that and say "Eh, could be any beautiful blonde girl with bright green eyes." Even if we accept that this wasn't enough to unveil the truth, all it would take is for Rapunzel to find out from a commoner that the princess has been missing for the exact same amount of time that she's been in the tower, and then she would immediately put together why she feels like the lanterns are "meant for her."
Even though she's spent the whole movie chasing this information, it's only when it's literally right in front of her face that she stops looking. I guess a good montage will do that to you.
The first words spoken in Tangled are from Flynn, who explains that "This is the story of how I died." For an hour and a half we're waiting for the moment of truth, and more importantly, just how Disney is going to bring the hero back to life. Naturally, this moment comes in the climax, just after Mother Gothel shanks Flynn in the middle of his heroic rescue.
As he lies bleeding out on the tower floor, Rapunzel comes up with a proposition for her captor.
Basically, Rapunzel promised to willingly tag along with Gothel for the rest of her days as a living fountain of youth; the only condition being that Rapunzel gets to use the magic of her hair to heal Flynn's wound right this minute. It's a pretty hefty price to pay. Saving Flynn's life means sacrificing Rapunzel's freedom forever.
Flynn thinks it's a pretty raw deal, and so in his dying breath, he does something drastic.
This was kind of a dick move. Though his intentions were to merely free Rapunzel from her obligations to himself and her "mother," Flynn had no way of knowing what would happen after slicing off that hair. For all he knew, Gothel would have gone on to perform all sorts of sick experiments on Rapunzel in an effort to squeeze out any remaining magic. Does her eyebrow hair have the same healing abilities? What about her blood, or other bodily fluids? Suffice it to say, finding out the answer to that question would involve copious amounts of torture and a life even worse than Rapunzel would have had before Flynn pulled that stunt.
But maybe he knew he was in a Disney movie, and therefore his heroic actions would put an end to Gothel once and for all.
Let's say that Flynn knew this would happen -- what he did was still incredibly stupid. There was nothing at all stopping Flynn from letting Rapunzel save his life with her magic hair and then cutting it all off in one decisive swipe. Remember, at this point in the movie no one has any idea that Rapunzel's tears have potent magic inside of them, so for all Flynn knew, he was killing himself. And he didn't have to.
But in a way, dying might be preferable to what happened next.
When it comes to Disney, a couple living "Happily Ever After" usually means "This Relationship is Doomed to Immediately Crash Head-First Into a Tree and Explode Into a Gigantic Fireball Two Weeks After the Credits Roll." Prince Charming and Cinderella get married on the questionable basis of "foot size," Prince Eric whisks away Ariel from her family and everything she's ever known forever at just 16 years old, and Beauty is clearly still under the influence of Stockholm Syndrome when she sees her beloved transform from a badass beast to a fugly Fabio.
Disney has even acknowledged the absurdity of these relationships recently, as Frozen makes a point to comment on how foolhardy it is to get engaged to someone that you just met that day. And yet, no one in Tangled remarks on how messed up it is for Flynn to get involved with a girl as emotionally stunted as Rapunzel. Remember, he knows how she was brought up.
This is a girl who spent her entire life in solitary confinement; it's no wonder she grew attached to the first other person (specifically the first man) she saw besides her "mother." The intro shows us that Rapunzel has made the best of her alone time, becoming a very talented illustrator, musician and cook. While those are admirable traits, her living situation ensures that Rapunzel never learned vital social skills. Teenagers who go to public schools already have enough trouble getting by, so you can imagine how confusing and stressful the world might be to someone seeing it all for the first time at 18.
Education in particular is a huge problem Rapunzel is facing. I wasn't joking earlier when I said she had only three books to read.
To be clear, Rapunzel isn't stupid -- she just doesn't know anything. It's not her fault, either. She shows a huge interest in learning everything she can about the world. The only problem is, her knowledge gaps are so severe that this is probably the first time she's ever seen a map of the world.
Flynn's narration at the end of the movie admits that it was years before he and Rapunzel tied the knot. And for the sake of argument, we can ignore any doubts that might arise from the fact that the pair don't look a day older in the Tangled wedding short that came out a couple years after the film. But that doesn't make it better, especially since we can assume they were together the entire time. Flynn and Rapunzel's entire relationship is based on a chance meeting between a puckish rogue and a girl who doesn't have very basic emotional intelligence, or anything past a third grade education.
After decades of trauma, a relationship is the last thing Rapunzel should be getting herself into. She doesn't need a boyfriend -- she needs a therapist.