29+ Real-Life Locations Behind Disney Movies


| LAST UPDATE 04/12/2022

By Lily Tipton

The magical settings in every film have helped make Disney the phenomenon it is today. From Cinderella to Frozen, here's a closer look at the real-life places that inspired their animated masterpieces...

Luca: Italian Riviera

Director Enrico Casarosa went off what he felt was best for his movie Luca. Growing up in the beautiful Italian Riveria, he believed his beloved hometown would be the perfect backdrop for this film.

Luca Disney, Italian Riviera Luca Disney, Italian Riviera
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Of course, being an animated movie, Casarosa couldn't just move production over there. Instead, he worked with animators to create the fictional Italian town of Portorosso, heavily inspired by his childhood neighborhood. In addition, he based the characters in the movie on people he knew from the area.

Beauty and the Beast: Alsace, France

The character names Belle, Lumière, and Gaston help allude to what region Belle's hometown is inspired by in Beauty and the Beast. As Belle sings and walks along her neighborhood's cobbled streets, the surrounding colorful buildings and shingled roofs strongly represent the French village of Alsace.

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The town, located in the North-West of France, has a small village square which is the artistic inspiration behind the one featured in the movie. Despite its location, the region has historically been politically German. This cultural blend is responsible for its unique, movie-like architecture.

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Tangled: Mont Saint-Michel, France

Another Disney movie setting taking notes from French design is the Kingdom of Corona in the 2010 film, Tangled. Although this magical kingdom may seem like the product of Disney's animators' imaginations, it is actually based on a French Island named Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy.

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Creators modeled the Corona Castle's tall spires after those seen on the Mont Saint Michel Abbey; however, the art director Laurent Den-Mimount noted the additional influence of other medieval and French Renaissance castles and fortresses for the final design of Rapunzel's castle.

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Up: Angel Falls, Venezuela

Another director dedicated to his craft, Pete Docter, traveled with a team of Pixar animators to Venezuela's tepuis (table-top mountains) before beginning production for the animated movie: Up. Searching for the perfect spot on which to model the fictional Paradise Falls, Docter and his team discovered Angel Falls.

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Returning with multiple images and sketches of the tallest waterfall in the world, they worked to create the bucket-list destination of the movie's main character Carl Frederikson. Talking to USA Today, Docter explained the importance of the backdrop. "My feeling is that the location is also a character in the movie."

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Peter Pan: Big Ben, London

When Peter Pan takes Wendy and the rest of the Darling children on a flying adventure over London, they catch a bird's-eye view of a town known as Bloomsbury. In fact, in a nod to this, the nearby Kensington Gardens holds a statue dedicated in the film's honor.

Peter Pan, Big BenPeter Pan, Big Ben
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Most famously, the group stops for a short sight-spotting break on the minute hand of Big Ben. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice the incredible lengths the creators went to model the landmark in its true sense. With no detail missing, it's easy to forget the scene is taking place on an animated version of the clock!

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The Emperor’s New Groove: Machu Picchu, Cusco, Peru

The not-so-subtle inspiration behind Kuzco's empire in The Emperor's New Groove can be found 7970 feet above sea level on a mountain ridge in Peru. Pacha's hilltop village was based on Machu Picchu in Cusco, believed to have been the home of Incan emperor Pachacuti until the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century. 

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Not only was the film's setting modeled after the 15th century Incan civilization site, but its characters' names were too. Picha was named after Picchu and Kusco after the town Cusco. Nowadays, Machu Picchu serves as a major Peruvian tourist attraction.

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Mulan: Forbidden City, Beijing, China

The emperor's palace in the Disney classic Mulan was clearly created with Beijing's Forbidden City in mind. From 1420 to 1912, during its years as an operating palace, it was home to 24 Chinese emperors who held absolute power over who could enter and exit the premise - hence why it was considered "forbidden."

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In the film, the Emperor's home serves as the site of the film's ultimate showdown moment, when Mulan herself (spoiler alert!) defeats the leader of the Huns. The UNESCO-protected site is now open to the public as a museum where guests can view artifacts and learn about the castle's rich history.

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The Hunchback Of Notre Dame: Notre Dame Cathedral, France

When it came to the Cathedral in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, the Disney animators pretty much created an exact replica of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Not wanting to stray from its architectural perfection, the artists made sure to include the Cathedral's gargoyles, although, unlike in the movie, they don't talk!

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Taking place in Paris, its main character Quasimodo lived in this world-famous Cathedral, which is arguably the most famous example of French Gothic architecture. Despite its darker thematic tones, the movie effectively showed off the true beauty of this landmark and the city of Paris.

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The Little Mermaid: Chateau De Chillon, Lake Geneva, Switzerland

In yet another European-castle-inspired Disney backdrop, The Little Mermaid creators were influenced heavily by the Château de Chillon on Lake Geneva in Switzerland when designing Prince Eric's castle. It was previously used as a road guard during the Roman Empire,

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With its walls seemingly plunging into the water and its picturesque lake surroundings, the castle is a perfect fairy tale setting. At the same time, Lake Geneva serves well as the above-water world in which mermaid Ariel longs to be. In 1816, Lord Byron historically marked the Château in his poem "The Prisoner of Chillon."

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Wreck-It Ralph: Grand Central Terminal, New York City, USA

While the characters in Wreck-It Ralph use Game Central Station as a place to socialize with their friends when off-duty from working in their games, its real-life version, Grand Central Station, is less of a social hangout and more of a courageous feat to travel through!

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Despite this, the film still impeccably recreates the iconic New York station. Its designers impressively recreated the tall arched glass windows and the barrel-vaulted ceiling while perfectly encapsulating the hustle and bustle of the passengers within.

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Beauty and the Beast: Chateau De Chambord, Loir-Et-Cher, France

The castle in which Belle is held captive by the Beast was designed with the Château de Chambord in mind. Located in the Loire Valley of France, this unfinished 14th-century castle was the perfect model for the Disney artists to draw inspiration from.

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With its 426 dark rooms, 282 chimneys, 77 staircases, and its breath-taking grandeur, it perfectly resembles a dark, cursed castle where a prince turned beast would live concealed from the outside world. Whether or not this castle is also home to hilarious talking household objects has yet to be seen...

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Cinderella: Craigievar Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Painted pink with turrets, gargoyles, and corbels, Craigievar Castle was destined to become the basis for a Disney princess movie. After Cinderella is found by the prince and they marry, we are shown their beautiful pink castle home, rumored to be inspired by this real-life castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

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It is also believed that The Neuschwanstein Castle had a part to play in the design. Although this has all yet to be confirmed by Disney themselves, The National Trust for Scotland tells its visitors to "discover the beautiful pink castle said to be the inspiration for Walt Disney's Cinderella Castle."

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The Princess And The Frog: New Orleans, USA

The Princess and The Frog is set in a beautiful city modeled to look like New Orleans in the 1920s. Emphasizing its unique architecture and the lively, vibrant streets, the film brings to life the true heart and soul of the area. Most notably is their accurate depiction of the French Quarter, featured prominently in the movie.

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Princess Tiana, who works as a waitress in the Disney version of New Orleans, is based on a real-life New Orleans resident Leah Chase. Leah is the chef and creator of the famous Dooky Chase restaurant, which attracts eager tourists to the area every day.

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Brave: Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, UK

It doesn't take much guesswork to determine the inspiration behind Brave's film setting. The DunBroch family castle is a perfect blend of the architecture seen in three Scottish landmarks: Urquhart Castle, Dunnottar Castle, situated on the edge of a sea cliff, and Eilean Donan Castle.

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The interior design of Merida’s DunBroch Castle also took notes from the 13th-century Eilean Donan Castle, incorporating many similar features - such as the towers, staircases, and turrets. This helped form the perfect castle stomping ground for the red-headed princess to explore.

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Finding Nemo: Sydney Harbour, Australia

On the hunt to find their pal Nemo, Marlin and Dory head off on an adventure through the Great Barrier Reef and the East Australian Current. While the movie is primarily seen to blame for making the latter famous, the rest of the movie's setting was modeled after an already very well-known landscape - Sydney Harbour.

Finding Nemo, Location SydneyFinding Nemo, Location Sydney
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Although its portrayal of the Great Barrier Reef isn't the most accurate, when the fish emerge from the water in front of the iconic Australian skyline, audiences couldn't help but notice its almost-perfect replication. Unfortunately, 42 Wallaby Way, although certainly memorable, is not a real Australian address.

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Atlantis: The Lost Empire: Angkor Wat, Angkor, Cambodia

The design of the fictional city of Atlantis in the movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire took many notes from the temples of Angkor Wat in Angkor, Cambodia. Although the concept for the underwater city was inspired by the legend of a sunken Greek island, its visual resemblance to Angkor Wat is undeniable.

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Originally built as a Hindu temple and then later converted into a Buddhist temple in the 12th century, it is the largest religious monument in the world. With this in mind, it was the perfect template for a fictional civilization that had significant cultural influence over the rest of the world.

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Frozen: Hotel De Glace, Quebec City, Canada

A spectacular Canadian hotel created out of snow and ice served as the inspiration for Elsa's Ice Castle in the blockbuster 2013 film, Frozen. Hotel de Glace in Quebec City, also referred to as the Ice Hotel, was established in 2001 and opens every year for just the first three months of the year.

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Fans of the movie can visit the hotel to feel like they are on the live set of the film, as the hotel provides the ultimate frozen experience. Moreover, the hotel has capitalized on this fame and created a Frozen-themed room for the die-hard fans to stay in!

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Snow White: Griffith Park Blvd, LA, USA

The creators of the 1937 film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs didn't travel far to find the inspiration for the dwarf cottages in the movie. In fact, they simply went behind the original Walt Disney Studios in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, to Griffith Park Blvd! Here lay a row of eight picturesque cottages built in 1931 by Ben Sherwood.

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As explained by the Atlas Obscura, "with cragged thatched roofs, black timber framing and random patches of rusticated masonry, the cottages are a prime exemplar of the so-called storybook style - a minor phenomenon in Los Angeles architecture of the 1920s and 1930s."

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Hercules: Greece

In the movie Hercules, its creators chose to physically represent Greek mythology and culture while leaving out its racier theme of adultery. The movie's settings honor the Greek classical architectural design, including structures to resemble the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, the Acropolis, and the Temple of Zeus.

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In addition to this, actual Mediterranean islands were studied to design the locations in the famous film. For example, the island of Rhodes inspired the design of Phil's Island, hinted at by the shots of the ruins left from the Colossus of Rhodes.

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The Lion King: The Serengeti

Sure, Simba and Mufassa may not be a real father and son lion duo. But the intense dynamics of The Pride Lands are based on observations made by the directors on a visit to the real-life savannahs of The Serengeti in Kenya. The area's famously large lion population makes it ideal for a film titled after the giant cats.

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Not only inspired by the variety of animal species, but the film's creators also noted the vast landscape and its plant diversity when drawing the setting for the iconic movie. Although many say Pride Rock itself is based on Hell's Gate National Park, it is actually a compilation of numerous parts of the area.

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Pinocchio: Tuscany

The tale of the lying marionette is set in the hillside town of Collodi in rural Tuscany, the birthplace of its writer Carlo “Collodi” Lorenzini. Like so many other successful Disney writers before and after him, Lorenzini wrote Pinocchio within the place he knew best.

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Nowadays, the village has two parks dedicated in the story's honor - Pinocchio's Park and Garzoni Garden. These two beautiful attractions are home to numerous pieces of art that honor the characters in the book-turned film. Located close to the popular city of Florence, the sites attract hundreds of visitors every day.

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Coco: Teotihuacan, Mexico

In the 2017 film Coco, its protagonist Miguel visits what's known as the Land of the Dead. While this mystical place seems like a far stretch from anything found in reality, the animators behind the film claim to have drawn ideas for the location from the Teotihuacan in Mexico.

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Looking closely at the fictional place with this fact in mind, audiences can notice the layered pyramid-like structures which strikingly resemble those at the famous site in Mexico. The ancient city of Teotihuacan is regarded as one of the world's most impressive archaeological sites.

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Ratatouille: The French Laundry, California, USA

In an attempt to guarantee authenticity, the studio responsible for the Ratatouille film recruited none other than Chef Thomas Keller for his expert knowledge. The filmmakers set out to recreate Keller's famous French Laundry restaurant in California's Napa Valley for the film's animated setting.

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Of course, Remy's fictional restaurant is located in France, but the Gusteau kitchen is practically an exact replica of the one in French Laundry. Fun fact - reference was made not just to Keller's physical restaurant but also to his recipes, namely his famous ratatouille dish!

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Soul: New York City, USA

Like so many other movies, Soul's New York City backdrop is a main character in the film, adding a certain magic to the storyline and tone of the film. Of course, in this case, the New York City background is an animated one, but the resemblance is real.

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As the characters eat New-York style pizza to calm their nerves, walk along the chaotic streets of Manhattan, ride the dark and lifeless subway and stroll through the West Village Jazz scene, the film perfectly portrays on screen what it really means to be a New-Yorker.

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Winnie The Pooh: Ashdown Forest, UK

Visitors strolling through Ashdown Forest in England will instantly feel like they have stepped into the fictional world of Winnie the Pooh, also known as Hundred-Acre Wood. The crooked bridges and overgrown trees under which Pooh and his friends sit strikingly resemble those in Ashdown Forest.

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However, this is no magical Disney coincidence. A.A.Milne, the author of the original Winnie the Pooh story, on which the movie is based, spent most of his life living right by this English forest. His surroundings, even perhaps unconsciously, inspired the fictional setting.

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Cars: U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas

The 2006 movie Cars obviously references the famous Route 66 with its fictional town of Radiator Springs located alongside it. One particular stop on this real-life highway is the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas, which was the basis for the drawings of Ramone’s House of Body Art.

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The uniquely designed building was built in 1936 by J.C. Berry and bears an unmistakable resemblance to the one in the Disney film. After the animator John Lassetter visited Shamrock on Route 66 on a road trip with his family, he knew the town of Cars needed to be modeled after it.

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Aladdin: Taj Mahal, Agra, India

The beautiful Sultan's Palace in Aladdin was designed in the image of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Funnily enough, despite its palace-like appearance, the Taj Mahal is, in fact, a tomb built by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 for his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

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With its beautiful surrounding gardens and white-stoned domes, the construction is regarded as a 17th-century architectural marvel, marking it as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. When the film was released, and audiences saw the castle's golden domes and white walls, the inspiration behind the design was blatant.

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Moana: Samoan Islands, South Pacific

The animators behind the 2016 Disney film Moana were likely ecstatic to hear that research for the project would involve touring some of the most beautiful islands in the world. After visiting the islands of Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa, the film's directors, John Musker and Ron Clements, mainly based the fictional Motonui on Samoa.

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The film, which is set 2000 years ago, follows a teenage girl's desperate attempt to save her island and its people. It paid significant attention to the island it was based on and respectfully and accurately depicted the South Pacific's culture and unique physical features.

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Sleeping Beauty: Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

This castle boasts the claim of being the inspiration for not one but two Disney princess castles. One look at its white-stone appearance, blue turrets, and ramparts, and it's abundantly clear why. Located in Bavaria, Germany, the fortress was built in 1982 by Ludwig II, who is responsible for many of the buildings in the city.

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Not only did this historical site inspire the castles seen in both Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella, but it went on to become the design basis for the iconic Disneyland Castle in California! After a visit with his wife, Walt Disney believed its grand romantic architecture perfectly represented the fairytale magic of Disney.

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Lilo and Stitch: Kauai, Hawaii

Most Lilo and Stitch fans know the movie to be set in Kauai, Hawaii; however, only the die-hard fans will know that the island seen in the film was made to look like the real-life region of Kauai, especially Hanapepe. This geological relic of an island is ironically the location for one of Disney's only movies set in modern times.

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With its tropical and luscious trees, the Hawaiian Island is often regarded as "the garden island." This beauty is highlighted through the movie's visual effects and scenery. At the same time, the film was praised for its accurate depiction of the town's economic issues, which were relevant at the time of its production in 2000.

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