Real Life Spots That Inspired Disney Movies

Disney’s animated movies may seem fantastical at times, but did you know that there’s at least a little reality in almost every film?


We’re talking about the towns, castles, and cities that Disney movies take place in — so many were inspired by real life spots!

Get ready to pack your bags and start planning a different kind of vacation — because we’ve got all the real spots that inspired the fictional places you see in Disney films.


The beautiful Italian town of Portorosso might seem like something out of a dream, but there’s a real village JUST like it that inspired its setting. That place is based on the very real Italian Riviera, which is where Luca director Enrico Casarosa grew up!


In fact, many of the characters in Portorosso are also inspired by people Casarosa knew as a child!


We already know that Moana is set on a Polynesian Island, but much of the film takes its inspiration specifically from the Samoan Islands in the central South Pacific.


However, many members of Moana‘s creative crew were also inspired by the landscapes of Tetiaroa, Fiji, Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora, and New Zealand.


Much of Soul takes place in New York City, and it’s obvious that the REAL New York City inspired a lot of what we see in the movie, from the pizza to the street scenes, the soul of Soul is the city itself.


Lilo and Stitch

We all know that Lilo and Stitch takes place on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. It turns out much of the scenery in this movie is inspired by the real Kauai, which is considered the oldest of Hawaii’s islands, geologically speaking.


Kauai is often referred to as the “the garden island” because it’s so lush and tropical. You really get the sense of that in the movie.

Sleeping Beauty

Walt Disney was an avid traveler, and many of the classic films he made were inspired by places he’d seen. That includes the very fairytale-like AND real Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, which inspired the castle we see in Sleeping Beauty.


As a result, Neuschwanstein also inspired the castle at Disneyland.


You might have been impressed with the emperor’s home in Mulan. It was based on the Forbidden City, a Chinese Imperial palace located in Beijing. And it’s no wonder — the luxe castle housed 24 emperors during its time!


In the film, it’s also where Mulan defeated the leader of the Huns.


The kingdom of Corona in Tangled might look like something from a postcard, but it’s based on an island in France called Mont Saint-Michel. At the top of an island is a monastery that serves as inspiration for Rapunzel’s castle!


It’s hard to believe that such a magical place really exists, but it does, and you can visit it!


Angel Falls in Canaima National Park, Venezuela, served as the inspiration for Paradise Falls in the Pixar movie Up. But Angel Falls is a little trickier to get to — it’s located in an isolated jungle and the trek to get there involves a flight and a bit of hiking.


We’re sure the breathtaking view is worth it, though?

The Emperor’s New Groove

Disney animators who worked on The Emperor’s New Groove found inspiration for Kuzco’s empire in the ruins of Machu Picchu, which was built by Incans in the 1400s.


And where is Machu Picchu located? In the region of Cusco, Peru…get it? Cusco, Kuzco!

Finding Nemo

Marlin and Dory go to Sydney Harbor, based on the real Sydney Harbor in Australia, in their quest to find Nemo in Finding Nemo.


You can also see the famous Sydney Opera House in many of the Sydney scenes in the movie!

The Lion King

Disney animators looked to the real habitats of lions when they began to draw The Lion King, and the location that inspired them the most was the Serengeti.


That makes sense because the Serengeti is famous for its relatively large lion population and is one of THE places people can go to observe lion prides in the wild. Everywhere the light touches…

Winnie The Pooh

Hundred-Acre Wood may seem like the most magical forest to ever exist in Winnie The Pooh, but it’s based on a very real forest — Ashdown Forest in England.


Ashdown Forest was near the place where Winnie The Pooh author A.A. Milne lived for much of his life, so of course, it inspired him, and in turn, inspired the Disney movies about Pooh!


Remy may have lived and worked at a restaurant in Paris, France, in Ratatouille, but the real restaurant that inspired Gusteau’s is actually in California. Disney hired chef Thomas Keller of the restaurant French Laundry to keep the film’s culinary concepts as accurate as possible.


Keller’s restaurant in Napa Valley served as inspiration for Gusteau’s. And the ratatouille in the film? It’s inspired by Keller’s real recipe for that dish!


Castle Dunbroch might have been fictional in Disney’s Brave, but Princess Merida’s castle is based on a very real castle in a very real Scotland — Eilean Donan Castle.


And much of the film is based on the very real beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

Beauty and the Beast

Are you wondering if there’s a real world equivalent for Beast’s Castle in Beauty and the Beast? Well, the inspiration for that comes directly from Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley, France. The Loire Valley is also known for its fantastic wine, by the way!


And Belle’s little village? That was inspired by a village in France called Alsace.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Okay, so this one is probably a given, especially as “Notre Dame” is in the title of the Disney film, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The original story by Victor Hugo was set in Paris with Quasimodo living in Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most famous cathedrals in the world.


And yes, the cathedral has gargoyles! The version seen in the movie is almost an exact reproduction of the real thing from an architectural standpoint.

The Little Mermaid

Life might be better “Under The Sea,” but it’s on land where Ariel’s heart wants to be in The Little MermaidBut where exactly on land is Prince Eric’s world? Lake Geneva, Switzerland!


And the prince’s castle? It was inspired by Chateau De Chillon there. Yes, there are so many amazing castles in Europe!

Peter Pan

How can we not love the scene of Peter Pan and Wendy flying all over London in Peter Pan? And that’s also one of our favorite scenes in Disney World’s Peter Pan’s Flight! But where in London are they? Bloomsbury!


In real world London, Bloomsbury is right next to Kensington Gardens where you can find a statue dedicated to the boy who never grew up. Also, many famous London landmarks appear in the film, too, like Big Ben.

The Princess and the Frog

New Orleans in the 1920s never looked better than in The Princess and the Frog. And the real New Orleans, including the world-famous French Quarter, features heavily in the movie!


Tiana is actually based on a real person — New Orleans chef Leah Chase, who was the brains and culinary wizard behind Dooky Chase, one of the city’s most iconic restaurants.


Route 66 played a huge part in the design elements of Disney’s Cars. But one building, in particular, Ramone’s Body Art Shop, got direct inspiration from a real place along Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas. That place is the iconic U-Drop Inn, an art deco-style gas station and restaurant.


The U-Drop Inn was renovated in the late 1990s and is still open to visitors as a national historic site.


As Pinocchio is set in Italy, much of its background is based on Collodi Village in Tuscany. The author of the original story, Carlo Lorenzini, was born in Florence, but his mother hailed from Collodi, so he honored her birth village in his tale.


Now, there’s an entire Park in Collodi dedicated to Pinocchio that has works of art based on the story’s characters.


Elsa might have just waved her hands and sang a song to create her magical ice castle in Frozen, but it’s based on a very real ice castle…err…hotel called Hotel de Glace in Quebec City.


The hotel itself is created from sculpted snow and ice — and yes, there is a Frozen-themed suite that guests can stay in!

Wreck-It Ralph

In Wreck-It Ralph, we get a peek at Game Central Station, where all the video game characters get together when they’re not working in their games. And that hub is based on New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.


Game Central Station’s windows, ceilings, and columns almost look identical to its real world inspiration.


Agrabah is a fictional place in Aladdinbut the Sultan’s palace (and Jasmine’s home) is based on the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.


Disney animators used many of the Taj Mahal’s architectural details to create the palace for the film.


The underrated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire might spend a lot of its time under the ocean, but the legendary city of Atlantis took its inspiration from a real temple complex above land in Siem Reap in Cambodia.


The temple complex of Angkor Wat inspired many of the details of Atlantis.


In Disney’s Coco, Miguel goes to visit the Land of the Dead. And although it seems fantastical, Disney animators based much of it on the architecture of Teotihuacan in Mexico.


Teotihuacan is an ancient city known for its huge number of Mesoamerican pyramids. It is now one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs lived in quite an impressive castle. And the inspiration for her castle exists in the real world, in Spain, Alcazar Castle.


The real castle was originally built in the 12th century, but today it’s a museum that anyone can visit.

We think it’s pretty cool how Disney has always looked to the real world for inspiration to inspire its animated features — perhaps that’s why each movie feels so real even when its story is fantastical. We can’t wait to see where Disney takes us next!

10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Disney Movies!

What’s your favorite setting in a Disney movie? Let us know in the comments!


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