7 Real Places That Inspired Our Favorite Disney Movies

7 Real Places That Inspired Our Favorite Disney Movies

By: Alonso Martínez -

One of Tim Burton’s most incredible cinematic efforts, Big Fish, challenged his creativity in everyday life to add some magical realism to his character’s story. One of the most fantastic scenarios revolves around the town of Spectre, a  magical place that refuses to allow the outside world to interfere. This setting might not seem complex, but it was created solely out of the filmmaker’s imagination. However, sometimes what our mind can dream up pales in comparison to what real life, as well as the creativity of others, can provide.

In the film industry, some set designers can create out of nothing a place that perfectly fits the story. At times they don’t realize that there’s already an existing place that matches the one they’ve dreamed up. This is why plenty of directors choose to leave time for scouting the perfect locations for their shoots. But when it comes to animation, it’s all left in the hands of the creative team.

Disney stands out from other companies for not excluding natural or man-made beauty found in our world. We can be sure we’ll be provided with environments inspired by real sites in each of their films. Here are some examples:

The Little Mermaid. Chillon Castle, Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Chillon Little Mermaid

Though it’s unclear exactly when this Chateau was built, there are records dating from the year 1005 claiming that it started as a Roman site with a strategic location. Disney has always been drawn to ancient edifices and the relationship they share with fairytales of the time. The use of this setting as the home of Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid” brings a feeling of homage to those stories and their fantastical spirit.

Little Mermaid Real Places That Inspired Disney Films

Mulan Forbidden City, Beijing, China.

Imperial Palace Mulan

The former palace which is a World Heritage Site housing artifacts from China’s ancient dynasties was once the home of the country’s emperors. In Mulan, we see how the art direction kept with traditional Chinese architecture and the story remained faithful to the original story of this heroine. This marvelous structure was built at the start of the fifteenth century and housed the Ming and Qing dynasties that ruled the nation until 1912. It’s currently one of the territory’s most popular attractions.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Imperial Palace Mulan

Peter Pan. Big Ben, London, England.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Big Ben Peter Pan

The unforgettable scene when Peter Pan is teaching the children how to fly pauses for a moment as they stand on the hands of the Big Ben.  This monument is part of London's identity is another close representation of real life in Disney films. Officially named the Elizabeth Tower, its construction finished in 1859. Aside from this animated version, this building has appeared on several other movies.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Big Ben London Peter Pan

. Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Tangled Normandy Castle

While making this retelling of the classic tale of Rapunzel, the creative team first looked towards a more Renaissance style given its relationship with the story’s origins. But it slowly began to veer towards a Medieval look. The castle chosen to center the movie around was an eighth-century fortress located in Normandy. It’s considered a heritage site by UNESCO.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Tangled Castle in Normandy

The Emperor’s New Groove
. Machu Picchu, Peru.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Machu Pichu Emperors New Groove

These Inca ruins are intrinsically related to Peruvian identity. Abandoned since the sixteenth century, it remains to this day as the region’s most sought after tourist spot, also being the inspiration for the setting of The Emperor’s New Groove. This is where Kuzco wishes to create the theme park of “Kuzkotopia”. The studio’s inspired use of references of ancient cultures helps attract more adult audiences to these retellings.  

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Machu Pichu Kuzko Emperors New Groove

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Alcazar of Segovia, Spain.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Segovia Snow White

From the studio’s early offerings, it’s always chosen to challenge itself and audiences with incredible places. The use of historic architecture as inspiration for the sets provided a new dimension to the movies. The castle featured in Disney’s 1937 film also harks back to Roman times. The illustration remains similar to the original while also evoking the sense of a nonspecific time gone by.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Segovia Castle Snow White

Up. Angel Falls, Venezuela.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Films Venezuela Angel Falls Up

A group of Pixar’s animation team traveled to the world’s largest waterfall, located in Venezuela, to search for inspiration for the emotion-driven movie. The marvelous site is beautifully represented because of the combined technology and sensibility of Disney and Pixar.

Real Places That Inspired Disney Pixas Films Venezuela Angel Falls Up

Some genius minds have created incredible places, yet it’s in nature and history where we can marvel at the infinite possible stories that can happen in these amazing spots. The silver screen has always used architecture in order to house their characters and stories in the best places. These movies become childhood gems we carry in our hearts forever, and the fact that part of them exists in the real world makes our experience even better.  

Translated by María Suárez