Disney’s animated films take us to some extraordinary places! They’ve taken us under the sea in The Little Mermaid and even to outer space in films like WALL-E.
And did you know there are a ton of REAL places all over the globe that served as an inspiration for many of our beloved animated films?
Grab your snacks and settle in for an adventure around the world as we check out 14 real places from Disney’s animated films!
New Orleans — The Princess and the Frog
We’re starting our tour down in New Orleans! The Princess and the Frog tells the story of Tiana, an aspiring chef whose dreams are put to the test when she turns into a frog!
This film truly embraces the culture of New Orleans, from the beignets that Tiana prepares to the riverboats that pass by playing jazz music.
If you take a trip to New Orleans and you explore its historic sights, you’ll easily recognize various moments and ‘snapshots’ of the film, from New Orleans’ iconic streetcars to the Uptown Mansions to the historic French Quarter.
And don’t forget about the bayou! Tiana spends a good deal of time there. And while visiting New Orleans, you can take a swamp tour to check out some of Louisiana’s natural wonder.
Did you know that Disney has announced a Princess and the Frog-themed restaurant?
While they haven’t shared many details, they have shared that it will be a Table Service restaurant at Disney’s new Reflections — A Disney Lakeside Lodge that will allow guests to experience waterfront dining on “the bayou.”
Virginia — Pocahontas
Both Pocahontas and John Smith were real, historic figures, and Jamestown, the settlement in the film, is a real spot that you can still visit to this day (you probably learned about it in grade school!).
Pocahontas, much like in the film, played a key role as a peacemaker between the Powhatan natives and the English settlers.
You can take tours of Historic Jamestowne, Virginia, and get an idea of what life was like back then!
There’s even a statue erected in Historic Jamestowne to commemorate John Smith!
The REAL Pochahontas may have only been about 11 years old when she met John Smith (SERIOUSLY…it’s best not to think too hard about it!), but the movie stands the test of time teaching generations about one of the first settlements in what would become the United States.
London — Peter Pan
The London skyline is one of the more iconic shots from a Disney animated film! Peter, Tinker Bell, Wendy, John, and Michael flying past The Elizabethan Tower and Big Ben is certainly a memorable moment.
Those who have the opportunity to visit London may not be able to fly past it per se, but they can at least walk by it!
If you don’t find yourself in London anytime soon, you can hitch a ride on Peter Pan’s Flight in Disney World and Disneyland and soar above the city of London!
If you find yourself in foggy ol’ Londontown, be sure to take a gander up at Big Ben where the Darling children paused before taking off for the second star to the right!
Sydney Harbour and Australia — Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo doesn’t shy away from the fact that our favorite school of fish live somewhere in the Pacific Ocean near Australia (P. SHERMAN, 42 WALLABY WAY, SYDNEY! P. SHERMAN, 42 WALLABY WAY, SYDNEY!).
You can spot the Sydney skyline at a couple of points throughout the film, with the iconic and VERY recognizable Sydney Opera House off in the distance.
If you want to get sweeping views of the city just like Nigel, you can take part in the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. You may even be able to spot P.Sherman at 42 Wallaby Way! 😉
If you can’t find your way to Australia, you can check out The Seas with Nemo and Friends in Epcot instead!
Paris — The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Perhaps the most ‘on the nose’ location, the Notre Dame cathedral almost acts as a main character itself in the animated film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After all, when Victor Hugo first penned the book in 1833, it was in an attempt to save the cathedral from neglect.
One of the novel’s key features is the lengthy descriptions of the church, so when it was adapted to an animated film, Disney knew they would have to do the building justice!
The facade of the church is quite the sight to see! Unfortunately, after the devastating fires that ravaged the building in April 0f 2019, the structure is closed off from visitors until further notice.
The cathedral is decorated in gargoyles, much like the ones that Quasimodo befriended in the film!
This structure is a feat of architecture and engineering. It is, to this day, one of the most recognizable examples of Flying Buttresses (the big long arms that reach out from the sides, helping hold up the building!). While the building may not look quite like its famed self, we can still turn to the animated film for a look back at Notre Dame in its original glory.
New York City – Oliver and Company
Oliver and Company really used the location of New York City to its advantage.
The film really captures the “concrete jungle,” making it very obvious that the film doesn’t take place in just ANY old city.
Those familiar with the hustle and bustle of Manhattan will recognize many of the sights throughout the film, down to the small details like the street vendors selling knock-off sunglasses.
Billy Joel‘s iconic voice just feels at place in New York, doesn’t it??
Norway — Frozen
The massively successful Frozen franchise took a ton of inspiration from the culture and history of Norway. From the mythical creatures and magic in the films to the architecture and clothing, the country of Norway is deeply woven in the fabric of these films!
Catching a glimpse at the Northern Lights in Norway makes it obvious why Elsa would have such amazing powers!
You can also visit the Akershus Fortress — sound familiar? 😉
Not only was this building the inspiration behind the castle in Arendelle, but its name was the inspiration behind a certain restaurant in Epcot!
Route 66/American West – Cars
We’re heading out West for our next film! The Cars franchise used a ton of inspiration from the National Parks and natural wonders of the American West. They also gathered inspiration from the real Route 66!
The mountain off in the distance in Radiator Springs was inspired by Tucumcari Mountain in Tucumcari, New Mexico, one of the more well-known cities along Historic Route 66.
And the mountain ranges that are in the shape of Cadillac fins (aptly named Cadillac Range) can be spotted not only in the Cars films but in Cars Land in Disney California Adventure. These are based on Cadillac Ranch…
…which is an art sculpture in Amarillo, Texas.
Peru — The Emperor’s New Groove
The Incan capital city of Cuzco served as the namesake of the film’s anti-hero, Kuzco! Despite the film’s campy and humorous nature, there are clear connections to the culture and nature of Peru.
The village in which Pacha resides looks awfully familiar…pull up a picture of Machu Picchu and you’ll see what we mean!
This legendary Lost City of the Inca got a starring role in this sleeper hit!
Hawaii — Lilo and Stitch
Lilo and Stitch is full of Hawaiian culture! From surfing to hula dancing, the characters in the film truly live out this way of life in an authentic way.
As far as their fictional town of Kokaua goes, the inspiration came from Hanapepe, a real town on the island of Kauai.
Thanks to our friends at WanderDisney, we got an awesome glimpse into just how accurate Disney was when they recreated this town in Lilo & Stitch!
We still think this beautiful city in Kauai would be a dream to live in, even with an alien pet like Experiment 626!
Olympia, Greece — Hercules
Hercules takes a ton of inspiration from Greek gods, legends, and the monuments that were built to honor them. The ancient site of Olympia and the Temple of Zeus make appearances in the film.
Not much of the real Temple of Zeus still stands today, but what remains is nonetheless marvelous:
Disney is creating a new live-action Hercules film! We can’t wait to see what other parts of Greece are featured in the new movie!
Scotland — Brave
One of the films’ most recognizable locations is Castle DunBroch, where Clan DunBroch resides in the Pixar film Brave.
There were several sources of inspiration behind this castle, including Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland…
…as well as Dunnottar Castle!
We can practically see Merida and her brothers running around in those pictures, can’t you?!
China — Mulan
The Disney film Mulan has a few obvious nods to ancient Chinese culture. The opening scene of the film depicts the Great Wall of China.
Building The Great Wall began as early as the 7th Century BC, with the most notable sections of the wall built by the Ming Dynasty between the years of 1368–1644. Mulan was inspired by The Ballad of Hua Mulan, a Chinese poem that takes place during the Northern Wei era between the years of 386-536 AD.
The Imperial City where the Emperor resides in the film is also directly connected to Chinese history.
The palace was inspired by and was designed after the real Forbidden City, located in Beijing, China.
Disney is releasing a live-action Mulan film that is supposed to take an even deeper look at the life of Hua Mulan. The release date for the film has been pushed back but Disney is still planning to release it in theaters.
Château de Chillon — The Little Mermaid
Finally, we’re heading to Château de Chillon in Switzerland for the inspiration behind Prince Eric’s castle!
The real castle sits along Lake Geneva, and the resemblance is uncanny!
You can see similar sites on Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid in Magic Kingdom at Disney World, too! After seeing Ariel strut out of the water in the film, we imagine the water at the REAL castle would be much MUCH colder! 🙂
As you can see, Disney ties a large amount of history and iconic locations from around the world into their films. While we love seeing them when watching our favorite Disney films, we think it’s pretty cool to explore where the inspiration came from and to learn a little history ourselves!
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What’s your favorite real-life location that can be spotted in a Disney animated film? Let us know in the comments!