Some of the most memorable, fantastical worlds ever seen on the silver screen have been conjured up by the seemingly boundless imaginations of Disney writers, directors and animators. Or have they? Check out the following breathtaking real-life locations – which provided inspiration for some of Disney’s most iconic, magical settings.
18. Elsa’s Ice Palace in Frozen
Queen Elsa’s palace of ice from the 2013 hit Frozen is the animated centerpiece of the movie. Elsa memorably builds the awesome structure from snow and ice using her powers during that rendition of the song “Let it Go.”
Image: Xavier Dachez
Hôtel de Glace, Quebec, Canada
Elsa’s ice palace is inspired by the Hôtel de Glace in Quebec, Canada. Frozen’s director Chris Buck stayed in the hotel for research purposes before making the film.
17. The Island In Tangled
In Tangled, the 2010 retelling of the Rapunzel story, the princess’ parents live on a picturesque island in the middle of the sea.
Image: Mathias Neveling
Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France
The Tangled island is very obviously inspired by Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France, where a monastery sits on top of an island that is only reachable at low tide.
16. Paradise Falls From Up
The 2009 film Up is one of Disney’s best-loved recent films. For those who haven’t seen it, the story follows the journey of an elderly man who flies his house to Paradise Falls using helium balloons.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
Paradise Falls are based on the real-life Angel Falls in Canaima National Park, Venezuela. This natural wonder has the highest single drop of any waterfall in the world.
15. The Castle in Brave
The fiery red-headed heroine of Brave, Merida, lives in a huge stone castle in the Highlands of Scotland with her father and mother – the king and queen – and her playful triplet brothers.
Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
The castle in Brave is based on a real-life Scottish location, Eilean Donan castle, situated in the Scottish Highlands. The central part of the current structure was built in the 13th century.
14. Ramone’s House of Body Art in Cars
In Disney’s automobile-inhabited world of Cars, Ramone’s House of Body Art is a custom paint shop where the movie’s vehicles go to be spruced up.
Image: Clinton Steeds
U-Drop Inn, Shamrock, Texas
Ramone’s House of Body Art is based on the U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas. This real-world establishment was abandoned after its section of Route 66 was bypassed, but it is now recognized as an art-deco architectural treasure.
13. The Castle in Sleeping Beauty
The castle from Disney’s 1959 version of Sleeping Beauty is so iconic that it was adopted as the symbol of the entire Disney franchise. Versions of the fairytale structure can be seen at every Disneyland theme park.
Image: Rob Faulkner
Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
And that castle is based on Neuschwanstein Castle, built high in the mountains of Bavaria, Germany. The edifice’s spectacular setting, turrets and bright walls really do make it look like something out of a fairy story.
12. Hill-top Village in The Emperor’s New Groove
Made by Disney in 2000, The Emperor’s New Groove is set in an imaginary South American land that takes strong influences from Peruvian Aztec and Inca cultures.
Image: Martin St-Amant
Machu Picchu, Peru
The landscape in the movie is closely inspired by the ruins of the Inca sanctuary of Machu Picchu, high in the mountains of the Cusco region – which apparently also inspired the central character’s name: Emperor Kuzco.
11. The Palace in Aladdin
The Sultan’s palace from Disney’s 1992 movie Aladdin towers over the skyline of the imaginary city of Agrabah and is home to Princess Jasmine.
The Taj Mahal, India
The Taj Mahal is undoubtedly one of India’s best-known landmarks. And this huge and imposing tomb was to provide the architectural model for the Sultan’s palace in Aladdin.
10. Arendelle in Frozen
Home to Queen Elsa and Princess Anna, the pretty town of Arendelle from Disney’s Frozen sits on the waterfront of a fjord below a huge mountain.
Image: via World for Travel
Arendelle is based on a village on Sognefjord, the largest fjord in Norway. In fact, iterations of the Norwegian landscape frequently appear throughout the film.
9. Village Square in Beauty and the Beast
Although Beauty and the Beast’s Belle lives in a picture-perfect medieval village, she sometimes has her head too deeply buried in a book to notice.
Belle’s village bears a strong visual resemblance to the medieval towns in the Alsace region of France. And in the film’s wedding scene, wine bottles on the tables are designed in an Alsace style, suggesting that the association is deliberate.
8. Emperor’s Home in Mulan
Disney’s 1998 movie Mulan tells the story of a young woman who runs off to be a soldier in rural China. The story is based on the tales of fabled Chinese female warrior Hua Mulan.
Image: Jakub Hałun
The Forbidden City, Beijing
And while the clothing styles in Mulan are similar to those worn during the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago, the Emperor’s home is inspired by the 1,000-year-old Forbidden City in Beijing.
7. Prince Eric’s Castle in The Little Mermaid
In The Little Mermaid, when Ariel first arrives on land she is found by Prince Eric and taken to his home, a beautiful castle built out onto the sea.
Image: Benjamin Gimmel
Château de Chillon, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Prince Eric’s castle was possibly inspired by the Château de Chillon, which is built on a promontory of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Although it’s not by the sea, the waterside building is very similar-looking.
6. The Dwarfs’ Cottage in Snow White
In Disney’s first color film, released in 1937, the eponymous Snow White is led to the cozy cottage home of the seven dwarfs by her friends, the woodland animals.
Image: Bobak Ha’Eri
Storybook Cottages, Los Feliz, Los Angeles
The dwarfs’ cottage was inspired by a group of “storybook cottages” that sprang up in the early 1930s in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. Indeed, one of the animators who worked on the film actually lived in one of these houses.
5. Kitchen of Gusteau’s Restaurant in Ratatouille
Much of Ratatouille – the Disney movie about a rat who can cook, and then some – is set in the kitchens of Gusteau’s, an upmarket eating spot in Paris.
The French Laundry, Yountville, California
The kitchens of Gusteau’s are inspired by those of the French Laundry, a Californian Michelin-starred restaurant run by Thomas Keller. Director Brad Bird briefly interned at the restaurant before starting work on the film.
4. The Beast’s Castle, Beauty and the Beast
Based on the classic fairytale, Disney’s 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast sees Belle held hostage in the Beast’s lair – a beautiful, romantic castle.
Image: GIRAUD Patrick
Château de Chambord, France
The Beast’s castle is based on Château de Chambord in France. Built between 1519 and 1547, the chateau is famous as a notable instance of the architecture of the French Renaissance.
3. The City of Atlantis
It may not be one of the best known Disney films, but 2001’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire now has something of a cult following – and this is partly down to its strange artistic vision of a lost world.
Angkor Wat, Cambodia
The city of Atlantis bears a peculiar resemblance to the temples at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This is no coincidence, either, as the producers were looking at Mayan, Cambodian and Indian architecture to inspire an Atlantis that resembled a “mother civilization.”
2. The Chapel in Frozen
In Frozen, Elsa is crowned queen at a ceremony that takes place in a beautiful wooden church-like structure with an arched roof and stained-glass windows.
St Olaf’s Stave Church, Balestrand, Norway
And the chapel from Frozen has a real-life counterpart in St Olaf’s church in Balestrand, Norway. This wooden church is almost identical to the one in the movie, and it also offered inspiration for the name of everyone’s favorite snowman.
1. Cozy Cone Motel in Cars
The Cozy Cone Motel from 2006’s Cars is an establishment in Radiator Springs where the rooms are made, appropriately, from traffic cones.
Image: Carol Highsmith
Wigwam Motel, Arizona, USA
Cozy Cone Motel is closely based on the Wigwam Motel, a chain of motels built in the USA in the 1930s and 1940s. Rather than traffic cones being used, though, the rooms were shaped like wigwams or tipis.