From Cinderella's castle to Mufasa's Pride Rock, Disney has created some of the most beautiful and memorable settings in movie history. But, did you know that many of the most recognizable animated landmarks were based on actual places?
Here's a list of the 10 most magical real-life places, with a mix of contemporary locations and classical castles, that brought Disney movies to life before a pen even met the paper.
Paradise Falls & Angel Falls in Venezuela
Let's start with the most famous example of Disney looking to real life beauty for cinematic inspiration. Venezuela's astounding Angel Falls (the world's highest uninterrupted waterfall) set a clear example for Paradise Falls, the destination that Carl and his late wife Ellie dreamed of seeing one day. Director Pete Docter took a team of animators on an excursion to the falls, where they sketched and painted for three days, providing the basis for what turned out to be a visually stunning and heartfelt modern classic.
Corona Castle & Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, France
Mont Saint-Michel is much more than a castle. In reality, it's actually an island commune located in Normandy, which inspired Corona Castle in Tangled to be a much more expansive and impressive castle in any Disney movie. Like Mont Saint-Michel, Corona appears to rise straight out of the water with its tallest spire pointing toward the sky. Between the sprawling architecture and access to the sea, this is my kind of vacation destination.
Cadillac Range & Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, TexasCars
is full of iconic landmarks along Route 66, but this one is my favorite. Cadillac Ranch was erected in 1974 by Ant Farm's Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels as a public art installation featuring older Cadillacs half-buried in a row. For the film version, animators converted the memorable attraction into a mountain formation, and the movie even acknowledges the Ant Farm collective and the Ranch in the credits.
Elsa's Ice Castle & Hotel de Glace in Quebec City
For [Frozen](movie:411685)'s most iconic scene (that just happens to include its most popular song), directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee needed a tangible reference for Elsa's exquisite ice palace. So, the pair packed up and headed to the Hôtel de Glace in Quebec City, a unique kind of lodging where almost everything is made of snow and ice. Guests are treated to crystalline sculptures and furniture, so this was a natural place for Frozen animators to explore and bring to life. The results speak for themselves; these images look like they could both be from the movie!
5. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Dwarfs' Cottage & Storybook Cottages in Los Feliz, L.A.
This is arguably the most interesting and unexpected story of the bunch. While many Los Angeles residents believed that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs inspired these storybook cottages in the neighborhood of Los Feliz, the truth is actually the complete opposite. At least one of Walt Disney's early animators lived in one of these cute abodes, which provided direct inspiration for the home of Grumpy, Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful, Happy, Sleepy, and Doc.
6. Beauty and the Beast
The Beast's Castle & Chateau du Chambord in France
For the castle in Beauty and the Beast, the animators seem to have taken a few liberties with the actual design of the Chateau du Chambord in France, but there is still a strong resemblance around the window area (especially in close-ups of the castle). The film undoubtedly takes place in France—as anyone who's been to World Showcase in Epcot can confirm—but this chateau expands out horizontally rather than vertically like in the movie.
7. The Princess and the Frog
La Bouff Mansion & Garden District in New Orleans
Inspired by the palatial estates in New Orleans' Garden District, the home of Charlotte and Big Daddy La Bouff takes notable Louisiana architecture and adds a whole new level of impressive excess. Compared to the neighboring homes, the La Bouff residence is more of a castle than a mansion, but it still carries the mid-19th century and Victorian influences that make the area so mesmerizing. Interestingly, the La Bouff estate is one of the only images that required a bit of 3D imaging in The Princess and the Frog, a film that made a notable return to classic Disney's hand-drawn style.
The Stone Circle & the Callanish Stones in Scotland
The Stone Circle plays a majorly climactic role in Merida's journey in [Brave](movie:22364), and in reality Scotland's Callanish Stones also served a spiritual purpose. They were erected sometime in the Neolithic Era as a ritual site and were used for that purpose for at least 1500 years! Turns out this is the natural place for Merida to get in touch with herself and the world around her.
Agrabah Palace & the Taj Mahal in Agra, India
The Taj Mahal is one of the most visited and revered architectural marvels in the entire world, so could there be a better building to inspire the home of Jasmine and the Sultan? Sure, the fact that the Taj Mahal is located in India does sort of fly in the face of the Aladdin's inclusion of a song called "Arabian Nights" (since India is not an Arab country), but Agrabah appears to be an amalgamation of some of the best parts of the Muslim world. Naturally, this includes the Taj Mahal, and the final outcome is a remarkable building unto itself.
10. Lilo and Stitch
Lilo and Nani's Town & Hanapepe, Kaua'i
For Stitch's arrival to Earth, animators obviously turned to the state of Hawaii for their general setting, but they also drew from a specific town on the island of Kaua'i. Known as "Kaua'i's Biggest Little Town," Hanapepe is known for its art festivals and local pride, the perfect place for a girl like Lilo to live. Lilo & Stitch also didn't shy away from addressing the economic hardships that the town was facing at the time, and the influence of Hanapepe added a refreshing bit of realism to one of my wacky favorites.
So, there you have it! The world is full of wonders and marvels (something I have to remind myself when marathoning every Pixar movie on my couch).
Did any of these real-life Disney places surprise you?