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15 Real-life Inspirations Behind Disney Sites & Architectures

Disney has brought to life our imagination and stories from our childhood. It is because of Disney that the beautiful castles and wonderful lands of love, happiness and happily-ever-after have all got a form. Be it in the animated movies or in the Disneyland theme parks around the world, there are some beautiful structures. Many of these are inspired from real life castles, cathedrals, buildings, etc. Did you realize that the Notre Dame cathedral in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is based on the 14th-century cathedral in Paris, France, while the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo of Texas is the inspiration for the place of the same name in the movie, Cars? Let us read about the 15 real-life inspirations behind Disney places as seen in their movies and theme parks.

1. Castle in Sleeping Beauty, based on Neuschwanstein castle, Germany.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The castle of Sleeping Beauty in the movie, and the one at Disneyland in California’s Anaheim are inspired by the 19th century Neuschwanstein Castle in Fussen, Germany, located on a hill in southwest Bavaria. Built by King Ludwig II as a retreat and also to pay homage to Richard Wagner, the famous composer, it has survived two World Wars. Walt Disney was inspired by the grand romantic architecture during a trip with his wife, Lilian. It is been featured in many non-Disney films.

2. The city in Princess and the Frog, based on New Orleans, Los Angeles.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The picturesque and unique city, featured in The Princess and the Frog, is actually based on New Orleans in the 1920s. Princess Tiana is shown to work as a waitress in New Orleans. The beautiful architecture of the city, as well as its streets, has been featured throughout the film, especially the French Quarter. However, a lot of controversies had stirred up after the movie released, since Tiana was shown as a Person of Colour and the settings had connotations of slavery and voodoo.

3. Royal palace in Tangled/Prince Eric’s castle in The Little Mermaid, based on Mont Saint-Michel, France.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The royal house of the princes in Tangled, the retold version of Rapunzel, was inspired from the small commune within the fortified walls of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy. The 8th-century island, with abbey, monastery, halls and towers, built in a Romanesque style, near the north-western coast of the country, also inspired Prince Eric’s castle in The Little Mermaid. The fairy-tale-like quality of the island was emulated by Disney’s art designers to create both the castes and the surroundings.

4. Locality of Lilo in Lilo and Stitch based on Kauai, Hawaii.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The settings of Lilo and Stitch is based on the Hawaiian island named Kauai. One of the few Disney films to take place in the contemporary days, the current small towns of Kauai have been incorporated into the movie, particularly Hanapepe. On one hand, the animation captures the beauty of the actual place, and on the other, it shows the solemn details of the town, indicating the economic turmoil of the region when the film was made in 2000.

5. Beast’s Palace in Beauty and the Beast, based on Château de Chambord, Loire Valley of France.

Beauty and the Beast
The main setting of the movie, the castle of the Beast, was inspired from Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley of France. Started by King Francis I, it was never completed, and 14th-century castle with a distinctive French Renaissance architecture is the perfect inspiration for the Beast’s castle, with its dark rooms and overwhelming size. On the other hand, Belle’s poor, provincial town was based on the charming villages in the region of Alsace in France, located near the German borders.

6. Ramone’s Body Shop in Cars, based on U-Drop Inn in Shamrock, Texas.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The U-Drop Inn is gas station and restaurant with a unique art deco architecture, built in 1936 by J.C. Berry. This structure is the inspiration behind Ramone’s Body Shop in the movie Cars, and the film’s version is an almost-exact replica of the original building. In fact, much of the town of Cars is based on the Route 66 of Shamrock, which inspired animator, John Lasseter, while he was on a road trip with his wife and children.

7. Elsa’s ice palace in Frozen, based on Hotel de Glace, Canada.

Inspirations Behind Disney
Also called the Ice Hotel, Hotel de Glace, opened in 2001, was the visual inspiration for designing the ice palace of Elsa in Frozen. Made out of ice and opened from January through March every year, the hotel led to interior designing of the palace. Besides, Elsa’s land, Arendelle, was based on Trøndelag, Norway. The sleepy mountains, quaint villages, fjords, Nidaros Cathedral and the Royal residence at Stiftsgården, and even the clothing and the ways of life there have made it into Arendelle.

8. Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, based on Storybook cottages, LA.

Cottage of the Seven Dwarfs in Snow White
Who said simplicity could not be an inspiration? The simple but postcard-perfect cottages in the Los Feliz neighbourhood of Los Angeles served as the inspiration for the cottage of the Seven Dwarfs. However, the popular but wrong belief is that it is the other way round. Architect Ben Sherwood designed and built these cottages in 1931 while the movie was released in 1937. While working on the movie, at least one of the animators used to live in a cottage here.

9. Queen’s castle from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs/Cinderella Castle, based on Segovia Castle, Spain.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The Queen’s castle in the animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, is based on the Alcázar of Segovia, a stone fortification in the old city in Spain, which also serves as the inspiration behind the Cinderella Castle, in Florida’s Walt Disney World Resort, as well as Tokyo Disney Resort. The original castle-palace, with its first reference dating back to the 12th century, is like the bow of a ship, rising out on a ridge at the confluence of two rivers against a mountainous background.

10. Simba’s land in The Lion King, based on the Serengeti, Tanzania and Kenya.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The land where the Lion King and his friends and family lived is based on the vast plains of Serengeti in northern Tanzania extending up to south-western Kenya where it is called Masai Mara, known for its large population of lions, alongside different species of plants and animals, inspiring the wildlife and wilderness in the Disney movies. But, despite the rumours, the Pride Rock is not based on Hell’s Gate National Park, but, on a variety of inspirations around the landscape.

11. DunBroch Castle in Brave, based on Dunnottar Castle, Scotland.

Inspirations Behind Disney
Pixar’s animators drew inspiration from Dunnottar Castle in Stonehaven Scotland to create the royal palace in the movie, Brave. The surviving 15th and 16th-century buildings of the medieval fortress is a dramatic foundation on which the Disney castle was based. In fact, the many experiences, sights and adventures of Merida in the movie on her horseback are largely inspired from the rugged variety offered by the entire Scotland.

12. Pacha’s village in The Emperor’s New Groove, based on Machu Picchu, Peru.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The Disney animators, while creating Kuzco’s empire in The Emperor’s New Groove, were inspired by Machu Picchu in Cusco, and based Pacha’s hilltop village on the ruins of what the Incans had built around the 15th century. Located on a mountain ridge, the site and the two distinct peaks, which are the most familiar icon of the Inca civilization, have clearly inspired the imaginary village. Even the Disney names are inspired from the real-life names as Picchu became Pacha, and Cusco, Kusco.

13. Paradise Falls in Up, based on Angel Falls in Canaima National Park, Venezuela.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The fictional Paradise Falls in South America, where Carl visits in Up, is actually based on an enthralling location called the Angel Falls which is in the Canaima National Park in Venezuela. The region has high, rocky mountains with narrow waterfalls cascading down the ancient sandstone tepui. The natives consider this area sacred. Angel Falls, the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world, is too beautiful to be real, and in reality, looks like a work of art.

14. Atlantis from Atlantis: The Lost Empire, based loosely on Angkor Wat in Siem Riep, Cambodia.

Atlantis The Lost Empire
While creating Atlantis, the Disney directors wanted to look into ancient, unusual architectures, and they decided to go for Southeast Asian architecture. They deconstructed Mayan, Indian and Cambodian architectures and created Atlantis, to capture the theme of an advanced civilization inspiring the culture, language and architecture of the world. The temple complex is loosely based on 12th century Angkor Wat in Angkor, Cambodia, the largest religious monument in the world.

15. Sultan’s palace from Aladdin, based on Taj Mahal, India.

Inspirations Behind Disney
The fictional palace which was the home of the Sultan of Agrabah, Princess Jasmine and Aladdin, was very recognizably inspired from India’s Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. A grieving Emperor Shah Jahan had it built in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, as her mausoleum and his asylum. Located in Agra, this 17th-century architectural marvel inspired the creation of Disney’s castle with white walls and golden domes, surrounded by beautiful gardens.

Thus, we see that the real world is indeed a beautiful place, and what we believe to be just in the books can be found in different places around the world. One does not need to be a part of Storybrooke or the fictional animated worlds to be able to witness these wonderful places that inspired Disney movies.

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