Disney’s best animators are definitely talented, but they have to get their inspiration from somewhere. Several of Disney’s most iconic settings were inspired by real-life locations, so read on to find out what and where they are!
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle: Neuschwanstein Castle, Bavaria, Germany
Sleeping Beauty’s castle from the 1959 animation Sleeping Beauty is one of the most popular images in the Disney universe. This is the castle that stands at the heart of Disneyland and has become synonymous with the fairytale-like happy ending that Disney is now known for. So, it’s fitting that Disney chose a truly stunning real-life building to gain inspiration for this iconic castle.
The castle was inspired by Neuschwanstein Castle, which is located in the German region of Bavaria. Although Sleeping Beauty is set in the 14th century, the Neuschwanstein Castle wasn’t built until 1892. It was constructed under Ludwig II of Bavaria as a personal retreat. Not a bad place to have as your personal pad!
In the Disney animation, the castle actually belongs to Princess Aurora’s father, King Stephen. But we assume that Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty, will go on to inherit the castle after marrying Prince Philip.
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Prince Eric’s Castle: Chateau De Chillon, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
We don’t get to see a lot of Prince Eric’s castle in The Little Mermaid since most of the tale is set under the sea. But when Ariel does rise to the surface, Disney shows us Eric’s impressive digs. The castle overlooks the ocean where Ariel and her merfolk kin live.
There’s some debate over where The Little Mermaid is set. Many fans believe it’s set in Denmark because the original fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson was Danish. But others have pointed out that due to the sea life and scenery we can see in the film, Ariel actually lives in the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. But the palace that served as the inspiration for Eric’s castle is actually located in the Central European country of Switzerland.
Chateau de Chillon is located on Lake Geneva and actually dates back to the days of the Roman Empire. We’re guessing it was the beauty of the fortress that attracted Disney to use it as their inspiration!
The Queen’s Castle: Segovia Castle, Spain
The Queen’s castle in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is only seen a couple of times in the film because the majority of the story takes place in the dwarfs’ cottage in the woods. It is portrayed as a sinister and creepy building rather than a romantic one since it’s home to the Evil Queen and her dungeons.
For inspiration for the castle, Disney had the task of searching for a building that was still imposing and dramatic but lacked that fairytale feel that you get when looking at the castles in films like Sleeping Beauty or Frozen. They settled on Segovia Castle in central Spain.
Called the Alcazar of Segovia, the castle has stood for centuries, although it was damaged by a fire in 1862. Some say that the castle also inspired Prince Charming’s castle in Cinderella thanks to its dark spires.
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Belle’s Village: Alsace, France
In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, we get a glimpse of the life Belle leads before she is taken prisoner by the Beast. And we see the charming village that she lives in—a hamlet that looks even prettier than the Beast’s castle. The tale is set in France so it makes sense that the village was based on the villages of the Alsace region in the northwest of the country.
The Alsatian villages are quite different from many of the other townships in France due to their history and location. They feature a much more Central European feel than a Mediterranean one due to the fact that they were under German rule.
The architecture that we can see both in the animation and in the real Alsatian villages is much more reminiscent of architecture found in Germany, Switzerland, or Austria than southern Italy, Spain, or Greece.
The Sultan’s Palace: The Taj Mahal, Agra, India
It’s easy to guess what famous structure inspired the Sultan’s Palace from Aladdin. There’s an uncanny resemblance between the palace that Jasmine’s father lives in and the Taj Mahal, which is located in Agra, India. In the film, the palace is also located in the fictional city of Agrabah.
The setting of Aladdin is also the subject of much debate, with some fans speculating that the film is actually set in a post-apocalyptic world. While there are numerous similarities between the world of Aladdin and Middle Eastern culture, the original tale of ‘Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp’ was set in China (albeit the story still drew upon Arabic terminology and conventions).
Interestingly, the Taj Mahal itself isn’t actually a palace. It’s a tomb that a 17th-century emperor built for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Inside the building is the tomb which is sheathed in white marble.