In 1991, something happened that had never occurred in the history of the Academy Awards: Walt Disney Studios’ musical romance Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture. No animated film had achieved such a distinction before, and only two others—Disney-Pixar’s Up in 2010 and Toy Story 3 in 2011—have since.
The allure of Disney films is undeniable. Their tales of heroes and heroines, villains and monsters, castles and fairy godmothers, sometimes paired with epic musical numbers, are enchanting, depicting lives and worlds at times intimately familiar and other times as if from a dream. But while live-action films have picture-perfect cities, storied hotels, and otherworldly landscapes at their visual disposal, Disney has had to depend upon the imaginations of their trusted animators to transform plots and folktales into cinematic realms of fantasy.
Many Disney films, of course, draw directly from existing places: London makes a grand appearance in both Peter Pan and 101 Dalmatians, the North American wilderness is a star all its own in Pocahantas, The Lion King takes its cues from the African savannahs of Kenya, and who could forget that spectacular aerial shot over Paris in the opening scene for The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Other, more ambiguous settings—such as those depicted in The Little Mermaid and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs—may not spring to mind so easily, based on storybook worlds unrestrained by country borders.
But all ideas come from somewhere, and even Disney’s most obscure settings take inspiration from locations, sometimes even specific buildings, that can be found—through a bit of research—on the world map. Read on for 12 real-life places that stood in for some of the most iconic settings in Disney films.