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The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

May 21, 2023
The Disney films have left a mark on everyone who's watched them. From Cinderella's inspiring story to Toy Story's amusing mischief, these movies were a source of joy, laughter, and inspiration to the young and young-at-heart. And speaking of inspiration, did you know that there are real-life castles that inspired those you see in these movies? The Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, for example, inspired the one in “Sleeping Beauty” (1959). Château de Chambord in France, on the other hand, was the basis for the Beast's home in “Beauty and The Beast” (1991). Imagine getting to see these places in person!

The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

Alcázar de Segovia - Snow White and The Seven Dwars (1937)

Let's start this list with the very first movie Disney ever made, “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs” (1937). Not only was this the first-ever full-length animated film by Walt Disney Studios, but it was also the first of its kind in cinematic history. And the first animated shot in the movie featured Snow White's castle, inspired by the beautiful Alcázar de Segovia in Spain. The most obvious similarities between the two are their pointed spires and the fact that they're both perched atop a rocky crag. You can almost expect to see the Evil Queen peep through her window Alcázar de Segovia when you visit it in person.
The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

Neuschwanstein Castle - Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Neuschwanstein Castle in southern Germany is probably the most famous real-life castle on this list. It's the quintessential fairytale-like fortress, complete with its tall towers, imposing spires, and the fact that it sits on top of a high mountain, overlooking its surroundings as if it were a king looking down on his subjects. This man-made marvel is what inspired King Stefan's castle in the 1959 film, “Sleeping Beauty,” which in turn inspired the castle at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Though many would argue that the castle at Disneyland Paris is closer to Neuschwanstein Castle than the original one in the US.
The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

Château de Chambord - Beauty and The Beast (1991)

Though you might not find living objects in Château de Chambord, you will recognize that it's the real-life château that inspired the Beast's castle in “Beauty in the Beast” (1991). Though the Beast's castle stands on top of a gorge, Château de Chambord is openly opulent in Loire Valley. It's one of the many châteaus near Paris, which is only an hour and a half train ride away. You might not even recognize it since the castle in the animated film is taller and more Medieval-like while this château is wider and more Baroque in its design.
The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

Taj Mahal - Aladdin (1992)

It's pretty clear from the get-go that the animators behind “Aladdin” (1992) were inspired by the Taj Mahal in India when they designed the royal palace of Agrabah. The most obvious similarities are the massive domes that top the white palace. They're so close to each other that Emperor Shah Jahan, who had the Taj Mahal built between 1631 and 1648, could practically sue Walt Disney Studios for plagiarizing. It bears noting, however, that the setting of 'Aladdin' is in (or at least inspired by) the Middle East. Think Dubai or Abu Dhabi in ancient times. The culture and aesthetics here are far different from those in India.
The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

The Forbidden City - Mulan (1998)

Perhaps the most accurate depiction of a real-life castle and traditional culture found in a Disney film is Beijing's Forbidden City in “Mulan” (1998). Though the filmmakers behind the Disney Renaissance classic still took a few liberties in displaying Ancient China, the Emperor's palace is still very much an animated version of the Forbidden City. It's almost as if the animators just traced a photograph of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and simply included it in the film. When you go to the actual Forbidden City in Beijing, you can easily imagine the climax of the film happening at that exact spot!
The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

Mont Saint-Michel - Tangled (2010)

Mont Saint-Michel is a Medieval village perched on its own island in the Normandy region of France. The place itself has barely changed since the Middle Ages and it was only a matter of time before it'll be used as inspiration in a Disney film. And lo and behold, the kingdom of Corona in the 2010 film, “Tangled,” looked fairly familiar. Not only is the kingdom located on its own island with only a stone bridge to connect it from the rest of the world, but the overall structure of the kingdom is undoubtedly the same as Mont Saint-Michel.
The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

Dunnottar Castle - Brave (2012)

Finally, there's Dunnottar Castle in Scotland. The 2012 film “Brave,” tells the story of a Scottish princess named Merida, a frizzy-haired redhead who'd rather fight for her right to her father's throne than marry a husband and be his consort. While the story is obviously set in 10th-century Scotland, it doesn't specifically say which part of the country it takes place in. But the castle, which is fairly similar to Dunnottar Castle, gives it away. From its mountainous location to its earthy appearance, it's obvious where the animators got their inspiration. And it’s a nice contrast to their usual whimsical castles.
The Real-Life Castles That Inspired Disney Movies

Take a look at the real-life castles that inspired the astounding settings in your favorite Disney films. Although these movies are so magical, you'll find that their real-life counterparts are just as magnificent!




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