5 Places That Inspired Disney Renaissance Princess Films

Written by Renée Borcas

January 23, 2021

After the deaths of Walt and Roy O. Disney in the 1960s and 1970s, the Disney Renaissance marked the return of the success for Walt Disney Feature Animation. Nearly 20 years after their passings, the studio was back to churning out critical and commercial successes like The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. Between 1989 and 1999 these films revitalized the popularity of the Disney princess, and many were inspired by familiar fictional stories. In bringing these animated classics to life, animators took inspiration from real locations that pay homage to the stories’ origins and can still be visited today.

Chillon Castle, Veytaux, Switzerland

The Little Mermaid was the first movie of the Disney Renaissance and tells the story of a feisty red-headed mermaid who longs to be human. She falls in love with the human Prince Eric, who lives in a castle on the seaside. This location was inspired by Chillon Castle, located on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The earliest records of the castle date back to 1150. Chillon Castle’s history is categorized into three different periods of ownership, starting with the Savoy family, followed by the Bernese bailiffs, and the Canton of Vaud. Restoration work began on the castle towards the end of the 19th century and is still being performed today.

Jamestown, Virginia, United States

NASA
Disney

Not known for its historical accuracy, Disney’s Pocahontas debuted in 1995 as a fictional account of her historical encounter with the Virginia Company settlers of Jamestown. While many liberties were taken with this story to help it appeal to the masses, the locations portrayed in the film were based on reality, with special detail given to the ships the Virginia Company used to travel to the New World. The Virginia Company set out in 1606 with three ships, carrying approximately 105 colonists. They landed in Virginia in 1607 and established the Jamestown Colony.

Château de Chambord, Chambord, France

Disney
Fir0002 / Wikimedia Commons

The original Beauty and the Beast film premiered in 1991. It tells the story of Belle, a bright and bookish young woman who helps soften a selfish prince who is cursed to live as a beast until he learns how to love and be loved. The main set piece of the animated feature is the Beast’s castle, which was inspired by both the interior and exterior of Château de Chambord in France with its many staircases and chimneys. Francis I of France requested the chateau’s construction in 1519 in the midst of the Renaissance. Today the chateau is a historical monument and welcomes tourists around the year.

Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

Disney’s Aladdin premiered in 1992 and tells a rags to riches story of the namesake character after he frees a genie from a lamp and earns three wishes. Along the way, he catches the eye of Princess Jasmin who lives in the Sultan’s Palace—which was inspired by the Taj Mahal in India. This famous structure began construction around 1632 to serve as a mausoleum for the emperor’s wife who had died in childbirth. The building’s Mughal architecture is a blend of Indian, Persian, and Islamic styles, and is visited by millions every year.

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

The 1998 animated feature Mulan tells a story of independence and familial love, putting a twist on the princess stories Disney’s audience had come to expect. In the film, the emperor’s palace is located in the Imperial City. This is based on Beijing’s Forbidden City, a palace that was commissioned back in 1406. It was home to 24 emperors, spanning the Ming (1368–1644) and the Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. The Forbidden City’s name originates from its exclusivity, as the general public was banned from entering.