Panda cub playing in a tree in Chengdu
9 destinations that inspired kids’ movies
Movies come to life in these unforgettable destinations
that inspired your children’s favourite tales, writes
Aleney de Winter.
My son was five years old when he first
announced that he wanted to visit New York.
I was suitably impressed by his cosmopolitan
tastes in travel until he added that he wanted
to “stay in a sewer so he could train and eat
pizza with the Ninja Turtles”.
While noshing with ninjas in the sewers of
New York City isn’t really all that high on my
holiday wishlist, who wouldn’t want to visit
a location straight out of a fairytale, especially
if it comes without the bad guys and all that
The settings of your child’s favourite
movies are often so dramatic and
fantastical, you’d be forgiven for thinking
they could only have been dreamt up
in someone’s imagination. But more
often than not, the memorable movies
were inspired by real-life destinations
that are every bit as beautiful as their
celluloid counterparts. The only
thing you’re missing is the talking
snowmen and martial arts-loving wildlife.
1. Coco, Mexico
There is no doubt that kids will go loco
for Coco, the new Disney offering
that is a stunningly animated tribute to
the power of family and the culture of
Mexico. Steeped in the colourful traditions
of Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead),
a Mexican holiday where families gather
to honour their ancestors, Coco is sure to
leave families the world over hankering
for a Mexican adventure.
Set in parallel worlds, the creators of the
movie make that easy, having taken their
inspiration for the movie settings from real-life
locations in Mexico. The land of the living is
based on Oaxaca, a captivating, mural-strewn
city packed with museums, hotels, markets,
colourful festivals and mind-blowing Mexican
cuisine. And the kaleidoscopic Land of the
Dead is inspired by the city of Guanajuato, a
former silver town perched on a steep hillside
dotted with brightly coloured buildings.
2. How To Train Your Dragon, Norway
With its sassy teen Vikings and their pet
dragons, How To Train Your Dragon has
become a long-time favourite. If your little
Hooligans want a real-life fix of Viking action,
Norway should be on your holiday agenda.
It is said that the movie’s dragon-friendly
utopia of Berk was inspired by Bear Island
in the Svalbard archipelago, halfway between
Norway and Spitsbergen. While it’s not exactly
a tourist hotspot, there’s still plenty of easily
accessible inspiration to be found elsewhere
Visit Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum,
explore the rugged Norwegian coast, or
explore the Lofoten Islands. Known for their
spectacular natural attractions, Northern
Lights and midnight sun, it’s the ideal spot for
kids to kayak between off-the-beaten track
villages in search of their own dragons to train.
3. Moana, Tetiaroa Atoll, French Polynesia
What little girl isn’t inspired by Moana, the
daughter of an island chief who discovers her
true calling by taking to the ocean on a raft
to defeat a mystical lava monster, armed only
with an alarmingly dumb chicken, a fallen
demi-god and steely determination? And what parent wouldn’t want to enjoy a holiday
on a tropical paradise like the movie’s fictional
island of Motanui?
When it came to creating
Moana, the impossibly blue waters and lush
jungle were inspired by the islands of Samoa,
Fiji, Bora Bora, Tahiti and the Tetiaroa Atoll.
Once the home of Marlon Brando, Tetiaroa
was a reference point for fictional Motanui
and is home to The Brando, a kid-friendly
island resort, voted as one of the world’s best.
4. Kung Fu Panda, China
Everybody’s favourite klutzy martial arts
master, Po, of Kung Fu Panda, teaches us that
nothing is impossible, including visiting the
movie’s fictional Valley of Peace.
Or at least
the Li River Valley in China’s Guilan region.
The bumpy limestone karst mountains and
small fishing villages located in the valleys
provided inspiration for the movie. With
plenty to see and do, this a black-belt holiday
destination for fans of the affable panda.
For hands-on kung fu, head to Dengfeng
in Zhengzhou to learn from a real master. And
if you’re keen to see the real thing, Chengdu
Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is
a must, though its resident black-and-white
beauties come minus the martial arts moves.
5. The Princess and the Frog, Louisiana, USA
When you give the age-old fairytale, The Frog
Prince, a jazzy new twist by setting it in New
Orleans and accessorising it with a trumpet-playing
alligator, a Cajun firefly, a villainous
voodoo priest and a waitress called Tiana,
you can be sure families will be adding
Louisiana to their holiday wish lists.
Set in NOLA’s French Quarter and the
vine-strewn swamps of the Bayou, the
movie’s positive message is that while
wishing on a star is a lovely idea, hard work
is the way to make dreams come true.
Luckily, if your dream is heading to New
Orleans to follow in Princess Tiana’s dainty
footsteps, it won’t be hard at all.
6. Cars, Route 66, USA
Get the kids revved up for the road trip of
a lifetime along Route 66 and Monument
Valley, the real-life inspiration for the
animation, Cars. While you may not bump
into Lightning McQueen, fictional Radiator
Springs comes to life along the famous drive.
Indeed, Ramone’s paint and body shop in
the movie is a replica of the U-Drop Inn, a
restored Art Deco gas station in Shamrock,
Texas, and while you may not be able to book
in for a stay at the Cozy Cone Motel, a night at
the Wigwam Village in Holbrook, Arizona,
might do the trick.
The surrounding celluloid landscape of Radiator Springs,
Ornament Valley, is inspired by the incredible
rock formations of Monument Valley. Kachow!
Kids the world over got moving and grooving
with Julian, the eccentric King of the Lemurs
whose penchant for shaking some serious booty stole the show from Alex the Lion and
his pals, Marty the Zebra, Gloria the Hippo and
Melman the Hypochondriac Giraffe, four New
York Zoo residents who escape only to find
themselves stranded in Madagascar.
But it’s the island country itself that is the
real star of the show. Located in the Indian
Ocean just off the southeastern coast of
Africa, its kaleidoscopic landscape of lush
forests, curious baobab trees, canyons,
blade-like limestone formations, vast deserts
and palm-fringed turquoise coastline, as well
as 33 endangered species of lemur, are
Madagascar’s biggest draw for visitors.
8. Up, Angel Falls, Venezuela
Young adventurers Carl and Ellie Fredricksen
dreamed of one day exploring Paradise Falls in the jungles of South America. While that
dream never came true for Ellie, Carl finds his
way there after stringing his house to oodles of
The good news for fans of the movie
is that it doesn’t need to be that hard. Although Paradise Falls doesn’t exist, Venezuela’s Angel
Falls does and visitors can experience the
magnificence of the falls up close by helicopter.
Perched 800 metres up on the edge of
Auyantepui Mountain, Angel Falls is the
world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall and
the very spot that provided the inspiration
for the Fredricksens’ dream destination.
Ghibli fans can be spirited away to Japan to
follow in the footsteps of Chihiro and Haku.
The celluloid setting of Spirited Away is said
to be based on the buildings at Edo-Tokyo
Open Air Architectural Museum in Koganei,
Tokyo. Visitors can also make the pilgrimage
to Tokyo’s Ghibli Museum to see artworks,
interactive exhibits, sculptures and a lifesized
‘cat bus’ play space.
If you and the kids would like to dip your
toes into a real-life “bath of the spirits”, Dogo
Onsen in Matsuyama, two hours from Tokyo,
is said to be Japan’s oldest bathhouse and is a
magical spot to experience onsen culture.
This article appeared in volume 54 of Holidays with Kids magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.