Watching movies together as a family can be a form of armchair travel. Destinations as varied as China, Norway and Australia suddenly feel within reach and young minds begin to dream about climbing the Eiffel Tower, swimming with sea turtles or getting up close to giant pandas.
Need something for your watch list – or even your ‘where next’ list? We’ve found the real-life settings for 11 animated films that will inspire some serious wanderlust in the whole family.
Meet Moana on Motonui
Make your way to the South Pacific to visit the region portrayed in Moana, the tale of a girl trying to find her way and make her family proud. The film’s directors visited several islands including Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Bora Bora and New Zealand to create the fictional island and people of Motonui.
The pristine Tetiaroa atoll, with its enclosed lagoon, was the likely inspiration for Motonui itself, while Bora Bora’s Mount Otemanu is also reminiscent of the fictional island. For a taste of South Pacific hospitality, visit family-friendly Fiji or Aulani, a Disney resort on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where Moana herself entertains guests with storytelling and hands-on activities.
Tap dance to Antarctica
Follow in the footsteps of Mumble, the young emperor penguin who goes on a quest to find love in the icy landscape of Antarctica. The film Happy Feet has a strong environmental message for kids on the importance of preserving Antarctica and the animals who call it home.
Dance your way across the Drake Passage on the voyage of a lifetime and get up close to the emperor and Adélie penguins who inspired the grooving protagonist and his adventurous friends. While the crew visited Ross Island, Port Lockroy and Petermann Island for research, we think anywhere you visit in Antarctica would be a magnificent adventure.
Meet streetwise pets in the Big Apple
Max is a spoiled terrier living in New York City, whose owner adopts an unruly street mutt called Duke in The Secret Life of Pets. Enjoy the city from Max’s point of view by walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, taking a spin on Jane’s Carousel in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and jumping in the fountain in Washington Square Park.
A visit to NYC isn’t complete without getting lost in Central Park’s 843 acres of gardens, winding paths, statues and lakes – not to mention exploring its 21 playgrounds. Spot the Alice in Wonderland statue, drive remote-controlled boats and sing your heart out under the Bethesda Terrace. This playground for dogs is also a paradise for kids!
Move it, move it to Madagascar
Tread in the pawprints (and hoofprints!) of Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe and Gloria the hippo on an African adventure. Madagascar takes the main attractions of New York City’s Central Zoo and transplants them to the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa.
With 80% of Madagascar’s flora and fauna endemic, there’s plenty of unusual wildlife for kids to discover, including the 100 species of lemurs on whom King Julien was based. Lemurs are one of the most threatened animals on the planet, making a visit to Lemur Island, where visitors can get up close four species of lemurs who have become habituated to humans, a profound lesson in conservation.
Find Nemo down under
Swim with the stars of Finding Nemo on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Start your adventure on Hamilton Island or Lady Elliot Island, where kids can spot the movie characters in real life. As well as clownfish, the Coral Sea is also home to seahorses, long-nose butterfly fish, spotted eagle rays, great white sharks, whales and jellyfish. You’ll even find the sea turtles on whom Crush and Squirt were based.
When the kids are well and truly waterlogged, head south to Sydney, where Nemo was taken and kept in a dentist’s office. Walk over the Sydney Harbour Bridge, take in a family-friendly show at the Sydney Opera House and take a ferry ride to explore the magnificent Sydney Harbour.
Let it go (just one more time)
Frozen fans, get ye to Norway. Start in Oslo with a tour of Akershus Fortress, the 500-year-old castle that resembles Anna and Elsa’s home in Arendelle. Then visit the Norsk Folkemuseum to see traditional folk-dancing costumes like those worn by characters in the movie, before moving on to Balestrand, the home of St. Olaf’s Church. While the church itself is featured in the coronation scene, it also shares the name of our favourite snowman. A visit to Norway wouldn’t be complete without searching for trolls in Bergen or heading north to see the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, which look exactly like the magic of Elsa is at work.
Flap, flutter and fly to Rio
Fly to Rio de Janeiro, the setting for the fabulously feathery animated film Rio. The story follows Blu the macaw, who is kidnapped from his jungle home and taken to Minnesota to live with a human family. Believing he may be the last of his kind, Blu journeys back to South America in hopes of finding another blue macaw.
Blu is based on the Spix’s macaw, a critically endangered species thought to be extinct in the wild. So while you won’t find Blu in Rio, families can still spot some of Brazil’s 1800 bird species. Adventurous tribes can head into the Amazon jungle, but those with younger tots in tow can get up close to 140 bird species plus wild monkeys and marmosets at Rio’s Botanical Gardens.
Dumplings and noodles and pandas, oh my!
Giant pandas are an easy sell for a trip to China, where the Kung Fu Panda movies are based. Visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to see the cuddly creatures who inspired Po, the lazy panda who is unexpectedly chosen to complete Kung Fu training and fulfil an ancient prophecy.
Visit nearby Qingcheng Mountain to find the bamboo forest, streams and lush, green landscape that formed the basis for Panda Village (sorry, you won’t find any pandas here!). Try the local flavours, as featured in the film. Dandan noodles, tofu and hot pot are all specialities of this region.
Just say ‘oui!’
Take kids on a gastronomic tour of Paris following the footsteps of Remy, the rat who longs to be a chef in foodie flick, Ratatouille. Swing by La Tour d’Argent, the inspiration for fictional restaurant Gusteau’s, then stroll along the Seine where you’ll see landmarks featured in the film such as Petit Pont, Pont au Charge and Sainte-Chapelle church.
For some unconventional sightseeing, visit Musée des Egouts, the museum devoted to sewers, to learn about the rat-friendly tunnels beneath your feet. For an immersive Ratatouille experience, visit Disneyland Paris and dine at Bistrot Chez Remy. Everything from the cutlery to the cocktail umbrellas is oversized to give diner’s a rat’s-eye view while they dine on, of course, ratatouille.
A beary nice town to visit
It’s easy to find traces of Peru-born Paddington bear all over London, UK. His journey in England started at Paddington Station; on platform one, next to the Paddington Bear Book Bench and plaque where the Brown family discovered him, you’ll find a bronze statue of the polite bear, ready for his close-up.
Plenty of London landmarks feature in the Paddington films, including Serpentine Lake, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard and Buckingham Palace. Don’t forget to pack some marmalade sandwiches under your hat for sustenance. There are more family-friendly Paddington adventures to be found around London on the Pawprint Trail (pick up a flyer at Paddington Station).
Live the Day of the Dead
The animators of Disney’s Coco took multiple trips to Mexico to research for their movie about the importance of family and following your dreams. Picturesque colonial town Santa Fe de la Laguna in the Michoacán region was the inspiration behind the Rivera family’s hometown.