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 to keep inspiring young travellers? We’ve found the real-life settings for 11 animated films that will inspire curiosity in the whole family.

A girl looks into a rock pool in Samoa, South Pacific
Are your youngsters drawn to water, just like Moana? Take them to the South Pacific © David Kirkland / Getty

Moana - Motonui

The South Pacific is 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, there is 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.

Six penguins sitting on the ice in Antarctica
Give the kids a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in Antarctica © David Merron Photography / Getty Images

Happy Feet - Antarctica

Mumble is a 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.

Dream of crossing your way across the Drake Passage on the voyage of a lifetime to 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.

A little girl flies a kite in Central Park © Granger Wootz / Getty
Run wild and free in New York's Central Park © Granger Wootz / Getty

The Secret Life of Pets - New York City

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.

Your next 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!

A ring-tailed lemur poses for the camera in Madagascar
Are you watching wildlife, or are they watching you? © Gennaro Leonardi / Getty Images

Madagascar - Madagasar

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 Park 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 learn about, 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.

Clownfish swimming in the Great Barrier Reef
Finding Nemo fans will love the Great Barrier Reef © Reinhard Dirscherl / Getty Images

Finding Nemo - Australia

The stars of Finding Nemo can all be found on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and on Hamilton Island or Lady Elliot Island, 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.

After his adventure, Nemo headed south to Sydney, where he 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.

A boy pushing a sled in the snow in Norway
Visit the inspiration behind smash hit Frozen, and have fun in the snow! © Oyvind Tufto / Getty Images

Frozen - Norway

Frozen fans will want to put Norway on their future wish list. 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.

A family walks down a tree-lined avenue in Rio's Botanical Gardens
Rio's Botanical Gardens will astound young bird spotters © Yadid Levy / Robertharding / Getty Images

Rio - Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is 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.

A young panda in Chengdu
Less Kung Fu Panda, more bamboo-munching panda – but still incredibly cute © OTHK / Getty Images

Kung Fu Panda - China

Giant pandas are an easy sell for a trip to China, where the Kung Fu Panda movies are based. The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding is full of the cuddly creatures who inspired Po, the lazy panda who is unexpectedly chosen to complete Kung Fu training and fulfill 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.

A young child looking at the Seine, Paris © Museimage / Getty
The Seine is pretty – Paris' sewers, not so much © Museimage / Getty

Ratatouille - Paris

A gastronomic tour of Paris would follow the footsteps of Remy, the rat who longs to be a chef in foodie flick, Ratatouille.The La Tour d’Argent was the inspiration for fictional restaurant Gusteau’s and a stroll along the Seine will reveal 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.

Statue of Paddington Bear at Paddington station ©P&Co.Ltd./SC2018 / Image courtesy of STUDIOCANAL
You'll have a beary nice time in London ©P&Co.Ltd./SC2018 / Image courtesy of STUDIOCANAL

Paddington Bear - London

He may be born in Peru but Paddington's story is one of London, UK. His story begins at Paddington Station, where the Brown family discovered him. There's even a bronze statue of the polite bear ready for his close-up, as well as a Paddington Shop, featuring another Paddington statue.

Plenty of London landmarks feature in the Paddington films, including Serpentine Lake, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Shard and Buckingham Palace. Marmalade sandwiches under your hat for sustenance are optional. There are more family-friendly Paddington adventures to be found around London on the Pawprint Trail (pick up a flyer at the Paddington Shop at Paddington Station).

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
Vibrant Mexico City will enthral little ones © Belles artes Mexico City / Getty Images

Coco - Mexico

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.

The historic centre of Mexico City has a wonderful Land of the Dead landscape. Wandering through the baroque columns of the spectacular Palacio de Correos de Mexico, which opened in 1907 as the country’s main post office, it’s easy to see how the building influenced Disney animators.

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This article was originally published in May 2018 and updated in December 2019.

This article was first published June 2018 and updated December 2019

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