As we learnt that Big Ben, the most famous clock around the world, will not be keeping time for the next four years, its soft ringing still echoes in our mischievous heart. "There it is, Wendy. Second star to the right and straight on till morning!" Just like Peter Pan, do we not wish we could remain forever a child? It is time to travel without a compass, so just like Wendy and her brothers, fly away on the footsteps of your favourite animated heroes: Paris, Saint Petersburg, Beijing, Lima, Rio de Janeiro, Osaka and Dakar are ready to welcome you!
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, travel to 15th century Paris
Part of the Walt Disney Studios canon since 1996, The Hunchback of Notre Dame draws its inspiration from Victor Hugo's world famous eponymous novel. In order to walk in Quasimodo, Esmeralda and Phœbus' shoes, it obviously happens at Notre Dame de Paris, in France. Wake up early if you want a chance to escape the crowds, for the emblematic cathedral of the French capital has reached new heights in tourist activity since the movie came out. Climb up the towers and feel like Quasimodo enjoying breathtaking views onto all of Paris. Admire the bourdon Emmanuel – the large bell now listed as historical monument – and the famous gargoyles. Will you recognize the models for Victor, Hugo and Laverne?
As for the Court of Miracles, in the Middle Ages, it was located where the Damiette and Forges streets meet, in Paris' 2nd arrondissement. The city council even installed a marker there that is sure to rekindle childhood memories.
Anastasia, the first steps of a duchess in Saint Petersburg
Produced by Fox Animation Studios in 1997, the Anastasia animated film is in great part set in Saint Petersburg during the last years of the Russian Empire. Relive History – though reworked for entertainment purposes by the producers – and start your journey at the Catherine Palace, about 12 miles from the city. This is where Tsar Nicholas II gave a party of gigantic proportions in 1916. Amid the palace, you will recognize many sets from the movie, like the sumptuous staircase, the dining room and the ball room.
While in the heart of Saint Petersburg, you may also identify some of the period's streets, and there's no way around the Church of the Saviour on Blood. Even though it appears for just a few seconds in the film, it is absolutely worth a visit.
Journey to China to go meet Mulan the warrior
Released in 1998, Mulan undoubtedly inspired many young girls to toughen up! It must be said this is actually the first Disney movie depicting battle scenes, when the studio previously used to entertain their audience with princess tales. The story takes place not far from Beijing in Northern China, and draws its inspiration from the Hua Mulan legend: a young girl passes herself off as a man to wage war in lieu of her aging father.
Numerous film sequences show the Great wall of China in the background. Listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the modern world, the fortress wall infinitely meanders through the mountains and deserts of the Middle Kingdom. Get even closer to the heroine and ride a horse along the wall: 6 miles away from Badaling, you can rent a mount worthy of a Chinese warrior for a terrific 90-minute excursion.
The Road to El Dorado, looking for the mysterious cities of gold
The Road to El Dorado, animated feature directed by Eric Bergeron, was released in theatres in 2000. The story begins in Spain, where we meet the main characters Tulio and Miguel for an adventure at once funny and sweet. Make the best of this jaunt to visit the Park Güell, the Gaudi House Museum and the Museu Picasso in Barcelona. Go on to embark on Cortés' ship at the time of the conquistadors and imagine you're about to conquer the legendary cities of gold on your way to El Dorado. Time to discover Peru and the remains of an ancient civilisation. 300 miles from Lima, the famous Machu Picchu is waiting for you to tread upon its sacred ground. Keep on the Inca road system and look for the many traces of the past. Who knows? You may just be the one to find those cities of gold!
Exotic takeoff way Up
Hitting theatres in 2009, Pixar Animation Studios' Up fires up the imagination with exotic landscapes inspired by Brazil and French Guyana. Just like Carl, the grouchy old man, and Russell, the 8-year old boy scout, take off towards far away and unfamiliar land. Put on your backpack and get ready for an expedition of places you're not likely to forget anytime soon. Explore the Tijuca Forest in Rio de Janeiro, where you can observe lush vegetation and a large range of wildlife animals. Who knows? Kevin, the big multicoloured bird, may not be far from you. The postcard worthy Pão de Açúcar will take you on an eight-hour trek up to the top, where you'll enjoy an unobstructed view onto Rio.
Not far from Cayenne, visit the Royale and Saint Joseph Iles du Salut. The third one, Devil's Island, remains inaccessible due to heavy currents. Do you wish to carry on further inland? Then go to Mount Roraima, a tabular mountain that serves as the triple border point of Brazil, French Guyana and Venezuela. It inspired the scenery of the “lost world” where Carl and Ellie, his late wife, had planned to build a shack and live the rest of their lives.
Spirited Away, memory is your identity
Chihiro Ogino is an ordinary 10-year old little girl, annoyed to move far from her friends. On the outskirts of a forest very reminiscent of Minoh Park in Osaka – a walk in rural environment very popular with the Japanese – her parents are guided towards a dark tunnel. On the other side, they come across a deserted village, only disrupted by the passing of a train. The imminent transformation of Chihiro's parents into swine echoes the tragic fate of Ulysses' friends on the island of Aeaea, at the mercy of Circe, goddess of magic.
Everything happens fast, according to Chihiro's childhood fears as she keeps meeting creatures ever so fantastic (straight from the mind of Hayao Miyazaki, master of Japanese animation since 1963). In her search for witch Yubāba, the frail young girl and her new friend Lin reach a large bathhouse, probably inspired by Osaka and Tokyo's onsens and sentos. Prematurely excluded from the family nest, Chihiro breaks all social boundaries till the end of the film, when, alone in the train that takes her to Zeniba and delivered from constraints through memories of her early childhood, she conquers her freedom.
Kirikou and the Sorceress, a whiff of West Africa
“Mother, give birth to me!” exclaims a baby evidently eager to live among his kind. Adapted from an African tale, Michel Ocelot's first film was released in 1998 to great acclaim. In a West African traditional village, the story tells of a child whose bravery goes well beyond his small height: curious to know why the scary Karaba witch put a curse on the villagers, Kirikou goes on a quest for truth, guided only by his soothsayer grandfather's advice.
A few hours from Dakar by car, you can discover young Kirikou's universe. The film is clearly based on one of the region's ethnic groups and we invite you to discover Wolof, Lébou and Sérère culture. A few steps away from the Senegalese capital, take part in Kirikou's initiatory rite, whose plump figure sneaks in between artefacts, takes refuge in the den of a squirrel family and rides an angry warthog.