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Top 10 Unexpected Inspirations Behind Our Favorite Animated Movies

Updated on February 18, 2018

Whether it is making us feel like carefree children again, giving us and our friends opportunity to relish in nostalgic memories, letting us appreciate the beautiful flowing animation or just simply sit back and enjoy. Animated movies have something for everyone. This medium has come a long way from being looked down upon as just kids’ entertainment (which it still can be) to gripping audiences of all ages with mature motives, subtle messages, heart-warming stories and so much more.

It is always fun to dig a bit deeper and discover how these creations came to be. What sparked the creators’ imagination and how something seemingly mundane was turned into something magical? We all know of animated movies based on classical fairy tales. But there is so much more. Without further a due let us dive into the 10 most unexpected inspirations behind animated movies.

1. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Tim Burton is loved by many for his distinct style, eerie visuals and atmospheric world-building. The nightmare before Christmas is no exception, telling the story of the Halloween town celebrity Jack Skelington, who upon discovering the town of Christmas endeavors on kidnapping a man and stealing him job for a day At least that.

Turns out the animated flick is based on a 3 page poem under the same name which Burton wrote in 1982.Which, according to Burton himself, was inspired by all the Christmas advertisements, decorations and merchandise sold right after Halloween. Creating the feeling that as soon as one holiday passes, another takes over. The outline of the story is pretty much unchanged, and initially it was considered to be turned into a 30 minute Christmas special. But Burton had his hands full with other projects at the time, and the story itself was though to be a bit “too weird” for the audiences.

Ten years later burton came together with Disney animator Henry Selick and team of other gifted animators to turn his story into reality.

2. The Incredibles

It would be a no brainer to assume that the director took a lot of inspiration from classic superhero comics and cartoons. And in some ways that is true, superhero genre has seen so many approaches and depictions that many tropes are bound to keep come up.

But turns out that’s hardly the main inspiration behind the project. Struggle of the main character, Mr. Incredible, is very similar to what Brad Bird was going through in his own life at the time of writing the film. Feeling stuck in a rut, torn between work and family responsibilities. The movie depicts the subject of mid life crisis and other character struggles spot on and now we know why. The director also said the powers were inspired by typical roles in a family: father being the strong "keeper", mother multi-tasking and being stretches in all directions like an elastic, teenagers being insecure and shy, young boys being mischievous and hyperactive, and small kids being...unpredictable. It's so simple yet very smart when you think about it.

3. Ratatouille

Ratatouille is a charming animated movie, brought to you by Pixar and Disney. A movie about Remy, a rat with an excellent sense of smell and cooking skills who dreams of becoming a chef. Through trials and tribulations he achieves his goal with the help of his imaginary friend, a recently passed away chef he admired, as well as other characters. Sounds a little silly but sweet right? But did you know it is based on an actual tragedy?

The whole “Follow your dreams, coming of age” story with a rat as a main protagonist came up later in the production. All the animators knew was they wanted to have the movie take place in Paris, so that was where they went for inspiration. A real life chef, Bernard Loiseau, resembles astonishing similarities to the character of Geustou in the movie. His immense success and fame, being shunned by critics and his restaurant loosing a star. Bernard Loiseau tragically ended his life. Having Committed suicide.

4. Lady and the Tramp

Lady and the tramp was inspired by the famous Disney writer and artist, Joe Grant’s dog. Her full name was Lady Nell the Second, who participated in a number of dog shows, and was dearly loved by her family. She was also particularly protective and tender towards their first born daughter, almost acting as a dog Nanny according to Grant’s descriptions.

Apparently Walt Disney had been considering making the movie since 1937.However it was but on hold, modified and many changed were made before it finally came out in 1955.

Fun fact: The dog used as a reference model for the Tramp character was rescued by one of the movie artists. And lived the rest of her life at a Disneyland Pony Farm. How sweet is that?

5. UP


Allegedly the animators drew inspiration from Edith Macefield. This 84 year-old lived in Seattle in her small house which resembles striking similarity to the one in UP. Her story is even more heartwarming. Apparently this woman turned down large sum of money offered to her in exchange of demolishing her house as a major construction was taking place at that very spot. Sounds familiar?

She refused and fiercely fought to keep the house and all the memories she’s had associated with it. As a result a major mall had to be built around it. Edith stayed for two more years, before passing away in 2008. The house was passed down to a friend and sold shortly after. However it still stands and there are thought of a public square being built in memory of its past owner. How amazing is that?


The main character of the movie is a parrot called Blue, thought to be the last of his kind before he is relocated to Brazil to be united with a female of the same species. Blue is unable to fly and finds the concept birds living in the wild foreign, as he’s been a loved pet his whole life. Through the movie he interacts with many colorful characters, re-connects with his natural habitat and past and saves many birds from being stolen for trade.

The movie was actually based on an actual rare Blue bird, the last of the Spix's macaw species. Presley was 40 years old when he passed away. Carlos Saldanha, director of the film, said he wanted the movie to raise awareness of rare endangered Brazilian birds. As each year the number of them going extinct species and people selling rare birds illegally overseas is a serious issue.

7.El dorado

The story is based off the actual legends of the “city of Gold” the origins of which lie in South America. In the 16th century many Spanish explorers endeavored to find the tribe they believed held immense riches and was hidden in the mountains, and hold ceremonies during which precious Jems and golden statues were thrown into the river to appease the Gods. The Spaniards even drained Lake Guatavita in futile attempt to find the riches, though El Dorado itself was never found.

The idea behind the two male leads was bringing what wound usually be the “side-kicks” to the foreground and exploring the possibilities of making a buddy comedy in such a location. The result is an upbeat and fun comedy with impressive DreamWorks animation and designs.


No wonder the famous and sweet Pixar picture is described by many as a real tearjerker. According to the film’s director, Andrew Stanton, the idea started taking shape during a lunch break at the Walt Disney Studios. He had a character I his mind, a robot left all alone on earth performing one specific job. Over and over. After the huge Success of Finding Nemo Stanton and his colleagues started thinking the idea could be developed into a feature length film.

The design of our favorite cleaning robot has come a long way during production. Stanton confessed it was a combination of having something similar to R2D2 in mind, and getting binoculars on a baseball game that spiked his imagination for the final draft. The sub-plot of environmental message and Humans being in outer space was also added later to have out leads, Wall-E and Eve, go on an adventure together.

9. Coraline

Coraline is spooky and engaging stop-motion feature, written and directed Henry Selick. Similar to Alice in wonderland in some regards, we follow a young imaginative girl into a magical world which holds all sorts of oddities and secrets. In Coralines’ case though, the girl walks through a mysterious door in her new house and finds herself in an “ideal” version of her life. Everything and everyone catering to her wishes and fantasies. Soon enough she discovers one should be careful with what they wish for, dark secrets get revealed and it is up to the headstrong girl to escape the clutches of an ancient and evil entity “the other Mother”.

Henry Selick came together with Neil Gaiman to adapt the latters’ book of the same name. Gaiman, in turn, was inspired to write the book by his 4 year old daughter. Holly would climb into the authors’ lap whilst he was typing and tell him stories about a little girl, typically named Holly as well. Who would come home only to find a scary witch, standing in the kitchen pretending to be her mother. The evil witch would afterwards lock up the girl in the dungeon with friendly ghost girls whom would aid her in finding her real mother. The author himself describes his daughters’ stories as “Absolutely terrifying” and “oozing with imagination”.

10. Spirited Away


Last but definitely not least! We have the first anime movie to have won an Oscar, an acclaimed masterpiece by Japanese animator and film director Hayao Miyazaki. Produced by studio Ghibli.

The heartwarming fantasy adventure of an 11 year old girl who ends up in a magical reals, facing off against witches and spirits to save her parents pulled the heartstrings of many. Combine that with breathtaking animation and unique designs, and you have a childhood (and adulthood) favorite of many.

Apparently the design of the “Spirit Realm” was based on an actual location. Jiufen, a small Japanese town which Hayao Miyazaki visited while searching for an inspiration for his next full length movie. Many busy streets and buildings have striking resemblance to where our main protagonist was “Entrapped” for Majority of the film. The Bath-house, the small tunnel leading to a marketplace with restaurants, various buildings with prominent designs are all major parts of the movie, and can be recognized in the actual pictures of Jiufen.

© 2018 Lika Tsulukidze


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