This article was originally part of a November 2019 Plotpoints Podcast episode. See right side, under slideshow on home page.
Linda Woolverton is the combination of two rarities in Hollywood. One is a female screenwriter - a growing but still under-represented demographic, and two, a multi-screenwriting Disney star.
Woolverton is a SoCal native born and educated in Long Beach, earning a masters at Cal State Fullerton in children’s theater.
If Hollywood wouldn’t hire her, she reasoned, she’d just start her own children’s theater company which successfully performed in theaters, malls, and churches in the area and which also gave a venue to many aspiring young writers, directors, actors and actresses.
While working as a development exec at CBS in children’s programming, she also began writing her YA novels, Star Wind and Running Before The Wind which were very well received.
This decision to write and publish books would become one of her better ones.
Tiring of the executive grind, Linda moved into children’s television writing.
She wrote for animated series Star Wars: Ewoks, Dennis the Menace, The Real Ghostbusters, The Berenstain Bears, My Little Pony and Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers but eventually chafed over the restrictions and seemingly dead end.
When her agent wouldn’t help her get into features, she went to Disney and gave a copy of one of her books to an assistant telling the assistant to “give it to someone to read.”
Jeffrey Katzenberg, Disney's Chairman, called her in for an interview two days later.
The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
To quote Wikipedia:
Woolverton was hired to write the script for Disney Animation's Beauty and the Beast, thus becoming the first woman to write an animated feature for the studio. From early 1985 to 1988, two different teams of writers had taken a turn at adapting Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont's tale into a feature film, but Woolverton succeeded by incorporating her own ideas into the story, such as making the protagonist a bookaholic. Upon its release in 1991, Beauty and the Beast received universal critical acclaim, becoming the first animated film ever to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and winning the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
Woolverton it seemed had tapped into something boiling under the surface of society at the time. Strong female leads became the norm especially in Disney animation and Woolverton was at the forefront of that movement.
She was exactly the right person at the right time and she ran with the muse to create an almost new genre, the quote unquote strong female lead in animation.
To directly quote Woolverton on her success and how she achieved it:
"[A strong female character] means somebody who is proactive in their world, who affects their world, isn’t a victim, even victimized by it — or if they are victimized by it, they take action to change that for themselves. They look at the world in interesting ways, maybe another way than the culture does. That makes a strong woman if she’s vocal about it, or even goes about trying to make change without being vocal about it. There are so many interesting ways to describe women besides just strong, even this pure difficult strength. It’s strong-willed."
— Woolverton on the "strong female character" trope.
Woolverton wrote or contributed to:
Beauty and the Beast (1991; screenplay by)
Aladdin (1992; pre-production story development by)
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993; screenplay by)
The Lion King (1994; screenplay by)
Mulan (1998; additional story material by)
Arctic Tale (2007; narration script by)
Alice in Wonderland (2010; screenplay by)
Maleficent (2014; screenplay by)
Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016; screenplay by)
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019; screenplay by, story by, executive production by)
She also went back to her theatrical roots for:
Beauty and the Beast (1994; book by)
The Lion King (1997; production assistance by)
Aida (2000; book by)
Lestat (2005; book by) - based on Anne Rice’s novels.
Her full television slate was:
The Berenstain Bears (1985-1987; writer, 5 episodes)
Wildfire (1986; writer, 2 episodes)
Star Wars: Ewoks (1986; writer, 2 episodes)
My Little Pony 'n Friends (1986; writer, 2 episodes presented as two parts of one)
Dennis the Menace (1986; writer, 65 episodes with three individuals segments each)
The Real Ghostbusters (1987; writer, 1 episode)
Teen Wolf (1986-1987; writer, 8 episodes)
Garbage Pail Kids (1987; writer, 2 episodes)
CBS Storybreak (1988; writer, 1 episode)
The Adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy (1988)
Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers (1989; writer, 1 episode)
The Clan of the Cave Bear (2015; writer and executive-producer, TV movie)
Woolverton is in active pre-production with a film called SPLIT.