On the release date of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate Linda Woolverton. Linda’s films, which incorporate imagination and whimsy with depth and intrigue, are among the favorite films of adults and children alike.
Born and raised in Long Beach (CA), Linda was involved in youth theater from a young age. Her experiences with youth theater, which she has said was an escape from a traumatic childhood, clearly gave her a strong sense of the importance of storytelling for children.he has carried that love for storytelling throughout her career. After graduating from California State University, Long Beach with a BFA in Theater and receiving a masters in children’s theater from California State University, Fullerton, Linda gathered her life experiences and started her own children’s theater.
Later on, Linda began working as a secretary at CBS, eventually working her way up to programming executive, focusing on children’s television. During her time at CBS, Linda was honing her craft for writing in her free time, writing a young adult novel, Star Wind. Soon after, she quit her job and wrote another novel, Running Before the Wind.
Linda’s first foray into screenwriting came in the form of children’s television scripts.
Linda’s first foray into screenwriting came in the form of children’s television scripts. She wrote episodes for The Berenstain Bears, My Little Pony, and Dennis the Menace. Linda soon decided she wanted to work at Disney and, taking her fate into her own hands, she gave Running Before the Wind to a secretary there.
Linda was very quickly hired to write the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast, making her the very first woman to write an animated feature for Disney. Though other teams had attempted an adaptation of Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont’s story before, it was Linda who was able to make it come alive by adding her own ideas, such as Belle’s love for books. Linda’s contribution to the story of Belle and the Beast did more than just retell a classic fairy tale; it added depth and complexity to the characters, making them both more relatable and more loveable to children and adults alike. At the same time, it upheld all of the wonder of the children’s story, with candleholders, clocks, and dusters that each have a distinctly charming personality. Beauty and the Beast became the first animated feature to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Linda continued her partnership with Disney, co-writing the script for The Lion King. This film is hailed as one of Disney’s most heart-wrenching films because of the profound emotional journey of its central character, Simba, no doubt created by Linda. Also around this time she adapted Beauty and the Beast into a beautiful Broadway musical, earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Book in a Musical.
As her career at Disney developed, Linda began reimagining some of its most iconic characters.
As her career at Disney developed, Linda began reimagining some of its most iconic characters. Alice in Wonderland (2010), a live-action version of the earlier animated feature which depicts an older Alice who returns to Wonderland, was entirely Linda’s idea. Directed by Tim Burton, the film takes Lewis Carroll’s original story and infuses it with a darker, more mature tone, while still conserving its whimsy. Mia Wasikowska’s Alice exhibits a new level of strength and introspection, while Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is a particularly intriguing and offbeat interpretation of the familiar character. That same year, Linda created Maleficent, a reimagining of the villain in Sleeping Beauty led by Angelina Jolie as the titular character and Elle Fanning as Aurora. With Maleficent as the protagonist, the film offers a unique examination into the inner workings of her mind, offering a complex exploration of what a villain really is.
Linda’s Alice in Wonderland and Maleficent, with their fantastical plots and magical characters, were both winners among children. However, it was their nuanced characters and philosophical storylines that made these traditionally children’s stories instantly beloved by adults. Linda created sequels for both of these films, Alice Through the Looking Glass and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which furthered the audience’s journeys with these characters.
What Linda does so well as a writer is showcase the complexity and humanity of her characters while never losing her childlike sense of wonder and magic. For this reason, contribution to the landscape of “children’s” stories has been insurmountable.
© Julia Lasker (10/18/23) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Dayna Hagewood’s review of Maleficent: Mistress of Evil here.
Read Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of Maleficent here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Angelina Jolie as Maleficent in MALEFICENT: MISTRESS OF EVIL (2019) written by Linda Woolverton, Micah Fitzerman-Blue, and Noah Harpster. Photo Credit: Lifestyle pictures / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: 2A66F1M
Bottom photo: Linda Woolverton at the premiere of Disney’s THE LION KING (2019) in Hollywood, California on July 10, 2019. Photo Credit: FayesVision / WENN Rights Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo. Image ID: W8ME27