than a decade before Frozen‘s Jennifer Lee became the
first woman to direct a Walt Disney Animation Studios feature and Brave‘s Brenda Chapman became the
first female director of a Pixar film, there was Linda Woolverton.
the early stages of the Magic Kingdom’s big-screen cartoon comeback that began
with 1989’s The Little Mermaid, Woolverton was the screenwriter behind the
first animated film to compete in the best-picture category, 1992’s Beauty and
the Beast. She would go on to be Tony-nominated for the 1994 stage version, the
studio’s first foray into adapting an animated feature into a Broadway show.
Beast, Woolverton set a new standard for fully fleshed-out fairy-tale heroines
far beyond the vapid Disney princesses of yore with Belle, a bookworm unaware
of her beauty who sacrifices her freedom to save her father and just happens to
find love in the bargain.
the writer has taken on the challenge of re-inventing one of Disney’s most
iconic animated villains in live-action form with Maleficent, one of this
summer’s few female-driven big-budget adventures, starring Angelina Jolie and
opening today. Not only do we learn why this once-carefree fairy girl turns
into a vengeful and bitter sorceress who curses a baby to fall into a
death-like slumber on her 16th birthday, but we watch Princess Aurora (a ray of innocent sunshine in the form of
Elle Fanning) forge a bond with a woman who should rightfully be her enemy.
61, talks about the trend of turning animated classics into live-action
features — she also did the script for 2010’s Alice in Wonderland — and how
she managed to re-imagine the self-proclaimed Mistress of All Evil from 1959’s
Sleeping Beauty as a sympathetic yet still chilling character.
Beauty was the first film I ever saw in a theater. As a result, I have mixed
feelings about how these storybook tales we grew up on are deconstructed into
vehicles to appeal to a new generation. The progressive female part of me is
glad that these depictions of womanhood are being updated for the 21st century. But the baby-boomer kid
inside of me feels as if someone thinks there is something wrong with the films
I loved as a child.
understand where you are coming from. I grew up on them as well. These iconic
characters became part of all of our beings. There is nothing wrong with them.
But they reflect the point of view of their time. Many versions of the same
story can exist. The purpose is not to wipe out the other one, but to do it in
a different way. Besides, it is fun to have a reason to go back and look at the
was the first Disney animated feature that you remember seeing in a theater?
think it was Bambi. It really sticks out for me because it has the most
heart-wrenching moment ever — it’s never been topped. The death of Bambi’s
mother killed me. I do think Disney films have such a powerful reach, one that
speaks to people all over the world, generation after generation after
generation. The world is a different place. We as women came through a
revolution. We are not the same as we were then. These new films speak to
today’s generation but still have reverence for the past.
do you think of the astonishing success of Frozen, whose plot has some
similarities with Maleficent, with its redefining of what true love is and
whose core relationship is between two women?
wonderful. I’m so thrilled that these movies with female protagonists are
blowing the top off the box office. There is a sea change for female
characters, from the lead character in Divergent to Katniss from The Hunger
Games. I’m no longer stuck in a little ghetto. These films have a broad reach
and make money. They used to think boys don’t go to female movies and that is
more women be involved behind the camera in these fairy-tale inspired movies?
Given that only men have gotten a chance to direct comic-book adventures, why don’t more women directors oversee these female-oriented fantasies like Maleficent? Robert Stromberg, who is making his directing debut with
Maleficent, is highly qualified to handle the technical elements involved in
the effects and production design, given that he won art-direction Oscars for
both Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. But these films also could greatly benefit
from a woman’s touch.
brought an absolute visual genius to Maleficent. But I agree that women should
be involved more in all aspects of the film industry. In my career, it was
interesting. When I first started with Beauty and the Beast, there were very
few women in the room and now many more women are involved. But there are very
few female directors doing large-budget movies. Women have a lot to say and a
point of view that is just as important as men’s. We are seeing incremental
have become an expert in knowing how to re-invent fairy tales for
contemporary tastes and attitudes without losing the essence that have made
them endure so long. What is your secret?
have to look at the story and ask, ‘What are the icons?’ You need the rose in
Beauty and the Beast. You have to have Aurora prick her finger on a spinning
wheel and go away for 16 years. You find those and work around them through the
point of view of the protagonist.
turning a villain into the central figure in Maleficent present a greater
challenge? There is a reason that she is often ranked high among the popular
villains in Disney lore. Even Angelina Jolie, who never warmed to the princess
characters, has said the evil fairy was her favorite with her wicked sense of
fun and serene elegance.
was very difficult to turn a villain into a hero and yet keep her a villain.
There is a line there that is tricky. I was so lucky to have Angelina as a member
of the team. She kept saying throughout the process, “She is still a villain.
Still a villain.” But we had to create a situation where you root for her. She
could only be so bad.
SPOILER ALERT! Probably the key scene — and the one that most people will be
talking about — is Stefan’s betrayal of Maleficent for the sake of gaining the
kingship after they shared true love’s kiss in their youth. Obviously, you had
to provide a better reason for her vengeful nature than simply not being
invited to a royal party. But the fact that he drugs her and slices off her
magnificent wings after their reunion feels like an act of rape or a
castration. It is truly horrifying, even for adults, and heartbreaking. How did
you decide on that moment to be the catalyst for Maleficent’s evil ways?
had to figure out what possibly could have happened to her to make her want to
hurt an innocent baby. Something that would equal that act. In the animated movie, she had no wings. She just threw her robes open like wings. I
thought, ‘Is that it? Did someone take her wings?’ They stole her soul and her
heart had to turn cold. I knew that was the right answer. We depicted it in a
way that is horrible, yet you can tolerate it and still feel it. Angelina does a
great job in portraying her anguish.
Yet some critics are simply interpreting her need to avenge as simply the act
of a woman scorned.
is part of it. She did love him.
This is a PG film. Was there concern that this scene and a few others might be
a bit much for young children?
really didn’t think that so much. It is wings, nothing that any of us have. We
didn’t cut off her legs. We killed Mufasa in The Lion King. We killed Bambi’s
mother. The world is an intense place. Storytelling helps children to
be strong. Hansel and Gretel is about eating children. Fairy tales have never
shied away from that.
one change I regretted: You had to turn Sleeping Beauty‘s three delightful
fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, who shelter Aurora and act as her
caretakers until her 16th birthday, into the pixie comic-relief version of The Three Stooges. While I understood
that Maleficent had to hold the most sway over the princess to make the plot
work, I still wish they weren’t such bumblers.
had to undercut their influence. This is a Maleficent story, between her and
Aurora. However, I do love those three from Sleeping Beauty very much.
next? You are still doing the script for the Alice in Wonderland sequel due in
2016, Through the Looking Glass?
just finished my version.
Baron Cohen joins the cast as a character called Time. Will Alice be going back
could be. The cool thing is that everyone is coming back again. I am also doing
something for TV. I am out there pitching it. It is exciting for me.
it be about fairy tales?
Not a fairy tale.