Check out excerpts from three new interviews with Linda Woolverton below.
Entertainment Weekly: Linda Woolverton, the $3 billion Alice and Beauty and the Beast screenwriter, remembers a Belle battle
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Beauty and the Beast was Disney’s first film made from a traditional screenplay versus elaborate storyboards. And it was also your first feature film. What was the hardest challenge with writing Belle?
LINDA WOOLVERTON: It was hard. You have to understand that the whole idea of the heroine-victim was baked into the cake, especially at Disney. And that is nothing against them — they had been very successful with so many wonderful animated movies, which I loved. But they were reflective of the culture.
You thought that the one-note princess thing was a bit tired?
Well, yeah. I just didn’t think anyone was going to buy it, honestly. By the time I rolled around, I’d been through the women’s movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s and I definitely couldn’t buy that this smart, attractive young girl, Belle, would be sitting around and waiting for her prince to come. That she was someone who suffers in silence and only wants a pure rose? That she takes all this abuse but is still good at heart? I had a hard time with that.
You’ve said that your model for the character was Katharine Hepburn in Little Women.
Yes. That was a real depiction of womanhood. I think you can take on current issues of today through fairy tales or the mythic. And so that was my fight, always saying, “The audience is just not gonna buy this anymore.” Actually I need to acknowledge [lyricist] Howard Ashman — him and I really conjured up Belle together. Howard unfortunately wasn’t around to see the finished product [he died before the film’s release], but he was also fighting for this character.
Were you satisfied with how it turned out?
I am. I mean, you can only move the needle so much. Look at all the Disney princesses before her. Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale, but she has an independent, open mind. She loves to read and to explore the outdoors. But even so, every day was a battle of making it happen. Every single line of her dialogue was a battle. My daughter was born the same year that Beauty and the Beast came out, so I’m always aware how long ago it was. And in some ways it’s taken until now for people to realize that Belle was something of a first.
IGN: Belle Doesn't Have Stockholm Syndrome, Says Animated Beauty and the Beast Writer
I recently got a chance to speak with Alice Through the Looking Glass screenwriter Linda Woolverton, who also wrote the original 1991 Beauty and the Beast movie. While she's not involved with the new remake, she said she was very excited to see the film drawing from her take on the story and characters. "It makes me really, really happy," she said, upon learning how many people watched the teaser in such a short amount of time. "It's fantastic. I'm really excited about what they're doing."LA Times: First Belle, now Alice: How screenwriter and headbanger Linda Woolverton is remaking Disney heroines for a feminist age
When asked about Beauty and the Beast's lasting power, Woolverton noted how Belle was a "new and surprising" Disney Princess for the time. The character was notoriously reworked during production; Woolverton wanted Belle to be more adventurous, while original storyboards showed her decorating cakes. Eventually a compromise was made, and they settled on Belle's interest in books.
Woolverton also addressed a popular controversy that's been making the rounds online recently. "There's been a lot of talk about Stockholm syndrome, that [Belle] fell in love with her captor," she said. "But I disagree! She was captured, but she transformed him. She didn't become, you know, an object. [Laughs] She didn't turn into a beast! She transformed him. So it was certainly the transformative power of love and what it can do."
When Linda Woolverton was writing the screenplay for 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast,” she developed a reputation for banging her head on the table in meetings. Together with lyricist Howard Ashman, Woolverton was determined to update the fairy tale’s heroine for a modern, feminist age, an approach that occasionally clashed with the more traditional ideas of Disney feature animation’s story department.
“I’d say, ‘Belle is not baking a cake! She’s putting pins in a map of where she wants to go in her life,’” Woolverton said, in a recent interview at a cafe near her Hancock Park home. “I’m sure I was a total pain … but look what happened. We got Belle out of it.”
But together with Ashman, who had just guided the studio to a commercial and critical hit with “The Little Mermaid’s” “Under the Sea,” Woolverton set about crafting Belle into a different sort of Disney heroine. They wrote her as an intellect and shifted her focus so that she wasn’t waiting to be saved.
“Introducing me to Howard Ashman was the biggest gift Disney ever gave me,” Woolverton said. “I learned about writing from him and I learned about fighting from him.”
Vanity Fair: Your Burning Questions about Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, Answered
How does Disney choose the best writer for the job?
I’ve worked with Disney for a long time. I started on Beauty after I took it upon myself to drive one of my books over to Disney’s front desk and say, “Maybe somebody here wants to read this.” That was my entrée into Disney. I first wrote a script for them that they never made into a film, but it caught Jeffrey Katzenberg’s attention, so he hired me to do Beauty and the Beast, and that’s how they got me. But now they have the pick and choose of anybody they want.
You were the first woman to write an animated feature for Disney—Beauty and the Beast—that was also the first animated film ever to be nominated for best picture at the Academy Awards. Both are enormous firsts. What did it mean for you to break down barriers both for women and animation with one project?
For me, unbelievable. The first thing I ever really wrote was nominated for best picture. That just doesn’t happen. It was hard to even comprehend, honestly. The studio wasn’t in great shape at the time, and we thought this movie could really turn things around. I said, “Well, that’s a lot of pressure on this little movie.” You know? We really had no idea that Beauty and the Beast was going to be the groundbreaker it became.
Well, you’re popular now! And so is the movie—there are multiple posts online dedicated to all the unanswered questions from Beauty and the Beast, like where Belle’s famous yellow dress came from. Can you answer that one for us?
It could have been one of wardrobe’s dresses because she was thin as a human, but she can’t wear it now because she’s a wardrobe. It probably was her dress.
Beauty and the Beast will have a live-action adaptation next year. What will it be like for you to see Belle come to life, as portrayed by Emma Watson, after all these years?
I haven’t seen it yet but I think that’s fantastic. I absolutely think she is amazing and a perfect Belle, really. I thought it was a great casting choice. It was my first-born child, so there’s a little bit of possessiveness, which really I had to let it go. So it’s probably good for me not to have seen it just yet and just see it when it’s all done and all pretty and perfect and that’s exciting.
Source: Entertainment Weekly, IGN, LA Times, Vanity Fair