Meeting Linda Woolverton – The Spirit Behind Beauties and Beasts By Wayne Sung - April 27, 2017

A look back at a piece I wrote this day in 2014.

Considering the release of the live action Beauty and the Beast, this seems fitting. 


Linda Woolverton at Newport Beach Film Festival 2014
Linda Woolverton at Newport Beach Film Festival 2014

Highlight of the day: got to shake hands with Linda Woolverton!

This is more an afterglow of realization than a fanboy drool on-scene (thank goodness). lol I had the pleasure of giving her directions at the Newport Beach Film Festival before realizing who she was.

I came to attend a seminar on her writing career for Disney and was talking to other volunteers when she just walked up to us and asked for directions to her contact. I directed her to the theater rooms up the hall and had a tickle in my brain as she thanked us and walked away.

It was confirmed later by the program coordinator as Ms. Woolverton walked up to check in with her. I immediately offered my hand and thanked her for Beauty and the Beast. I don’t think it would have been taken so seriously without her involvement.

The talk itself was very candid and insightful. Ms. Woolverton had come on to Beauty and the Beast at a time when traditional writers weren’t exactly welcomed by animators as they were used to storyboards. But Jeffrey Katzenberg had insisted the team work with her and she battled through. Though the silence she got on entering each meeting was painful to bear.

(Trivia: Howard Ashman was also a strong supporter of Woolverton and mentored her in the art of writing for musicals so that she can adapt to Beauty and the Beast when it was decided to become a musical after The Little Mermaid earned acclaim.)

As a self-proclaimed feminist, Linda Woolverton was the one who insisted Belle be a smart independent woman, believing that current age of moviegoers would be tired of the same old damsel in fairy tale quandary.

She was also the one who integrated the Shakespearean touches to Lion King, deviating from Disney execs’ request to just follow the “hero’s journey” template.

She believes in not following a blueprint exactly, that there are many ways to tell a story. That each story’s theme would naturally demand the characters needed. (Lefou, for instance, was created by Linda Woolverton and Howard Ashman as Gaston’s punching bag to vent frustration but ended up as a voice of the town as well.)

In that vein, Ms. Woolverton had actually turned down an offer to write the script for Harry Potter, knowing she would end up going in her own direction instead of lifting directly as Warner would want from the books.

I almost forgot she also wrote another of my favorite Disney movies: Homeward Bound. Chance is still to this day one of my favorite animal protagonists.

One of her more recent highlights, Ms. Woolverton had shared a moment with Angelina Jolie when the now-casted Maleficent read Woolverton’s script and was so impressed called her up to discuss it with her. They ended up continuing a close collaboration throughout production.

Sounds like Linda Woolverton has been keeping busy. She’s even written two young adult novels just because she felt the need to write them.

She herself said she lives to write. And though she walks in the morning as a warmup to get her juices flowing, Ms. Woolverton has no regimented process to her writing.

Her recommendation to writers that struggle between commercial and personal is to do both. She wrote Beauty and the Beast as a job, true, but the details of her story were from her own heart.

Let’s hope that freedom of creativity stays with her throughout the rest of her career. Kudos, Linda Woolverton, kudos.

———————
Thanks to Newport Beach Film Festival for hosting the panel I attended.
The original animated Disney Beauty and the Beast is available on Disney DVD/Blu-ray.
The live action Disney Beauty and the Beast is currently in theaters.
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Wayne Sung

Wayne Sung

Geek. Gamer, comic collector, animation and movie fan, artist, writer, actor, dancer, programmer, game designer, dad. Professionally been in programming and game QA and production. It's Totally Life gives me the platform to share some longer writings than a simple social media post. Thanks to Branden for bringing me on!