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Alumna Pens 'Maleficent' and Other Disney Favorites

Q&A With Screenwriter Linda Woolverton

June 12, 2014

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Theatre arts alumna Linda Woolverton wrote the screenplay for Disney's latest movie, "Maleficent." Her other Disney writing credits include "The Lion King," "Beauty and the Beast" and Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland."

Theatre arts alumna Linda Woolverton has written about princesses and heroines, beasts, bears and lions, and now, she tells the story of a wicked queen — one of Disney's most iconic and all-time popular villains.

As the screenwriter of Disney's latest movie "Maleficent," Woolverton '79 (M.A. theatre arts) penned the untold story from the storybook classic "Sleeping Beauty" and 1959 Disney animated feature. Writing the script for the movie, which is now playing in theaters and stars Angelina Jolie, is one of her "dreams come true."

Woolverton's writing career took off after the success of two young adult novels and developing scripts for animated television shows. When one of her novels caught the eye of a Disney exec, she was hired to write the screenplay for Disney's first Oscar-nominated animated feature, "Beauty and the Beast," in 1991.

She then co-wrote the screenplay for the 1994 animated film "The Lion King" and adapted her script of "Beauty and the Beast" for Broadway, which earned her a Tony nomination the same year. Woolverton's screenplay for Tim Burton's adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland," released in 2010, grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. She recently scripted Disney's "Through the Looking Glass," scheduled for release in 2016.

Woolverton grew up in the Naples neighborhood in Long Beach and currently lives in Los Angeles.

What was your vision to bringing the character of "Maleficent" to life?

I re-envisioned the Disney animated film focusing on Maleficent and her back story. I enjoyed the process of transforming a villain into the film's protagonist. But it was very difficult to find a reason that we could ever root for someone who would curse a baby.

What does it mean to you to have created a character like Maleficent whose pure heart turns to stone?

I wanted to depict womanhood in all of its colors — not just the aspects that we have seen in family films — the perfect mother, the pretty princess, the mean stepmother. Maleficent shows us all facets of ourselves as women.

What was your inspiration for Maleficent, as well as Aurora, the Sleeping Beauty?

When I found out that Maleficent is not a witch but a fairy, her story revealed itself to me. As for Aurora, I wanted to give her more spirit and passion and fun than the original animated character.

What do you hope audiences will like most about the movie?

I think the audiences will love the visual style and the fantastical world that we've created. Also, I hope they enjoy this new telling of a familiar story.

How did your CSUF education prepare you for your screenwriting career?

I was very supported by the faculty during my graduate studies in the Theatre and Dance Department. I had the freedom to allow my creativity to blossom while I was there. I truly believe that time gave me the strength and confidence to believe in myself as a professional writer.

Any CSUF faculty members inspire you?

Dr. Ron Wood [professor emeritus of theatre and dance] was my faculty adviser for my master's degree. He was an invaluable resource and support ... and a dear friend.

What has it been like to work on Disney films?

I feel grateful for all of the opportunities that Disney has provided for me. I have had the opportunity to work with incredible talents such as the late Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Sir Elton John, Sir Tim Rice, Bernie Taupin, Tim Burton, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie.

How was this film a dream come true for you?

I had always wanted to do something set in the dark fairy world, and this film opened the door to that world for me.

What advice do you have for the next generation of screenwriters?

Write. Don't look around at what everyone else is doing. Speak from your soul and heart and tell us your stories!

Media Contact:
Debra Cano Ramos


Tags:  Arts & Culture