Beauty and the Beast screenwriter Linda Woolverton talks about having to fight for Belle’s independence.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Disney’s animated and Oscar-nominated version of Beauty and the Beast, and Entertainment Weekly took some time to speak with screenwriter Linda Woolverton about the challenge of getting Belle the independent voice that the character needed to change the tides for future Disney female characters.
With more and more female characters getting to find their own voice, becoming their own heroes instead of being the victims, it’s only fitting that we find out more from one of the ones who helped move Disney in the right direction.
Itt was twenty-five years ago that we were introduced to Belle, the “Beauty” that was Disney Animation’s “Beauty and the Beast.” When it was released in November 1991, it became a phenomenal success, garnering multiple awards nominations, winning the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, and getting nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category, the first for an animated film.
In this interview, we read what Linda had to go through to make the movie, and Belle, spectacular:
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.
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.
Beauty and the Beast wasn’t the first animated film to start giving female characters more of a role to play in the films, as The Little Mermaid was released the year prior. However, Beauty and the Beast was definitely a stand-out for Disney, and it continues to be successful to this day, still performing as a Broadway musical.
Linda continues giving female characters a voice in film, having written this year’s live-action film Alice Through the Looking Glass, and currently writing up the sequel to Maleficent.