There’s a screenwriter named Linda Woolverton who’s working for Disney, and she has to her credits Maleficent, a movie that’s another dismaying example of villain worship. First, from the LA Times, the earliest article in 1992 giving a clue to her politics at the time she wrote the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast in 1991:
“I wasn’t on a soapbox,” she says of her first big-screen outing–the highest-grossing first-run animated film ever and a possible best-picture Oscar contender. “But Belle is a feminist. I’m not critical of Snow White, Cinderella . . . they reflected the values of their time. But it just wasn’t in me to write a throwback. I wanted a woman of the ‘90s, someone who wanted to do something other than wait for her prince to come.”
Well gee, that’s fine and all, but why frame it all as a “feminist” argument, and not simply that women need inspirational figures who can take proactive positions? Come to think of it, why even base it all on Beauty and the Beast? Depending on your viewpoint, this sounds like there could’ve been early tampering with classic fairy tales for the sake of political correctness in the wrong way. And just because she said she wasn’t soapboxing doesn’t mean she really wasn’t. I do wonder, however, what she thinks of the recent live action remake, which makes a mockery out of even the most questionable parts of her original screenplay.
From Time magazine, here’s where things began to get more ludicrous several years ago, when Woolverton produced Maleficent:
Linda Woolverton knows her Disney princesses. After all, the veteran screenwriter worked on Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Mulan, the 2010 Alice in Wonderland and the Sleeping Beauty reimagination Maleficent, which arrives in theaters today.
So she speaks from experience when she says that Maleficent, which stars Angelina Jolie as the titular villain, couldn’t have existed until this point in time — because the world wasn’t necessarily ready for such a strong, complicated female protagonist.
A villainess makes a “strong, complicated protagonist”?!? This is so insulting to the intellect, it makes Woolverton’s earlier take on Beauty and the Beast look tame by comparison.
When Woolverton worked on Beauty, she says, it was shortly after the arrival of The Little Mermaid; the Disney princess was well aligned with Ariel’s interests, like combing her hair and giving up her voice for a boy she barely knows. It wasn’t that there was explicit pressure to make Beauty‘s Belle behave like that, but that, Woolverton recalls, those attitudes just went without saying. “It was very difficult to change the point of view of the Disney princess,” she tells TIME. “It was just that the point of view of a Disney heroine is this; it isn’t somebody who does this. That was hard.”
What she’s missing big time is that a lot of Disney’s cartoons of the past, save for the cast of Mickey Mouse and other anthropomorphic animals created by Walt himself, weren’t all original, but rather, based on famous fairy tales, like Snow White, Cinderella, and Alice in Wonderland. Why say you’re changing “Disney princesses” specifically, but not the original source books? That’s where logic goes into a lapse.
You might not recognize her name, but you definitely know her work. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton, 63, has penned such moderns classics as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. In 2010, with Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, she became the first solely credited female writer of a billion-dollar-earning movie.
She followed that up with 2014’s Maleficent, her retelling of Sleeping Beauty, which was a massive box office hit and spurred a trend of Disney remakes from the villain’s point of view. (Emma Stone is set to star in the studio’s Cruella and Woolverton is currently writing a Maleficent sequel.)
And when the crooks take the foremost focus, that’s why it’s such a tragedy the films wound up becoming box office successes, though it also paints a worrisome picture of the audience: are they really that indoctrinated they believe villainy is something to admire, or worse, sympathize with? With the way this world’s been going, it’s chilling to think about.
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.
And until recently, I might not have thought anybody would buy into villainy as entertainment. But this is the Orwellian university-indoctrinated world we live in now, where people have become so desensitized to negative beliefs, you can’t be shocked if they bought into this any more than the 80s audience would buy into the whole Friday the 13th series of horror movies. Funny they don’t mention a story like Rapunzel, where the leading lady was locked up in a tower by her wicked witch captor. That could’ve just as well made for a wellspring of a woman figuring out how to defeat her captor. And the biggest irony is that now, Woolverton, a woman apparently influenced by feminism in the 60s, has a viewpoint that’s now being shunned by feminism of today: Belle is, in her words, smart and attractive. Practically both are being written off as outmoded by modern feminists of the 2020s, and Woolverton’s turn to spotlighting villainy suggests even she doesn’t believe what she’s saying now.
Come up with a heroine built on courage, confidence and thinking for herself, that’s all quite welcome. But the absurd way they tampered with classic fairy tales, not to mention the political approach used in many modern adaptations, doesn’t do justice at all. It just runs the gauntlet of lecturing audiences, and all the while, useful messages like a man defending a woman’s honor and dignity are unfortunately tossed out.
Originally published here.