Linda Woolverton, who has helped visualize the Serengeti, Alice’s Wonderland and now the realm of fairies, talks about her latest big screen project in TheWrap’s Writers’ Room
Linda Woolverton has crafted some of the most grandiose tales in modern cinema, bringing the Serengeti to life in “The Lion King,” visualizing the sumptious halls of “Beauty & the Beast” and recreating Alice’s Wonderland.
After spending a lot of time on the set of Disney’s latest epic, “Maleficent,” which stars Angelina Jolie as the titular fairy, Woolverton has a new goal – to direct.
“It was such a huge production – to see what it takes and hangout and talk to everybody – it was all educational,” Woolverton told TheWrap.
“I would like to take [my vision] all the way and not hand it off.”
The prospect of controlling the presentation of her story appeals to Woolverton because her writing process is visual. She imagines a full world before writing it up.
“I don’t think in little tiny stories,” Woolverton said. “I think in big, large epic, expensive things.”
That made animation a logical medium, and she contributed in some manner to most of Disney’s iconic tales of the 1990s – “Beauty,” “Aladdin,” “Lion King” and “Mulan.” After taking a break from movies to work on plays and raise her kids, she soon transitioned into live-action, where her canvas has been just as large.
In the case of “Maleficent,” Woolverton invented several characters, such as the Waller Bogs, cheery creatures who hurl mud at everyone, and the tree fairies, who protect the forest from humans.
These creatures were inspired by extensive research into fairy lore. Producer Don Hahn asked Woolverton if she had a take on the tale of Maleficent, the woman who curses a princess (affectionately known as sleeping beauty).
Woolverton took that question as a challenge, watching the old Disney movie and reading up on fairies.
There are dictionaries of fairy lore, spanning territories from Japan to Scotland. The bulk stems from the English isles, where authors wrote about the magical landscape around them.
The story is an environmental allegory, as fairies and other creatures protect the forest from destructive humans eager to pilfer resources. Woolverton is quick to note she does not want “Maleficent” to come across as a “green movie,” but she also belongs to the group of people who believe it’s a given to “not harm the earth.”
Someone tell the Koch brothers.
Labeling the movie “green” would dim the economic prospects for the film, which cost $200 million to produce. That is a big budget for director Robert Stromberg, a visual effects veteran who had never made his own movie before.
Stromberg and Woolverton worked together on “Alice in Wonderland,” the sequel to which Woolverton wrote on the set of “Maleficent.”
“The story demanded a director that could create incredible visuals, and he was the perfect person for that,” she said. “I put as much as I can from my head onto the page. The brilliance of our director is to take that and make it into something so much more colorful and fascinating.”
Woolverton would like to be that person some day, though she is currently pitching a TV show with Ron Howard. Several studios are in pursuit.
“I had my own little theater company, and I wanted to reach a bigger audience,” she said. “I think I’ve accomplished my goal.”