Uncle Walt had been trying to crack the code on Beauty and the Beast since the Snow White days, but the team found it challenging, and the arrival of a live-action version in 1946 (which is awesome, if you haven't seen it) put the kibosh on that idea. It took the first woman to ever write a Disney screenplay to finally figure it out. (And seriously, Disney, you waited until 1991 for that?)
Linda Woolverton, who cut her teeth on a bunch of '80s cartoons before heading over to the House of Mouse, is the name at the top of a tangled list of writers who hadn't quite found the right words to bring things to life.
According to Hollywood legend, Woolverton went to Disney against the advice of her agent to ask for a job. They gave her Beauty and the Beast.
Clearly, it was time to get a new agent.
Woolverton's work obviously met with the approval of the top brass, and she's been a staple at Disney ever since, working on the scripts for Aladdin, Mulan, The Lion King, Maleficent, and Tim Burton's live-action version of Alice in Wonderland in 2010. We suspect she's pretty happy over at Uncle Walt's pad, but she's had her chances to branch out as well, writing Lestat, the musical theater version of Anne Rice's vampire tale, and a television pilot based on the novel The Clan of the Cave Bear.
Woolverton made waves not just by being the first female writer in Disney's stodgy old boys' club of animation but also by showing female characters kicking butt and taking names. "[…] Belle is a feminist," Woolverton told The Los Angeles Times. "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." (Source)
Beauty and the Beast was just the start of it. She also gave us the feisty Jasmine in Aladdin, Nala from The Lion King, Burton's protean feminist version of Alice, and the reimagined Maleficent as a sister who can, indeed, do it for herself.
We still don't see enough of these kinds of figures in animation, but Woolverton kicked down some big-time barriers when she wrote Beauty and the Beast. Like Belle, she's tough to stop, and her work has opened doors in the field that had stayed closed for way too long.