Beauty and the Beast Screenwriter Reflects on Fighting For Belle’s Independence

"It's not right for a woman to read. Soon she starts getting *ideas*, and *thinking*..."

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This year, Beauty and the Beast will celebrate its 25th anniversary–and there’s no doubt that the story still rings true for a lot of fans. (This week we even saw the very first trailer for the live-action remake starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, and as soon as I heard the notes of Alan Menken’s score I was HERE FOR IT.)

Linda Woolverton became the first woman to write a Disney animated feature when she wrote the screenplay for Beauty and the Beast back in 1991, and while she won’t be attached to the live-action remake she’s also recently penned scripts for Alice in Wonderland (which earned her the honor of becoming the only female screenwriter with a sole writing credit on a billion-dollar film) and Maleficent.

Woolverton recently sat down to talk Beauty and the Beast with Entertainment Weekly, and over the course of the brief interview revealed that writing the character of Belle was an uphill battle:

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. … 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.

Woolverton also credits Howard Ashman, the lyricist on the film, for collaborating with her to develop the Belle. Sadly, Ashman passed away before the film’s release, but Woolverton says that Ashman was “also fighting for this character” in terms of her portrayal and the ideals they wanted her to represent for a young audience.

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.

Full disclosure: Beauty and the Beast was and still is my favorite Disney movie, mostly because I identified with Belle so intensely. She’d rather be reading books all day and losing herself in worlds apart from her own, and she certainly doesn’t feel any pressure to get married even in spite of Gaston’s unabated pursuit of her. The knowledge that Woolverton fought so hard to keep Belle’s independence and agency in the movie is really inspiring, especially since the movie came out 25 years ago.

In some aspects, Belle did pave the way for other “Disney princess” characters who came after her, characters that weren’t necessarily waiting around for their own prince to come along and rescue them from their lives–and we have writers like Woolverton to thank for it.

(via Entertainment Weekly)

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