Live-Action ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Spin-Off ‘Maleficent’ To Be Written By ‘Alice In Wonderland’ Scribe

Alice in Wonderland” had a few questionable moments — seriously, what was with that dance thing at the end? — but it’s one of the strongest efforts from Tim Burton in this decade. A lot of the credit for that goes to the writing; Linda Woolverton concocted a screenplay that told a brand-new story while properly evoking the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s original works.

Woolverton is no stranger to Disney fare. She wrote “The Lion King” and contributed to the scripts for “Beauty and the Beast” and “Mulan.” It’s not Disney, but her first writing gig was on two episodes of the “Ewoks” animated series. And that’s just rad. Today’s news concerns her Woolverton’s next project: she’ll write for flesh-and-blood humans, the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” spin-off, “Maleficent.”

THR’s Heat Vision Blog reports that Woolverton’s hiring is the first official movement on this project so far. It was reported a few weeks ago that Burton has some interest in the project, but Heat Vision states that Disney and the “Alice” director have both been trying to keep “Maleficent” out of the news.

The story would follow the “Sleeping Beauty” antagonist in an alternate perspective telling of the classic animated fairy tale, not unlike the “Wizard of Oz”-inspired book (and adapted musical), “Wicked.” As one of the more legitimately evil Disney villains, “Maleficent” has a real shot at delivering more mature fare than fans of the Mouse House might be used to.

That said, the more likely scenario — especially considering Burton’s potential involvement — is that the studio wants something more family-friendly. The “Alice” director has a knack for keeping things creepy for PG audiences; he certainly accomplished that with his latest effort.

That said, Burton seems to have an insane amount of work on his plate right now. We heard last week that he hasn’t decided on his next project yet, though if “Maleficent” is only just now reaching the writing phase, it wouldn’t qualify as a “next project” anyway. Unless, of course, he’s taking a well-earned vacation.

This raises the question of who else could step in and properly toe the line between family-friendly and all-out evil. Guillermo del Toro is busy with “The Hobbit” for the next little bit, so he’s out. Sam Raimi is potentially available, though I’m not sure he could tone down enough to qualify as “family-friendly.” “Wanted” director Timur Bekmambetov seems to be doing a lot lately with Burton, so he’s a possibility. Again though, he’s unproven when it comes to playing for families.

Personally, I’d like to see Shane Acker get the gig. The “9” director worked with producers Burton and Bekmambetov on last year’s feature-length adaptation of his same-titled animated short. “9” wasn’t perfect, but it was a strong first feature effort for Acker. The real question is whether he can direct flesh-and-blood actors as competently as he did the CG creations in his debut.

Let’s keep things in proper perspective though. There’s no script yet. This is something that’s at least two years away. Plans may change, players may become available/not available, Disney may can the thing… you never know. I’d bet on “Maleficent” happening eventually, but I wouldn’t expect to hear anything more than that soon, especially if the studio is focused on keeping a lid on things.

Who should direct “Maleficent”? Who would you cast as the “Mistress of All Evil”?