Caroline Thompson didn't necessarily intend to pursue a career in Hollywood. But once her first novel was optioned for the movies, she decided to try her hand at screenwriting and hasn't looked back since. Since the 1990s, she has concentrated on crafting family-friendly productions that have generally earned respectful reviews and modest box-office returns.
The daughter of an attorney father and teacher mother, Thompson spent her formative years near Washington, DC. She headed to New England for college, first attending Radcliffe and then completing her studies at Amherst. Shortly after graduation in 1978, she headed west and settled in Los Angeles where she supported herself as a freelance book reviewer and writer. In 1983, she published a novel "First Born" which director Penelope Spheeris optioned for a film. Although that movie never materialized, Thompson had asked to collaborate on the script and discovered she had a knack for it. After meeting Tim Burton, she created an outline and some dialogue for what eventually became "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), an eerie fairy tale about a gentle Frankenstein's monster (partly inspired, she said, by her long-clawed dog) that proved both a critical and commercial success. She next worked on the script for "The Addams Family" (1991), the somewhat episodic adaptation of the famed cartoons that were published in The New Yorker.
A devoted animal lover Thompson received screen credit (along with Linda Woolverton) on the script for "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey" (1993), an adaptation of Sheila Burnford's classic children's book about two dogs and a cat trying to find their way back to their masters. Again collaborating with Burton, she provided the screenplay for the stop-motion animated holiday-themed "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993). The technically astounding horror/comedy, about a Halloween ghoul who tries to co-opt Christmas, proved popular with children, adults and critics alike.
Rounding out a prolific year, Thompson co-opted another classic children's novel, Frances Hodgson Burnett's 1911 "The Secret Garden", about an orphaned girl and a neighbor boy who discover and reclaim an abandoned garden behind her reclusive uncle's home. Partly due to the success of a Broadway musical drawn from the same material, it was felt the film would find an audience, but despite great reviews, the movie proved a hard sell to audiences. Still, Thompson demonstrated a rare talent to literately adapt fantasy material.
Obviously not intimidated by her previous experience with an animal cast, Thompson tackled yet another children's classic, this time not only writing but also directing "Black Beauty" (1994). This fourth screen version of Anna Sewell's 1877 novel told the story of a horse's journeys in Victorian England from grand estate to workhorse to rural retirement. Again, her efforts met with critical approval but movie-going audiences didn't respond. (It eventually found viewers when it aired on cable and was released on video). Thompson's second film, "Buddy" (1997), also had an animal theme. Based on the life of 1920s socialite Gertrude Davies Lintz who maintained a menagerie at her mansion and dressed four chimpanzees as if they were her children, "Buddy" offered a strong role for actress Rene Russo. Still, its mixed reviews did nothing to encourage viewers and the film proved a commercial disappointment.
Over the next several years, Thompson worked on various projects. She finally returned to filmmaking writing and directing a new spin on the classic fairy tale of a young girl, seven dwarfs and an evil stepmother. Her version, "Snow White: The Fairest of Them All" (ABC, 2002), was a joint venture between Hallmark and Disney and was not only lavish and eye-popping but also well-acted (by a cast including Miranda Richardson and Kristin Kreuk).