Picks and Pans Review: Beauty and the Beast

updated 11/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/18/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

animated

Twas beauty tamed the beast" is the moral of this classic medieval tale of vanity's punishment and love's power. Over the centuries, Beauty and the Beast has reappeared in many curious guises, both tragic (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, King Kong) and comic (The African Queen, Born Yesterday). In 1987 it even reemerged under the CBS logo and ran for three years.

It seems as if virtually everyone has had a turn at this fabulous fairy tale except the Walt Disney Studios. Now, after 3½ years of effort by a team of nearly 600 animators, artists and technicians, Disney at last serves up its sumptuous rendition. This, the studio's 30th animated feature, preserves Beauty's ancient theme—and adds a few modern touches. Belle, the beauty of the film's 18th-century French village, is different because she's a feisty heroine who reads books. And what does the beast have that softens her heart toward him? A library. Further, the villain is not a wizened wizard or a sneering sorceress but a handsome village youth who's as marble-headed a monument to male narcissism as any Austrian-born film star. It's all wondrously wrought, with songs by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, the Oscar-winning team from 1989's The Little Mermaid, and voices that sharp-eared moms and dads are sure to recognize (Angela Lansbury as a prancingly maternal teapot, Jerry Orbach as a warbling candelabra). Once again, love will redeem the beast, and Beauty's dancing clocks and singing teacups will blend marvelously with the tintinnabulation of bells this holiday season. (G)

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