"Beauty and the Beast" took three years to create as the 1991 entry in Disney's announced schedule of turning out a new animated feature every year - and the painstaking labor shows in every detail.
The animation ranges from cute to remarkable to knock-your-socks-off - the latter taking hold during the ballroom dance sequence where computer-generated three-dimensional backgrounds (and a chandelier in the foreground) combine gorgeously with the hand-drawn character movement.
Aside from its technical prowess, however, this one will be remembered for its timeless story, amusing characters and memorable songs.
The Disney version has the Beast, a conglomeration of animals that would seem to include a bison, bear and lion, being punished for being an insensitive clod. And unless he finds true love before the last petal of a glass-encased rose drops from its stem, he's doomed to live out his life in his present hideous shape.
Meanwhile, beauty is a bookworm dreamer named Belle, whose visions of leaving her small-town province for faraway lands and exotic adventures is lived out through reading.
When Belle's father, an eccentric inventor, stumbles onto the Beast's castle, he is imprisoned, and eventually Belle offers herself as a replacement if Dad can go free. In the castle she meets the Beast's servants, who have been turned into such household items as a clock, a teapot, a chipped cup, a candelabra, a feather-duster, etc.
These clever and very funny characters are aimed at children, while the romance between the title characters is geared more for older audiences, in what is obviously hoped will be crossover appeal similar to "The Little Mermaid." And while it remains to be seen whether this will sufficiently enchant all ages, there is plenty of suspense, comedy and wonderful music to keep everyone entertained.
The songs - from Angela Lansbury's beautiful rendition of "Beauty and the Beast" to the Busby Berkeley-style "Be Our Guest" to the hilarious "Gaston," sung by the egotistical hunter who wants to marry Belle - are by the same writers who did "Mermaid's" score, and all first-rate.
In short, "Beauty and the Beast" is a first-class winner all the way and should provide sufficient entertainment value for every age.