Cinema: Film of the Week: Beauty and the Beast 3D (U)

MORE than 20 years after Beauty And The Beast became the first animated feature to contest the Oscar for Best Picture, Disney's "tale as old as time" returns to multiplexes in a glorious new 3D print.

Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise's fairytale still casts a heady spell, fashioning glorious family entertainment from the familiar European folk tale, with the clever additions of talking furniture and infectious songs.

The tunes, conjured by composer Alan Menken and lyricists Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, are jaunty and lyrically wicked ("I'm especially good at expectorating!").

They are the musical equivalent of sherbet, fizzing pleasantly on the tongue, building to a rousing crescendo with the Busby Berkeley-esque Be Our Guest with lothario candlestick Lumiere as the crazed ringmaster of a three-ring kitchen circus.

Ballads gently tug the heartstrings, particularly Belle and the Beast's dance beneath a twinkling chandelier performed to the haunting theme song.

But it's the film's huge heart which beats loudest, reducing us to tears as the final petal of the enchanted rose falls.

The story follows spirited Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara) as she swaps places with her inventor father (Rex Everhart) as prisoner of the accursed Beast (Robby Benson) and falls for her hirsute host.

Musclebound rival suitor Gaston (Richard White) leads the torch-wielding villagers against the Beast but the rabble meets its match in the enchanted servants led by tightly wound pendulum clock Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers) and flirtatious candlestick Lumiere (Jerry Orbach).

Beauty And The Beast is arguably Disney's finest hand-drawn animation, edging ahead of The Little Mermaid and The Lion King in terms of heartfelt emotion.

We completely believe the relationship between the central characters, and their love for each other.

Gaston is a delicious, swaggering villain, with a cleft chin that could topple empires, while Cogsworth and Lumiere provide much of the comic relief, some of it going above the heads of younger audiences.

"If it ain't baroque, don't fix it!" jests the clock during a guided tour of the castle's impressive architecture.

The screen bursts with colour throughout and even though the animation looks dated now, which is to be expected, the characters still retain impressive detail, especially in their facial expressions.

The film is preceded by an amusing animated short, Tangled Ever After, which continues the romance of Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) and her handsome suitor (Zachary Levi) to their disaster-laden wedding day.

Trusty steed Maximus and cheeky chameleon Pascal are at the epicentre of the devastation, chasing after wayward wedding rings on clattering hooves and by floating lanterns at a frenetic pace.

It's delightful fluff that perfectly compliments the heady romance and rumbustious humour of the main feature.