Keep An Eye on the Furniture

The visual voodoo of an Addams Family portrait and the shimmering spell of a Disney cartoon are triumphs of style

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With an emotional resonance rare in movies and a pleasing score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, Beauty and the Beast gets the comic leavening it needs from a nice modification of the Seven Dwarfs. The prince's household staff, who labor under the same curse, have been changed into candlesticks (Jerry Orbach), teapots (Angela Lansbury), clocks (David Ogden Stiers) and armoires (Jo Anne Worley). In the Be Our Guest number, watch closely for the swimming spoons, the dishes stacked in Eiffel Tower formation, the tankards in chorale. The voluptuousness of visual detail offers proof, if any more were needed after The Little Mermaid, that the Disney studio has relocated the pure magic of the Pinocchio-Dumbo years.

Both B&B and Addams are about, and in favor of, what was once known as class. They side with the aristocrats of style -- the haunted prince of B&B and Gomez, a suave prince of darkness -- against the booboisie that presumes to understand and overthrow them. The films' makers are saying that style is what matters. The Beast must learn to chew his food and tamp down his temper and dance without crushing Belle before she can accept him. As for Gomez and Morticia, who moonily recall their first date ("a boy, a girl, an open grave") and rhapsodize about their last ("our lifeless bodies rotting together for all eternity"), they have kept romance fresh by doing what many a middle-aged couple have done. They've created an alternative reality of games, memories, silly endearments -- strategies designed to keep the real world out of their dual fantasy.

Falling in love and staying there, these movies say, is a challenge of art and artifice. Like making a comedy of insane decor, or remaking a tale as old as time. The Addams Family turns voodoo into visual wit. Beauty and the Beast casts its own shimmering spell.

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