Sometimes even Walt Disney ran short on pixie dust. Stretched thin by a late-1950s multifront push into live-action movies, the Disneyland theme park, and multiple TV shows (as an excellent passel of supplements explains), the empire founder simply didn't have the time to breathe his gift for storytelling into this version of the fairy tale the way he did with, say, 1937's ''Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.'' The result? A movie that's sensationally art-directed but built around a heroine so bland she's not much more engaging awake than asleep.
Still, the bony villainess Maleficent (handled by gifted animator Marc Davis) and a trio of fussy fairy guardians do a lot to enhance the enterprise. Mounted at the height of the mania for ''Ben-Hur''-esque spectacles, ''Beauty'' also has an abundance of elaborate backgrounds and lush music (adapted from Tchaikovsky's ballet score) to offer. Just have caffeine handy when the princess starts to simper like an undead Barbie doll.