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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s wonderful animated musical from 1991, is the latest feature to get placed on the Disney Live Redo of a Beloved Animated Movie Assembly Line, with a big-budget effort starring Emma Watson as the iconic Belle, and Ewan McGregor as a CGI candelabra.

You may be asking yourself, “Is this absolutely necessary?”

The answer: No. No, it is not.

Then, you may ask yourself, “OK, if it isn’t necessary, is it at least an enjoyable pastime, for I like enjoyable pastimes? They help distract me from all of this trivial shit in my head.”

The answer: Why, yes, it is an enjoyable movie, even if it is completely unnecessary.

The movie isn’t a shot-for-shot remake of the original like, say, Gus Van Sant’s time-wasting Psycho effort. However, it does follow a lot of the same plot points and incorporates enough of the musical numbers to give you a sense of déjà vu.

Thankfully, Watson makes it worthwhile—Hermione makes for a strong Belle. Since director Bill Condon retains the music from the original animated movie, Watson is asked to sing, and it’s pretty evident that Auto-Tune is her friend. She has a Kanye West thing going.

As the Beast, Dan Stevens gives a decent-enough performance through motion-capture. The original intent was to have Stevens wearing prosthetics only, but he probably looked like Mr. Snuffleupagus in the dailies, so they called upon the help of beloved computers. The CGI creation blends in nicely with his human side.

The cast and crew labor to make musical numbers like “Gaston” and “Be Our Guest” pop with the creative energy of the animated version, but they don’t quite reach those heights. They are nicely rendered, for sure, but not on the masterpiece level that was the ’91 film. As for the romance between Belle and the Beast, it has a nice emotional payoff. In a way, the movie is a sweet tribute to the animated movie, rather than being a movie that truly stands on its own.

Where does Beauty and the Beast stack up with the other recent re-dos of animated Disney classics? I would put it well above Pete’s Dragon, but below Cinderella and The Jungle Book, which were more solid efforts and felt a little more original.

There are worse things to do in cinemas right now than watch a good-enough retake on a Disney movie starring one of your favorite members of the Potter universe and that guy from Downton Abbey. Beauty and the Beast is nice, yet ultimately disposable, fluff. Let’s face it: Disney has the money to throw away on ventures such as this, and given the box office takes, this train is going to keep on rolling.

If you like Disney redo fluff, there’s more coming. The Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, Peter Pan and Mulan are just a few of the remakes in the pipeline. Actually, pretty much everything they’ve done up until now is being remade. Universal has a Little Mermaid movie on the way, yet Disney still has plans to release their own live version of their animated gem. Winnie the Pooh and Cruella (the villain from 101 Dalmatians) are all current projects.

In short, with this juggernaut, Star Wars and Marvel all under the same dome, Disney is so big, they will be governing the planet soon. Stay tuned for Disney Health Care, a Disney Missile Defense System, and Mickey Mouse for president.

Oh, wait … that last one has sort of happened already.

Beauty and the Beast is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

The Crazy Ones (Thursday, Sept. 26, CBS), series debut: In his … triumphant? … return to television, Robin Williams (over)plays advertising exec Simon Roberts, a whacked-out genius who’s as difficult to tolerate as he is, of course, brilliant. His daughter and partner, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), is his uptight polar opposite; forced dramedy ensues. Like another new—and funnier—CBS comedy, We Are Men (premiering Monday, Sept. 30), The Crazy Ones is a single-camera, no-laugh-track outing, which means it’s ultimately doomed: The Eyeball Network’s viewers need to be told where the punchlines are—and there ain’t none here.

Homeland, Masters of Sex (Sunday, Sept. 29, Showtime), season premiere, series debut: Alleged bomber Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) is laying low in the Season 3 premiere of Homelandpretty damned low. Meanwhile, things are going from bad to worse to supremely eff’dup for Carrie (Claire Danes) during the Senate investigations into the “Second 9/11” bombing that killed more than 200, and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) takes some seriously un-Saul-like actions to distance the CIA from the whole mess. The tense “Tin Man Down” goes a long way toward getting Homeland back on track after some sub-soap distractions last season—and the sure-to-be-huge ratings should deliver a lot of curious eyes to the fantastic new Masters of Sex, the dramatized story of 1950s sexuality-research pioneers Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan) that’s more about human relationships and academia (and, yes, gorgeously-detailed Mad Men period style) than sex and nudity—but there’s plenty of that, too. Go, Showtime!

Eastbound and Down, Hello Ladies (Sunday, Sept. 29, HBO), series premiere, series debut: At the end of Eastbound and Down’s third and intended-to-be final season last year, baseball-legend-in-his-own-pants Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) quit the game and faked his own death to be with his true love, April (Katy Mixon). Season 4 (the real final chapter, if you trust HBO this time) opens with a sadly domesticated Kenny working in rental-car hell and denying his lust for the spotlight—until he’s tapped to guest on a popular sports-talk TV show by its host (Ken Marino); within two episodes, KFP is back in all of his obnoxious glory. New companion comedy Hello Ladies, starring and almost entirely carried by Stephen Merchant, is far more low-key and dry: Brit Stuart (Merchant) and a staggeringly awkward crew of fellow singles look for love in Hollywood, with staggeringly awkward results. It’s the anti-Entourage.

Breaking Bad (Sunday, Sept. 29, AMC), series finale: The final episode of Breaking Bad is titled “Felina.” It’s 75-minutes long; there’s still an hour of dead air called Low Winter Sun between it and Talking Bad; and … that’s all The Only TV Column That Matters™ knows. AMC isn’t sending out preview screeners to TV critics or real people—and why would they?

Super Fun Night (Wednesday, Oct. 2, ABC) series debut: Don’t dismiss a TV-subdued Rebel Wilson with an American accent: Super Fun Night works hilariously, largely due to Wilson’s (relative) underplaying as Kimmie, a junior attorney whose recent promotion is moving her up the social ladder. Will she abandon her equally geeky best friends (Liza Lapira and Lauren Ash) and their standing Friday shut-in “Super Fun Night”? It’s an odd pairing with Modern Family, but Super Fun Night shares the same underlying sweetness and bonding. It’s also saltier and edgier than the rest of ABC's Wednesday—and look where that got Happy Endings.


NEW-RELEASE ROUNDUP FOR OCT. 1!

Awkward: Seasons 1 and 2

Jenna (Ashley Rickards) narrates/blogs about the perils of being a teenager and dealing (awkwardly, duh) with cute boys, mean girls, dumb parents and wasting her child-bearing years on high school and learning—according to MTV, at least. (Paramount)

Beauty and the Beast: Season 1

A detective (Kristin Kreuk—yes, really) fights her attraction to a horribly disfigured monster (Jay Ryan—playing “horribly disfigured” with a wee scar on his face) as they solve her mother’s murder in an appropriately sexy manner. (Paramount)

Fright Night 2: New Blood

In the sequel to the 2011 remake, a professor (Jaime Murray) who also happens to be a vampire prepares to feed on American idiot high-schoolers in Romania. Can the vamp-hunting host of Fright Night (Sean Power) stop her? Should he? (Fox)

New Girl: Season 2

Jess (Zooey Deschanel) gets fired from her teaching job, then spends 25 episodes on temp gigs (model, shot girl, general quirkstress, etc.), wacky misadventures and falling for roommate Nick (Jake Johnson). In other words, Comedy Gold! (Fox)

This Is the End

Five Hollywood pals (Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and James Franco) and one asshole (Danny McBride, of course) get high and wait out the Apocalypse. Will they burn in L.A. or be Raptured to Heaven? Yes. Comedy Gold! (Sony)

More New DVD Releases (Oct. 1)

Bob and the Monster, China Beach: Season 1, The Croods, Dead Before Dawn, Ferocious, The Frozen Ground, Glee: Season 4, Hallow’s Eve, How I Met Your Mother: Season 8, Morning, Treasure Guards

Published in TV

In Sacramento, Beauty and the Beast was a hit—especially the strapping young man who plays Gaston.

“Under the direction of Rob Roth, (Joe) Hager steals the show as the larger-than-life Gaston, always preening and flexing his muscles,” wrote Saunthy Nicolson-Singh in the Marysville Appeal-Democrat. “The town’s womenfolk follow him around, pumping up his already inflated ego. You want to hate him, but his affectations reminiscent of Steve Martin and Jim Carrey are hilarious.”

Following that March 6-17 Sacramento run—as well as a two-day stop in San Luis Obispo—Hager and his Beauty and the Beast cast mates will stop at the McCallum Theatre for five shows this weekend (March 22-24).

The Independent spoke to Hager in the midst of the show’s Sacramento stop, and he said the cast was enjoying the ability to settle down a little bit following a stretch that saw them in 17 cities within 20 days.

“My biggest worry is remembering my hotel-room number,” he said, laughing, when asked about the frantic travel schedule.

Beauty and the Beast is one of the most successful musicals of all time. Following the 1991 Disney film that became the first animated movie to get a Best Picture Oscar nomination, the play opened on Broadway in 1994, and would continue its Broadway run for more than 13 years. Numerous international, domestic and traveling productions of the show have charmed millions over the years.

For the current national tour, the original Broadway design team reunited in an effort to inject a bit of new life into the play, which features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, and a book by Linda Woolverton.

Hager said the current production takes a “fresh approach” to the story of the beautiful Belle, the Beast, and the vain hunter/town hottie, Gaston.

“Because this is a tour, and the set’s scaled down a bit, it means the ensemble plays a very big role,” he said. “The presence onstage is very powerful.”

Joe Hager.Hager (pictured to the right), a Kansas native who is making is national-tour debut, said playing Gaston is actually a dream come true. He said he saw the show as a wee lad in Los Angeles in the mid-1990s, and decided then and there that one day, he’d play either the Beast or Gaston. He later convinced his parents to enroll him in performing-arts camp, a move which helped him overcome shyness as he grew up; he then studied theater throughout high school.

“I was the Glee guy before Glee was Glee,” he said. “I’d do football in the fall, and theater in the spring.”

In college, he decided to focus on opera. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma City University, and moved on to earn his master’s degree from the University of Kansas. While he had some success in the opera world, after a while, he decided to move to New York City to “explore other boundaries.”

Soon after the move, he saw an audition notice for Beauty and the Beast. He decided to try out; he got the part of Gaston and joined the cast on Nov. 30; and after the McCallum shows, Hager and company will head to Los Angeles—where Hager will perform his dream role in the place where the dream came to be.

Of course, the dream won’t end there; Hager will remain with the cast into early June, before the play closes for a couple of months. Hager said he’d like to remain in the show when it resumes touring later in the year.

“It really does become a family after a while,” he said.

And beyond that? Hager said he’s open to whatever possibilities come his way.

“This experience so far has kind of woken me up and made me realize I don’t know my potential yet,” he said. “I want to try it all. If you throw enough darts, you’re eventually going to hit a bull’s-eye.”

Meanwhile, he’s having the time of his life playing Gaston.

“For me, at least, he’s the best part,” he said of Gaston. “He is the villain, but you can’t help but love him. He’s a charming oaf.”

Beauty and the Beast will be at the McCallum Theatre, 73000 Fred Waring Drive, in Palm Desert, from Friday, March 22, through Sunday, March 24. Shows are at 8 p.m., Friday; 2 and 8 p.m., Saturday; and 2 and 7 p.m., Sunday. Tickets are $45 to $105. For tickets or more information, call 340-2787, or visit www.mccallumtheatre.com.

Published in Theater and Dance