‘Lady and the Tramp’ Review: A Remake With Disney+s and Minuses
When Disney’s new streaming service launches, it will offer hundreds of movies and television shows from the company and its various subsidiaries. One of the big marquee titles — one of the only new feature films included in Disney+’s slate — is a live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp. Disney+ will also offer the original 1955 animated version of Lady and the Tramp, so anyone who wants to debate the relative merits of the two will have the opportunity. I am not sure the comparisons will be particularly flattering.
To be clear, the new Lady and the Tramp is fine. With its cast of adorable pups and tame doggo adventures, it’s obviously aimed at very young children — and it will almost certainly satisfy that undiscerning audience. Still, in a world where it will be available right alongside the original film — both at a click of the exact same button for the same monthly price — I’m not entirely sure why it exists, beyond refreshing this particular IP, reminding customers about the original movie, and slightly padding out Disney+’s lineup of “original” offerings. It is harmless, and pointless.
Once again, the film follows the romantic adventures of a pampered family pet named Lady (a cocker spaniel voiced by Tessa Thompson) and a street dog named Tramp (an adorably shaggy mutt with the adorably grumbly voice of Justin Theroux). As so often happens to dogs, Lady feels neglected after her owners Jim (Thomas Mann) and Darling (Kiersey Clemons) have their first child. She falls in with the Tramp and they wander around their bucolic little town — the date isn’t entirely clear, but it looks like maybe the early 1910s? — sharing plates of spaghetti and evading the local dog catcher (Adrian Martinez).
The film’s setting hasn’t been updated, but some of the more culturally insensitive elements have. The “Siamese Cat Song” — long one of the most famous songs from Lady and the Tramp, and also the one most drenched in racial stereotypes — has been swapped out for a new musical number from a different pair of twin cats who are decidedly not Siamese. There are other minor changes, mostly in the service of giving the new Lady and the Tramp a bit more 2019 flavor. Otherwise, this is largely the Lady and the Tramp you know with live-action actors and real dogs — although the dogs are sometimes swapped out for CGI doubles (or their mouths are Mister Edified with computers to make it look like they’re talking.)
The other canine characters include a Pekingese that sounds suspiciously like Janelle Monáe, a wise old Bloodhound with the rich bass tones of Sam Elliott, and an almost-painfully cute Bulldog voiced by Benedict Wong. They’re very much the supporting cast; the main actors are the title characters. Theroux shows plenty of personality as the proudly solitary Tramp, but Thompson is bland and forgettable as Lady. I’m not necessarily looking for a lot of “chemistry” between these voices, but a little more enthusiasm would have been nice.
The new Lady and the Tramp is a marginal step up from the new Lion King that lumbered into theaters this summer and quickly became an enormous financial hit for Disney despite the fact that it was inferior to the original film in every conceivable way. The Lion King’s animals were entirely CGI, and for all their photorealism, they barely displayed any emotions as they belted out show tunes or mourned the loss of a loved one. At least the dogs in Lady in the Tramp are real, and when they’re not replaced by talking CGI doubles, they exhibit some true dog character in the way they walk and interact and sit at attention. It is intriguing to note, that both here and in The Lion King, that the more human artists try to make these animals, the less real they seem. At least they’re dogs, who are objectively cuter and more fun to watch run around than big jungle animals.
-The new Lady and the Tramp was co-written by Andrew Bujalski, the very talented indie filmmaker who was one of the founders of what became known as the “mumblecore” movement, and the director of excellent movies like Mutual Appreciation and Computer Chess. The results here bear so little of his quirky authorial stamp that if you asked me to guess who wrote this Lady and the Tramp, told me it was a director I greatly admired, and informed me the guy’s first name is Andrew, there is literally zero chance I would get it right.
-It never dawned on me until now how strange it is that the beautiful song “Bella Notte,” faithfully recreated in this version by an amusing guest star, is a love ballad about two dogs smooching over a bowl of pasta.
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