In 1955, Walt Disney gave audiences’ the story of two dogs, one a pampered house dog and the other a free-spirited mutt, who fall in love over a plate of spaghetti.
The movie accumulated high box office numbers in spite of generally negative reviews. After numerous re-releases throughout the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, Lady and the Tramp has become a Disney classic.
Thus, the question of a CGI/live-action hybrid was met with raised eyebrows. What could they do with the movie short of insert actual dogs and make their mouths move, a tactic employed by weaker studios and lampooned by audiences? Combine those concerns with criticism over Disney draining the well dry with their animated properties and Lady and the Tramp seemed DOA. But as one of the hallmarks of their new streaming service, Lady and the Tramp is an interesting remake that actually ends up surpassing its predecessor.
DisneyAs with their recent retread of The Lion King, there aren’t many changes between this new version of Lady and the Tramp and the original. The differences lie in the nuance given to the characters. We once again meet Lady (here voiced by Tessa Thompson), who is the apple of her owner’s eye. Kiersey Clemmons and Thomas Mann play Lady’s owners, Darling and Jim Dear, respectively and they’re easily the most beautiful couple to ever live in Victorian-era America.
The strangest thing about watching the new Lady and the Tramp is the colorblind casting. Ordinarily, this would be beneficial but it’s hard not to notice that the original film’s Victorian setting is retained and is American. So how would Jim Dear and Darling not be regularly harassed for their interracial relationship? Yes, children are watching this and it’s powerful to see a mixed-race couple, but it goes to the film’s biggest criticism which is that it’s too desperate to adhere to tradition. Yes, it gets rid of the obviously racist stuff like the Siamese cats and their “We Are Siamese” song, but it also fails to do anything to emphasize the setting and societal issues brimming in 1955.
DisneyFor all it’s anxious clinging to the original, Lady and the Tramp has a freshness to it that wipes off the dust from 1955 film. This is mainly achieved through the character of Tramp. In the original, he’s exciting to watch but the animation keeps Tramp’s story fully relegated to his adventures with Lady. Here, the script opens up his plotline, showing him as a long-term stray whose family callously abandoned him. An obsessive dogcatcher (Adrian Martinez) becomes Tramp’s primary adversary, injecting high stakes and tension.
Really, the movie reminds you of the power of old-school voice work. The film is littered with A-listers, from Thompson to Janelle Monae as Peg, whose croon-y rendition of “He’s a Tramp” feels shoehorned. Thompson is sweet and gives Lady a nice warmth to her voice but that’s it. There’s nothing distinct in her voice work and you’d be hard-pressed to realize it’s her right away. Compared to her vibrant work in Thor: Ragnarok, it’s a step-down. The real scene-stealer is Justin Theroux as Tramp.
Theroux, a regular performer in voiceovers, gives Tramp requisite heart and charm but also humor. Telling another dog that Lady is rabid is peak hilarity as Theroux uses his voice to sound desperate and terrified. Where Thompson and the other characters all have one tone, because of their characterization and their inability to “act” dialogue in this context, Theroux contains multitudes.
DisneyMore than anything, the new Lady and the Tramp never overstays its welcome. It hits all the familiar beats of the original and sticks close to the central story regarding Tramp finding his home (poor Lady really feels like almost like an oversight in this film). Because of that, the story beats of the movie may feel simplistic, and they are, but they’re effective. It’s a movie that’s never boring and maybe that’s because there’s so much to look at, not only the dogs but the sumptuous production and costume design.
In the end, I prefer this iteration of Lady and the Tramp to the 1955 original and that might be a controversial statement. There’s an added liveliness to this movie, maybe because the dogs are real and good pooches all around. Suffice to say, the new Lady and the Tramp is a darling adventure to take.