For some, Lady and the Tramp is not as “classic” a film as a lot of the other iconic franchises Disney has already made a billion at the box office with. A story of two dogs unexpectedly discovering romance in a quaint city was never going to soar to Avengers-like monetary heights compared to the sprawling epics of Lion King’s Hamlet re-telling or Aladdin’s intriguing One Thousand and One Nights source material. It makes perfect sense then that Disney would move Lady and the Tramp to Disney+, but that doesn’t mean it’s “lesser.”
I’m a bit confused on Disney’s philosophy when it comes to live action adaptations, as they seem to have a laissez faire attitude on whether or not it’s wildly different (2010’s Alice in Wonderland), mostly the same with small alterations (Aladdin), or a complete 1:1 remake (Lion King). I tend to favor the middle category, as the powers that be now have the opportunity to expand the mythos after decades of stagnation. Lady and the Tramp doesn’t quite lean into that angle as much as I’d hope, but there is an attempt there.
We get a bit more backstory on Tramp (which thankfully is brief, and not over-explained), as well as some general tonal changes (he’s less of a cad, for one) that are for the better. Instead of a non-descript Midwestern town the city of Savannah, Georgia is a character of its own, adding a new layer to the tale that wasn’t there before.
There is a flipside, though. I fully get the need to change the Siamese cat scene, but what we got instead in the 2019 remake is dull and utterly forgettable. In fact, it would have been better to omit it entirely, and have something else be the impetus for Lady’s exodus from her comfy household out into the great unknown. Yet its cardinal sin is occasionally bad CGI, which is mostly avoided for the principle cast, and only rears up for temporary supporting characters. That CGI, mind, is partly why they feel so temporal, so there’s a missed opportunity there that I hope isn’t replicated for future Disney+ endeavors.
To that end, there is an air of safety and sterility to the film that hearkens back to the previous discussion of “how far is Disney willing to go” when it comes to retellings. It hardly ever dips into “bad” territory, but beyond Tessa Thompson’s spirited (and funny) performance as Lady, we don’t really get to see anyone spread their wings and really go for it because the foundation doesn’t call for it. Justin Theroux, as usual, is affable in his turn as Tramp, Janelle Monáe is mesmerizing as Peg in the few occasions she gets to shine, and Ashley Jensen is memorable as the spunky Jock (another change for the better), but outside of those four I’d be hard pressed to really sing any praises.
The whole Disney live action experiment has been interesting to say the least, as nearly every entry so far has been polarizing in its own way; but Lady and the Tramp manages to sidle right up to the fire and into a realm of “family fun.” It’s not quite as intense of an opener for Disney+ as say, an exclusive Marvel film, but it’s a warm welcome nonetheless and a testament to how relatable and heartfelt the source material really is.
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