Lady and the Tramp is a great Disney film but it was never one of my favourites. I mean, I loved the dogs but it lacked most of the things that I loved most about these films. The songs weren’t as catchy and there was no deliciously evil bad guy to stand up to. It’s lovely but there are more memorable ones. So, it’s not as if the live-action remake was ever going to make as big a splash as the recent Lion King or Aladdin films. I guess that could be another part of the reason why Disney decided to forgo a cinema release and leave it as part of its opening line-up for Disney+. Yes, it would have made money but does it have the popularity to bring in the big bucks? Also, the exclusivity would just make the people still wavering feel that their subscription was worth it. But how much value does it actually add to the platform?
Lady and the Tramp has always been little more than a cute love story between a house dog and a street dog. Yes, there is a little bit of padding in there but that is basically it. For the updated version, the basic plot has remained but there has been a desperate attempt to get as much from it as possible. There has also been something of an attempt to remove any dodgy representations. Gone are the two racist Siamese cats and wee Jock is now voiced by a real-life Scottish person. In another obvious attempt to pat themselves on the back, the film is delightfully diverse. Now, I don’t have a problem with this and think it’s a great thing. I just couldn’t get rid of the image of some rich white executive at Disney feeling smug about how woke he was. But I digress.
The lack of animation does take away a lot of the magic of the film. It also limits the possibilities. If we’re dealing with real dogs, it means they have to work within the realms of possibilities. It also means that the iconic spaghetti and meatballs scene takes a much more awkward and uncomfortable turn. Why is a real-life man working so hard to create a romantic moment to encourage two dogs to get it on? It’s creepy and not as much fun as the animated version. It also suffers from the same problem that all of these CGI animals have. There is something uncanny about them and you can never really accept them as real. The animated Lady of the original film was one of the cutest dogs ever seen in film. This one? Not so much. And that’s before they start messing up her face by making her talk.
Although, there can be no denying that Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux are pretty good at voicing the main duo. The only thing that really lets them down is the script. They are both charming and bring a certain chemistry to the roles. It’s hard not to like them. And they aren’t alone. Like all of these Disney remakes, there is a lot of star power here. Sam Elliot is the clear choice to play an old Bloodhound and Ashley Jensen has a lot of fun as a Scottish terrier who inspires her owner’s creativity. Benedict Wong is almost unrecognisable as a Bulldog but it Janelle Monáe who really stands out. I mean she always does but her rendition of the film’s big number ‘He’s a Tramp’ almost makes this remake worth it.
The problem is, there was clearly a fear that a straight remake wouldn’t have resonated with modern audiences. This has to be the explanation for the writers amping up the darkness and the comedy. The dog catcher of the original has become a one-dimensional comic book supervillain. It’s all very hammy and doesn’t really work with the tone of the central romance. Then there are all of the desperate attempts to ring as much comedy from it as possible. At its best, it just doesn’t work. At its worst, it’s cringeworthy. The original film was a pretty sweet and uneventful story that was content to amble along. This new film is all over the place in terms of tone, character, and story. It’s still watchable but it does nothing to prove that this remake was necessary.