While this live-action remake of Lady and the Tramp never quite convinces you that it was made for any better reason than for the new Disney+ streaming service to cash in on a legacy title, the film itself still manages to be a charming and cute family-friendly time-passer. This is a simple film made for parents to put on for their kids to watch at home. Given that unambitious goal, Lady and the Tramp offers its target audience — as well as dog lovers in general — a pleasing enough diversion.
Although the remake deviates from the original film in a few key ways, it sticks pretty closely to the “nice girl falls for the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks” romance plot of the 1955 animated classic. American Cocker Spaniel Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson) lives a pampered, privileged life with her family, Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) and Darling (Kiersey Clemons) in an upper-middle-class neighborhood while Tramp (voiced by Justin Theroux) is a stray mutt who believes humans lack the innate loyalty dogs possess. He’s all about the free and unattached life — until he meets Lady, that is. Over the course of their romantic adventure, Lady will have her eyes opened to the world beyond her safe home and backyard while Tramp will learn that he’s valued and deserving of a home and family. Like a puppy, the film’s plot and themes are all very warm and fuzzy.
All the Must-Watch Disney Plus Titles on Launch Day
Quite likely made for a fraction of the cost of this year’s remake of The Lion King — whose animals were all entirely CG creations — this remake used real dogs but then applied subtle CG animation to their faces for dialogue scenes. These effects don’t pull the viewer out of the “reality” of the movie and should also likely avoid the criticism leveled at the Lion King remake for having its animals look too realistic. The dogs’ mouths and faces are animated just enough to make them expressive, but they still behave and move as real dogs would.
Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux imbue their canine characters with personality and charm; if it was possible for voice performances and on-screen dogs to have “chemistry” then these two — played by pooch actors Rose (Lady) and Monte (Tramp) — most certainly do. I can only imagine the challenges director Charlie Bean faced in making this whole endeavor feel authentic but he, his VFX team, and dog handlers pulled it off.
Watch this side-by-side comparison of the Lady and the Tramp spaghetti scene:
Other notably effective vocal performances beyond the title dogs include Janelle Monáe as Peg the Pekingese, Benedict Wong as Bull the bulldog, Sam Elliot as the aging bloodhound Trusty, and Ashley Jensen as a now female (but still Scottish) Jock, who is a far more pampered pooch here than in the original film. Another big change is to the Siamese cats Si and Am who are now named Devon and Rex and are voiced by musicians Nate Wonder and Roman GianArthur, respectively. The original film’s problematic “Siamese Cat Song” has been replaced by an entirely new tune performed by this duo.
Of the human cast members, Mann and Clemons channel old-timey earnestness but are left without much else to play as Lady’s owners. Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown and Ken Jeong have supporting roles, the former chewing the scenery as the overbearing Aunt Sarah and the latter in the brief role of the doctor who delivers Jim Dear and Darling’s baby. F. Murray Abraham gets to sing to dogs in his one scene as the Italian restaurant owner Tony in the film’s relatively faithful recreation of Lady and Tramp’s iconic spaghetti dinner scene. But the human character with the most importance to the plot is the nasty dogcatcher, Elliot (ably played by Adrian Martinez), who is essentially the Javert to Tramp’s Jean Valjean.
Every Upcoming Disney Live-Action Remake
While Lady and the Tramp checks most of the right boxes in updating and retelling this Disney animated classic and has its heart in the right place, there’s one very inescapable and problematic element to the whole affair that would be a huge thing to not mention. So, believe it or not, we’re about to discuss racial politics in a Disney movie about dogs …
By keeping the original’s period setting but employing a more contemporary, color-blind storytelling approach, the film — intentionally or not — is ignoring that it’s setting this Lady and the Tramp story in a time where segregation was real and mixed marriages were illegal in many states, adding another layer to Jim Dear and Darling’s relationship that the film has no interest in exploring. Yes, this is a movie about talking dogs so our disbelief is already intended to be suspended, but Lady and the Tramp’s well-intentioned desire to present a more diverse film palpable to modern sensibilities is inadvertently asking viewers to step into a fantasy world designed for children that is erasing a painful part of America’s past by pretending it just never existed. While the film’s target demographic will hopefully be oblivious to this narrative choice and the context behind it, some adults may find it jarring.