As a manic Disney fan, I’ve been waiting a very long time for Disney+ to be released in the UK, and it is finally here! It’s also come at the perfect time seeing as we are now all stuck inside on coronavirus lockdown. As well as having a deep library of Disney classic, Disney+ has some of its own original, exclusive content, because that’s the same of the game in the streaming wars. So, to celebrate the release and to facilitate me talking about this new service, I watched one of the new original movies available at launch, the remake of Lady and the Tramp (2019). And I will, of course, share my thoughts.
If you’ve never seen the original Lady and the Tramp (1955), I shall summarize. Cocker Spaniel Lady is a pampered house dog, but when her owners have a baby she feels shunted aside. She then meets Tramp, a stray who teaches her that life on the streets has its bonuses, while she warms him to life at home and romance blossoms between the two. It was never one of Disney’s most high concept movies, but it is sweet and enduring as a cozy family film.
It’s been a few years since I last watched the original, so it’s not as fresh in my mind as some other classics. But from my memory, this remake, like most of the live-action remakes, follows the story pretty much scene for scene. It doesn’t really change anything, or at least anything that matters. They did add one scene where Lady and Tramp go on a steamboat (probably to make it longer) which was quite nice, and I enjoyed. It’s not as excruciatingly ‘copy and pasted onto a new filter’ as The Lion King (2019), but I still would have liked them to do something a bit different with it.
Unlike the aforementioned remake, the animal creatures that star in this remake are not entirely animated. They used real dogs, which were, in fact, all rescued from dog shelters in the US. This is a lovely idea and it works because dogs are one of the few animals you can actually get to act. To get them to talk they do animate their mouths and faces to move and emote, which honestly looks really strange when you start watching but it, I personally got used to it pretty quickly.
Tessa Thompson & Justin Theroux do a good job voicing the titular doggy pair. I slightly preferred Theroux’s Tramp because he had that classic sleazy streetsmart vibe, actually very similar to Nick Wilde from Disney’s Zootropolis (2016). Thompson’s Lady was slightly updated to be a bit sassier and more confident, which was fine, but I did kind of miss the demure naivety of Barbara Luddy in the original. I feel it better captured the character, and the name, of Lady.
The rest of the dogs are pretty much the same as they were in the original, except that they changed Jock into a girl, which is fine but not exactly necessary. Jock and Trusty are the typically entertaining, kooky friend characters. Jock being excitable, silly and …. Scottish, and Trusty is the old general whose sense of smell isn’t as good as it used to be. Tramp also has a bunch of stray dog friends, including the bulldog called Bull and Janelle Monáe as Peg, the standout among the doggy cast. Now I’m a sucker for Janelle, so I was always going to like her here. But a Lhasa Apso with a sultry side bang hairdo (or furdo) who gets to sing a Jazz number is something I think everyone deserves to see.
In the original film, the humans were very minimal roles. In fact, we never saw their faces as we saw everything from the view of a dog, which is a really fun creative choice. While I do wish they had kept this aspect, I understand why they got rid of it. If you’re hiring actors to star in your movie, you want them to be able to actually act and get screen time. The main couple, Lady’s owners, Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) and Darling (Kiersey Clemens) have larger roles now that we can actually see them, but they are still the typical ‘butter wouldn’t melt’ lovey-dovey couple for most of the movie which isn’t very interesting. They do get a bit more of an emotional escapade towards the end, and like Janelle, Keirsey Clemons gets to sing twice; her voice is lovely.
The standout human characters are Yvette Nicole-Brown as Aunt Sarah and Adrian Martinez as the dog catcher. They are the villains, so they get to ham up their roles a bit more with moustache-twirling, especially Martinez who gets the most screen time of the two. They are a little one-note for me, they just hate dogs because they do and they are mean, not a lot of nuance there but they’re entertaining.
Why remake this?
Like with Dumbo (2019) before it, I didn’t really understand why they needed to remake this. With most of the remakes, it’s either the fact that they are popular brands that will make a lot of money, see Beauty and the Beast (2017) or the fact that they contain some kind of ‘problem’ that they want to ‘fix’ like Cinderella (2015), in the way its portrayal of women was criticized. Like Dumbo, though it’s well known, I’ve never considered Lady and the Tramp to be a particularly popular and lucrative brand, and there’s nothing particularly problematic about it.
The only real problem with the original is the Siamese cat song, which portrays the cats through a stereotypically offensive Asian lens (which makes me feel bad that I find that song so catchy). They fixed this here by making them not Siamese and giving them a new song, which is objectively worse. Remaking a whole movie to fix one short scene seems like an odd choice, but they picked race as the issue and ran with it. Clemons and Nicole-Brown being who they are in this movie also lends itself to the idea that this is an alternate universe where everyone was racially integrated at the turn of the century, which is fine if that’s what they wanted to go for; it allows for representation but does in some ways come across like they don’t want to address it properly.
This movie was unnecessary, and I think Disney kind of knew it wouldn’t be that popular, which is why they moved it to Disney+ instead of releasing it theatrically. I think this works in the movie’s favour. It doesn’t need to make any money on its own, it’s just a fun extra people who subscribed early. When that’s what it is, it works, it’s enjoyable and I enjoyed it for the small movie that it was.
My opinion on Disney+ right now is that I’m really happy to have a streaming service that puts all of Disney’s content in one place for me to watch. It’s very easy to use much like its rival Netflix, though it has some kinks that I’m sure they will iron out over the coming years.
The problem I find is that though its deep Disney library is impressive, I do already own quite a lot of it on DVD from my many years of hoarding Disney stuff, and I assume many Disney fans are the same. So, to counteract the range of content that is old/can be found elsewhere, what it needs is a deep library of original, exclusive content. The problem is, as many pointed out when it launched in America, there’s just not a lot of originals there right now. Other than Lady and the Tramp and the very popular The Mandalorian, it’s mostly small budget shows, shorts and movies.
Now, this is a problem that will go away, as they are actively developing as much content as they can for the service. So, I’m excited for what’s to come but nervous about how many people will actually subscribe with the way it is now.
If you haven’t subscribed and you want plenty of Disney content to watch during the current lockdown we’re in, I’d recommend it. And if you have subscribed already, why not check out Lady and the Tramp while you have time.