Of the smattering of “Originals” to launch with Disney Plus, the Mouse House’s shiny new streaming service, it’s Lady and the Tramp which stands as its headliner in the movie department. Because as we know, if there’s one thing that guarantees bums on seats for Disney, it’s lifeless live-action remakes of their classic animations.
1955’s Lady and the Tramp, the quaint-but-cute romantic tale of two doggos from different sides of the tracks arrived in the midst of a creative hot streak for the company, sandwiched in between the likes of Alice in Wonderland (1951), Sleeping Beauty (1959) and One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961). And while Walt Disney Animation Studios have found themselves enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in recent years, meanwhile its sister studio, Walt Disney Pictures, has been languishing, churning out sequels and “reimaginings” of its best-known properties for the best part of a decade. Not entirely bereft of successes, but for every Beauty and the Beast (2017) there’s been a Dumbo or The Lion King (2019), films heavily reliant on nostalgia while offering up little in the way of the colour and energy of their animated counterparts. For the most part, it’s the latter camp that 2019’s Lady and the Tramp falls into.
Much of the original story remains intact here: arsehole cats cause chaos and get posh pooch Lady (Tessa Thompson) turfed out onto the streets, where she meets the rough around the edges stray Tramp (Justin Theroux). She shows him the value of family, he shows her the joys of freedom, they fall in love over a bowl of spaghetti. A yarn just as sweet today as it was the first time around. Yet, while the bones of the narrative are largely the same, it’s not without its tweaks. It might be the replacement of the Siamese Cat Song with a less, erm, culturally insensitive musical number that will be noticed most immediately, but it’s actually the fleshing out of Tramp’s backstory that’s of the greatest significance, padding out the film by an additional thirty minutes or so to put him on more level footing (pawing?) with Lady, who acts as the focal point.
And though it hits on many of the notes that made the animated version the charmer that it was (and is), the visual change from animation to live-action isn’t as smooth as you’d hope. Director Charlie Bean opts to use real-life dogs with computer-generated faces for the titular characters, a combination best described as unsettling. While the CGI gives the animals a degree of expressiveness (and makes it possible for them to “speak)”, their glassy eyes betray any emotions that the solid cast of voice actors bring to the table, making it difficult to truly connect with the lead duo. It turns out that even pooches aren’t immune from the uncanny valley. If the film is stripped of the vibrancy of the original’s hand-drawn animation, and the expressiveness that that format allows for, then what are we left with? A serviceable remake, but one lacking in that all-important Disney magic.
Rating (out of 5):