It’s finally happened. Disney+ has launched and the streaming wars have begun in earnest. Oh sure, companies have been competing against each other for the better part of a year about which of their streaming services would be better, but it was only a matter of time until Disney entered the ring and won just by virtue of being Disney. Expect major streaming services to go under because no one can compete with the Mouse.
On that note, can we admit that Disney+ has a weird launch lineup? Not including the plethora of back titles that Disney now owns, but their original programming lineup is a strange mix of anticipated titles and things that no human ever wanted. Seriously, was anyone asking for a scripted drama series about High School Musical called High School Musical: The Musical: The Series?
But between Jeff Goldblum and The Mandalorian, Disney decided to launch their service with yet another live-action remake. Instead of it being one of their more popular Disney Renaissance films, we get a remake of the 50’s classic Lady and the Tramp. I don’t know why Disney decided to lead their new streaming service with this, but the end results are much better than they have any right to be.
Lady and the Tramp (2019)
Director: Charlie Bean
Release Date: November 12, 2019
If you’re not familiar with the story of Lady and the Tramp, it’s the story of two dogs that, over time, begin to fall in love and overcome their societal positions. Lady (Tessa Thompson) is a Cocker Spaniel that lives with her lovely owners that she refers to as Darling (Kiersey Clemons) and Jim Darling (Thomas Mann). She’s living a life of luxury while Tramp (Justin Theroux) is a Shnauser mix who lives on the streets and looks out for no one but himself. Lady gets separated from her family and is forced to live on the streets, allowing her to slowly get to know and fall in love with Tramp. Puppy love, you might say.
It’s weird that Disney is launching their almighty streaming service with Lady and the Tramp because in the Disney oeuvre, it’s one of their more mellow pieces. It’s a romance about dogs and doesn’t try to be anything else. In order for a romance to succeed, there needs to be chemistry between our two leads and thankfully, there is genuine connection between Thompson and Theroux despite the CG barrier.
While every animal in the movie is portrayed by a real-life rescue dogs — a fact that I’m jubilant over because all dogs deserve love and care — what’s jarring is how the movie cuts between the real versions of these dogs and the very obvious CG renditions of them. Unlike every other dog movie that came out this year that instead uses voice overs to portray the dog’s thoughts, Lady and the Tramp creates CG models that move their mouths and sync up to the voicework. It’s necessary to tell the story in a non-laughable way, but there’s no getting around how strange it all looks. In one shot we may see the actual dog portraying Lady, in the next shot it could be the CG version of it. It’s just weird.
Visuals aside, I’m happy to report that the spirit of the original movie is still intact. The famous dinner scene is still sentimental and cute to a dangerous degree, but I was shocked at how innocent it all was. You would think that Disney would try and milk and commercialize this movie for all it’s worth like this summer’s The Lion King, but I could hardly detect a bit of cynicism throughout. It came across like this was a work of genuine passion and reverence of the source material from director Charlie Bean and crew.
Some changes were to be expected from this modern update (the original takes place in a nebulous Victorian London time), like changing the now infamous “We Are Siamese” song to being something a little less racist. Now the song has a sick jazz beat that makes it feel cool and had me bobbing my head to the beat. None of the other songs stood out quite as much, but Lady and the Tramp was never billed as being a musical in the traditional sense. Songs are present like in the original, but they’re not the main focus. The focus is on the romance.
The movie started to lose steam towards the end as most of the initial plot threads concluded, leaving the film with a half-hour or so left to whip up a climax. The original had the same problem as the remake in that regard, yet it feels less interesting here. Maybe it was due to the lack of pretty animation to keep me engaged, but I started to clock out and check how much time was left after Lady and Tramp had the prerequisite lover’s quarrel before act three.
I’ve seen a lot of dog movies this year (why am I the dog movie guy again?) but out of the four that I’ve seen (I’ll die before I see Arctic Dogs), Lady and the Tramp is easily the best. Granted, when your competition is Kevin Costner dog needs a Prozac, Josh Gad dying repeatedly, and a dog teaming up with a mountain lion, it’s not exactly a high bar to beat. But even taken all of that into account, Lady and the Tramp delivers a solid romance that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside in all of the right ways.