“Lady and the Tramp” marks the fourth time this year that Disney has remade one of their classic animations into a live action/photo realistic film. Perhaps this is the first time it’s made sense. With 64 years separating it from the original, many Disney fans lack a die-hard connection, so the studio could really play with the material if they so desired. Sadly, this remake, much like the titular house dog Lady at the start of our story, doesn’t stray very far from home.
Like in the 1955 classic, this one follows Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson), a domesticated and happy pup, who finds her life turned upside down when her owners have a child.
No longer that center of their attention and in the literal doghouse, she encounters a street-smart Tramp (Justin Theroux) and finds herself exploring a world beyond her backyard.
And what a beautiful world it is. The early 1900’s production design feels lived in, but still has a bit of that Main Street, U.S.A. veneer to give it a splash of the fantastical. While that works well to bring the former cartoon into the real world, the same approach isn’t as successful for our characters, whose actions all feel more theatrical than grounded – especially the human characters. For example, the antagonistic dogcatcher, who hunts Tramp for the majority of the story, doesn’t show any real motivation for tunnel-visioned desire to capture the slippery stray. More a narrative force than a real character, the film never gives him a moment of real humanity and does him a disservice.
The dialogue is also odd overall. A mix of old-century and current vernacular, the characters never sound completely period appropriate. At one point, Lady describes something as “gross” – a strange phrase to hear as horse-drawn carriages go by. It makes one wonder why they just didn’t set it in the present in the first place. Nothing in the story is period specific. You can still get spaghetti in a back alley. Maybe a change of scenery is the exact kind of move Disney should have made with this less culturally relevant story.
But it is charming. The voice talents (especially Ashely Jensen as Jock) give it their all and the doggy dialogue special effects enhance more than distract. The emotional beats, though nothing new, still find their marks and the filmmaking is well crafted. This is Disney showing they want to craft movies in the vein of Netflix far more than the “direct to video” Disney Toons junk they were known for in the early aughts.
“Lady and the Tramp” is a cute story that, even with its flaws and forgetability, can still make for a “bella notte” of Disney+ for the entire family.