Disney kicks off their anticipated Disney+ streaming service with a live-action remake of their 1955 animated classic Lady and the Tramp, the latest in their quest to reinvent, re-imagine, and remake everything they can for new generations of Disney fans to enjoy. Just this year we’ve seen blockbuster remakes like Aladdin and The Lion King excite the box-office (and others, like Dumbo, not so much). With Disney+ the Mouse House has a whole new way to bring even more content to fans than ever before. Thankfully, this new Lady in the Tramp makes a great introduction for the service.
The general premise remains largely the same: a spoiled Cocker Spaniel named Lady (Tessa Thompson) and an aloof stray, who doesn’t really have a name but whose friends just call Tramp (Justin Theroux), unexpectedly meet and find themselves on an adventure that – despite their vastly different upbringings and social classes – brings them closer.
Lady is the center of her human family, the Darlings, and life is good. Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) and Darling Dear (Kiersey Clemons) adore their beloved Lady and there’s plenty of other dogs in the neighborhood, including Jock (Ashley Jenson), a Scottish Terrier, and Trusty (Sam Elliot), an older Bloodhound, who live their lives more like desperate housewives than dogs.
All this changes, however, when the Darlings have a baby girl named Lulu, and suddenly Lady’s whole world falls apart. She’s no longer the center of attention and all her innocent pleas to be seen and heard by her beloved owners are either ignored or misinterpreted as bad behavior.
Poor Lady is beside herself, but things take a turn for the worse when Aunt Sarah (Yvette Nicole Brown) comes for a visit and brings her two trouble making cats along with her. These frisky felines wreak havoc on the house and make sure that Lady is blamed for all of it. In a sad turn of events, Lady winds up on the streets of Savannah among fast moving vehicles, stray dogs and an overzealous dog catcher (Adrian Martinez) determined to keep the streets canine-free by any means necessary.
Just when things couldn’t get any worse, Tramp comes across Lady in the knick of time, and their adventure to bring her home begins. This mix-matched pair of pooches stroll through the park and find themselves enjoying a romantic candlelit dinner under the stars, all while the dog catcher is hot on their tails.
While Tramp boasts about how much he loves his independence, and how it allows him to be who he wants to be and do what he wants to do, it’s actually all bravado for a lonely dog who’s lost his faith in trust. Tramp has a few what some might call acquaintances, like sassy Pekingese Peg (Janelle Monae) and an old bulldog Bull (Benedict Wong), but in the end, Tramp is used to always just looking out for himself. That is, until Lady’s family is in trouble and he has to decide whether helping Lady is worth risking being caught by the “evil” dog catcher.
Directed by Charlie Bean (Tron: Uprising, The Lego Ninjago Movie) Lady and the Tramp serves up a generous helping of both heart-wrenching and heart-warming moments sure to leave viewers misty eyed and smiling, often at the same time. Despite being billed as “live-action” I found the animation to be absolutely superb and truly loved the way the individual dogs’ personalities shown through the art, making them seem almost as real as if they were actually live on screen.
Tessa Thompson (Creed, Thor: Ragnarok) does a wonderful job giving voice and character to Lady, while Justin Theroux (Bumblebee, Joker) may have given his best vocal performance to date as the rugged Tramp. The two definitely had chemistry in their conversations, and did a nice job playing off of each others’ nuances.
However, even though Lady and The Tramp is probably one of the most romantic movies (and easily the best dog romance film ever made), there were a few scenes that felt cheesy and over done, such as the iconic alley scene where the chef comes out with to play live music as the canines sit and listen before eating. Moments like that brought me out of my suspension of disbelief. However, other scenes like when Lady was locked out of the nursery or yelled at for barking while the baby was asleep felt both genuine and sadly realistic.
My only real complaint is how much this film remains a bit too faithful to the 1955 original. The subplot about the over-enthusiastic dog catcher might be an iconic one from the animated film, but here it felt stale and overdone, as so many subsequent dog movies have featured “the evil dog catcher” as their antagonist. If the filmmakers insisted there be a real antagonist, I only wish they’d thought of another angle instead.
Lady and the Tramp left me wanting more, which makes this film a win in my book, and this bodes well for Disney’s new streaming service – and future remakes. The relationships between different classes (and breeds) translates well to this new format, while stellar acting, both human and canine, felt natural and vibrant throughout. Despite a few moments of unnecessary overkill, I found this take on the classic story of how two individuals looking to find themselves happen to find each other as compelling as it’s ever been, and remains a wonderful love letter to the magic of relationships everywhere – dog or otherwise.