Lady and the Tramp illustration by Ashawna Linyard for Caleb Dukes' article

The Live-Action ‘Lady and the Tramp’ Is Beautiful

The film jettisons the problematic elements of the original, and the more realistic animation has the spirit many felt 'The Lion King' lacked.
December 5, 2019
6 mins read

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the new streaming service Disney+ has officially launched and pretty much taken over conversations everywhere. In fact, with releases like “Frozen 2” in theaters as well, Disney has really been saturating the market with great content. However, most of the praise has been going to the previous releases that were made available on the Disney+ platform and a few select new shows like “The Mandalorian” and “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.” One film that hasn’t been getting much hype even though it definitely deserves it? The brand-new, live-action “Lady and the Tramp.”

As most people know, Disney has been remaking their most beloved animated classics into live-action films for a few years now. There’s “The Jungle Book,” “Cinderella,” “Beauty and the Beast” and most recently, “The Lion King.” Unfortunately, there has been a lot of negative discourse about that last one, with many arguing that because the animals are still CGI, it isn’t live-action. Some have even asserted that the realistic animation ruins the whole thing because the characters can no longer genuinely emote the way they could when they were hand-drawn.

This is not the case with “Lady and the Tramp.” There are still real people in the story and the dogs and cats appear to have the full range of emotions that the assorted savanna animals in “The Lion King” lacked. Combined with the shots of the gorgeous streets of Savannah, Georgia, “Lady and the Tramp” really is a triumph for the beauty of mixing modern CGI with the real world.

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“Lady and the Tramp” delivers on more than just beautiful images though. The music and dialogue has been reworked with extremely talented actors, such as the incomparable Tessa Thompson as Lady, and her best friend (and sometimes rumored girlfriend), Janelle Monáe, lending her fantastic vocals to Peg’s “He’s a Tramp” and a new song, “That’s Enough.” Of course, there are other class acts on the project, such as Justin Theroux as The Tramp, Sam Elliot as Trusty, Ashley Jenson as Jock, Yvette Nicole Brown as Aunt Sarah, Kiersey Clemons as Darling and Thomas Mann as Jim Dear, but I am obsessed with Thompson and Monáe, so their performances make the movie what it is for me.

One aspect of “Lady and the Tramp” that makes it really special is the conscious updates the creators made to make it more suitable for a 2019 audience. The most obvious of these changes is the casting of more people of color, since the original movie was extremely (and quite unrealistically) whitewashed. Every single character, human, dog or otherwise, was originally played by and drawn as a white person. In the live-action version, there are people of color both acting in real life and voicing the animals — a huge and necessary step forward from the 1955 release.

Another necessary 2019 update made to the live-action “Lady and the Tramp” was the replacement of the racist “The Siamese Cat Song.” The original animated movie included this extremely problematic song that impressed hurtful stereotypes of Asian people upon the youth who watched it. The mocking song asserted that Asian people (and the Siamese specifically) were sneaky, evil and out to make trouble that they would then blame on others. And that’s not even getting into the horrific accents these cats put on. What’s worse, the cats being twins played off of the “Siamese” twin concept — based on the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker from Siam (Thailand today) — that portrayed Asian people and conjoined twins as a spectacle for the entertainment of others, rather than autonomous human beings.

In the new version, this terrible song is replaced by a catchy and much more agreeable tune, “What a Shame,” sung by Nate “Rocket” Wonder and Roman GianArthur. And while the characters are still two Siamese cats, they do not play into any offensive stereotypes or put on phony “Asian” accents. All in all, it is a much more enjoyable experience.

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The sad thing about the new “Lady and the Tramp” is that it is not getting the same amount of buzz that the other live-action Disney remakes have gotten in the past. This seems to not only be due to lack of public interest, but also because of a lack of effort on Disney’s part being put into its marketing. Simply the fact that it is being released straight away on Disney+ rather than in theaters first is a telling sign of how Disney feels about this one.

Clearly the entertainment conglomerate feared that this particular film would not pull as many audience members as, say, the upcoming “The Little Mermaid” remake. We know about the details and casting for that film years before it is set to be released. With “Lady and the Tramp,” we were lucky to get any small update at the end of a D23 expo. Heck, the movie isn’t even at the top of the marketing list for Disney+ itself.

While it is probably true that “Lady and the Tramp” does not have the same cultural impact as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Lion King” or other Disney movies of that caliber, it is also unfair that this beautiful film is seemingly being thrown under the heap of the million other movies and shows available on Disney+. Sure, I also like baby Yoda in “The Mandalorian.” And sure, I am also super excited about binging past episodes of “Kim Possible.” But “Lady and the Tramp” deserves some justice! The artists behind this project made something truly special and, dare I say it, I liked it better than “The Lion King” (I’m sorry Beyoncé). So please, I beg of you, go stream the live-action “Lady and the Tramp” on Disney+ now. You won’t regret it.

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