At the beginning of November, I visited the Disney Lot and screened Lady and the Tramp (live action) along with a lot of movies and shows as part of The Geekly Retreat (an exclusive, invite-only retreat for aspiring entertainment writers). This post contains affiliate links.
I don’t know about you, but I consider Lady and the Tramp a Christmas movie. Hear me out. It opens and ends on Christmas Eve and is about family and love and belonging. Aren’t those all requisite pieces of a Christmas movie? (Side note: I am also Team Die Hard is a Christmas movie so… there you have it.)
Also, before I get too ahead of myself, there are “spoilers” for the movie. The original animated Lady and the Tramp released in 1955 – I think we’ve long passed the window for adding spoiler alerts. Though I’ll be reviewing the Disney+ live action remake in this article, I will also reference the original animated release.
About Lady and the tramp
Here’s a quick refresher for those of you who don’t remember the movie. Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) gifts his wife, Darling (Kiersey Clemons) an American Cocker Spaniel puppy they name Lady (Tessa Thompson) for Christmas. Lady is the center of her owners’ universe until they have a baby – wherein she is inevitably ignored. When the owners leave for a weekend trip, Aunt Sarah (Yvette Nichole Brown) comes to dog sit and Lady runs away and meets up with The Tramp (Justin Theroux), a dog from the wrong side of the tracks who is constantly chased by an overzealous dogcatcher (Adrian Martinez). Love and shenanigans ensue.
Before I go on and review the actual movie, we need to address the obvious question of whether a remake was even necessary.
Do we really need a remake of Lady and the Tramp?
I’ll be honest. Prior to watching the live action version of Lady and the Tramp, I certainly didn’t think so. After watching it though? ABSOLUTELY.
As someone who owned the Lady and the Tramp on VHS and watched it countless times as a kid and teen and still knows the songs and plot really well, I was astonished at how much my soul yearned to see this version. The fact that the cast is so diverse – and no one bats an eye – even writing this review almost three weeks later, I’m verklempt. Imagine – a world with people who aren’t only white!
I didn’t know anything about the remake when I went into it. Imagine my surprise (and delight) when Darling was black! Her whole family was black – and not only that – people of color were everywhere. Ken Jeong even makes an appearance as the family doctor.
My brain couldn’t process what my eyes were seeing. Internally, my thoughts were stuttering back and forth, arguing with each other. “Wait – did black people wear clothes like this?” “Of course they did. What do you think black people wore during that time period?” “Oh, right.” “Wait, were there black people during the early 1900s?” “Seriously?” “Oh, right.”
Could you blame me, though? I have never seen black folks – let alone ASIAN folks – in period costumes of the early 1900s. I have only ever seen white people. Of course I was confused. And just like that, an entire group of people who were previously erased re-appeared in history – and my mind.
I will never stop saying this. I will never stop being grateful to see people of color – and not only people of color – people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, abilities represented on screen by a HUGE company like Disney.
I cannot begin to express how moved – and grateful I am (it makes me angry that I still have to be grateful in 2019 but here we are) – that my children will not know what it means to have their world and possibilities limited because now they can literally see themselves in mainstream American media.
And to the people who say they hate how “PC” movies have become – how they’re rewriting history and want to go back to a “better” time, Yvette Nichole Brown addressed it far more politely than I have in me. As she expressed in an exclusive interview with The Geekly Retreat, “One doesn’t cancel out the other. One’s not better than the other – just two different iterations of a beautiful story. That’s the way I see it.”
Representation matters. It matters to so many of us who were previously considered non-existent. How dare you tell me that I don’t have the right to exist and see myself on screen? Kindly see yourself out.
Oh, I guess I couldn’t hold back my actual thoughts after all.
what i loved
In case it wasn’t obvious, I loved the updated cast and diversity. I love how Disney+ really wants to emphasize global citizenship and it’s readily apparent in their programming and updated stories. Plus, the sets and costuming are gorgeous. I want to wear everything Aunt Sarah wore.
The human acting was great – I didn’t realize how many people were actually featured in the story until I saw all the actors. I particularly loved how Brown and Adrian Martinez humanized the “villains” of the movie. There was one moment when Aunt Sarah showed up at the front door thinking she was going to babysit only to find out she was stuck with the house and a dog she didn’t care for – the heartbreak and loneliness on her face!
Martinez as the dogcatcher, too, was very human. “I could also imagine how isolated and lonely he was,” he explained to us. Martinez said he prepared for the role by asking himself, “What was Elliot’s greatest pain? The fact that nobody gets him. Nobody gets him and he’s just trying to maintain the order of the town.”
The voices for the animals were also lovely. I kept thinking Lady sounded like Sandra Bullock even though I knew she wasn’t. Clemons did a fantastic job sounding both vulnerable, naive, and kind. Truly, Disney knows how to put together a cast.
Is the racist “We are Siamese” song in the movie?
When I was a kid, I loved the “We Are Siamese” song. I mean, I didn’t understand how racist it was and was just happy to hear something “Asian” (despite the song caricaturing what “Asian” should sound like). Rest assured, that nonsense is no longer in the movie. Instead, the cats sing a somewhat forgettable song in its place.
The only other update to the music that I recall is the change to the lyrics of “He’s a Tramp.” Though I prefer the original version (not necessarily the lyrics – but style-wise), Janelle Monae’s version is also a good rendition.
Is there an uncanny valley with the cgi animals?
The CGI is decent enough. I thought I would be annoyed by the CGI for when the animals talked, but for the most part, the effects did their job: I didn’t notice.
if you have small children
There is one scene in the pound where the dogcatcher takes a dog to be euthanized that might be upsetting for children who love animals. Also, there are a few scenes of the Tramp chasing after a rat that might be hard for really young kids, but overall, there isn’t anything inappropriate.
Final thoughts on Lady and the Tramp
I enjoyed the updated live action of Lady and the Tramp. It’s a lovely way for children to be reintroduced to a Disney classic. The movie is funny, heart-warming, and a delight. You can stream Lady and the Tramp on Disney+ now.