At this point, the Disney live action remake is a fact of life, a part of the current moviegoing landscape as ubiquitous as superheroes and unwanted remakes. So far, their quality has ranged from solid (Cinderella) to unnecessary (The Lion King) to dreadful (Aladdin). Lady and the Tramp, the first of Disney’s live action remakes to be released exclusively on their new streaming service, Disney+, lands somewhere between solid and unnecessary on the respective scale, an inoffensive update on the animated 1955 film that neither brings anything new to the table nor completely undermines the charm of the original. In fact, the only major change from the original film is that the villainous cats are no longer offensive Asian stereotypes – “The Siamese Cat Song” having been replaced by a more anonymous but thankfully less racist alternative.
Lady and the Tramp isn’t attempting to retool its concept for an older audience that grew up with the original, resulting in a film less reliant on nostalgia.
The rest of this live action update hews closely to the original, casting real dogs as prim house pet, Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson), and her streetwise beau, Butch (voiced by Justin Theroux), to maximize the cute factor. However, unlike some of Disney’s more recent remakes (The Lion King and Aladdin, specifically), Lady and the Tramp isn’t attempting to retool its concept for an older audience that grew up with the original, resulting in a film less reliant on nostalgia and more focused on a reintroduction of its story to a new youthful audience. The original was never one of Disney’s biggest, and those lower stakes mean it doesn’t feel like much is lost in translation from animation to live action. It’s also perhaps the most beautiful of Disney’s recent spate of remakes, taking its cues from the original’s Victorian-style drawings to craft some lovely images that seem far removed from the bland, washed out lighting of Guy Ritchie’s ugly Aladdin remake.
What it does share in common with its live action predecessors, though, is that it still has no real reason to exist – that is, besides its function as a studio product that exists primarily to help sell Disney’s flagship streaming service. It’s a functional way to pass the time and entertain kids, and these young audiences will no doubt be properly enchanted by the onscreen animal antics. But in some ways, it seems perfectly designed for its streaming context – easily and quickly consumed, then forgotten, as viewers are inspired to revisit the animated classics of their childhood.