- Movie Rating -

Lady and the Tramp (2019)

| November 15, 2019

I didn’t want to see this movie.  Why, oh, why does Disney insist on repackaging their animated features as live action whether they deserve the form or not?  After the unwatchable horror show of the remake of The Lion King I didn’t even want to know about this movie.  Thus far I have been through uninspired remakes of Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella, so you’ll understand if I admit that I approached Lady and the Tramp with a feeling of “Okay . . . let’s get this over with.”

Yet, about 45-minutes into the movie, something unexpected happened to me: I caught myself smiling.  I think it was the re-imagining of the famous back ally spaghetti scene in which the owner of the Italian restaurant Tony (F. Murray Abraham) and his chef Joe () serenade the canine lovebirds as they enjoy their dinner.  Something in that scene worked.  Maybe it was the music.  Maybe it was the pacing.  Maybe it was the computer effects on the dogs.  Something.  I was seeing a re-combobulation of a moment in cinema history that I know like the letters in my own name, but why did it make me smile?

I think it was because of the feeling that someone actually cared about this movie.  The remake of Lady and the Tramp is imperfect and, of course, 100% unnecessary but if it had to be done, I can say that it probably could not have been done better.  Directed by Charlie Bean, the asset to this remake is that, unlike The Lion King, it doesn’t rely so heavily on stamping a carbon copy of every single scene from the original.  The dogs are recreated using the same kinds of computer effects but maybe it works because the players are dogs and not lions.  Lions have small eyes and limited expressiveness.  Dogs, on the other hand, have the ability to convey certain emotions and one of the great things about this movie is that those emotions come first.

This is not a perfect movie by any means.  It has no real reason to exist but it’s not offensive to purists.  The massive difference between this movie and the original (made in 1955) is that the racial coding has has been changed.  In an effort to overturn some of Disney’s questionable racial sins, the Siamese cats Si and Am are replaced here by Rex and Devon and their uber-catchy song “We Are Siamese” is replaced with “What a Shame.”  All I can say is that the new song is not exactly and ear-worm and the new cats are far too generic to memorable.  I get trying to culturally sensitive but the scene feels awkward because you can feel the movie trying to be on its best behavior.

That extends to the human characters as well.  The story takes place in New Orleans in 1900 and what you notice first is the fact that racial issues don’t exist.  Jim Dear and Darling are an interracial couple and this is never questioned.  In fact, the whole movie tries mind its multi-cultural Ps and Qs and given Disney’s questionable racial history that’s probably a wise move.  But what does it say to a kid about their history?  Is the act of equaling the racial balance in the depiction of the early years of the 20th century responsible?  Yes, this is a squeaky-clean kid’s film but what is the movie telling kids?  I had the same issue with The Princess and the Frog, another movie that existed in a world where the historical issues were shoved to the side.

I only bring this up because there has been a recent resurgence at Disney over trying to uncouple itself from its sticky past when it comes to racial sensitivity.  It’s a hot button issue and one that I credit the studio for at least addressing.  But what is the proper way to go about it?  I admire this new version of Lady and the Tramp for trying to makes strides to correct things, but I wonder about the approach.

Still, that’s a side-issue.  The human characters are the least interesting element here.  The value of the film is that the love story doesn’t get lost.  The dogs talk through skillful computer animation and we believe the connection that the title characters have with one another.  Plus, it lets the couple be dogs in human world looking at their customs and housekeeping details through unknowing eyes.  They only know of human beings what a dog might know of human beings.  That’s a nice way of saying, the movie doesn’t try to hard to step outside what a dog might actually do.  Yes, they talk but the movie tries to let the dogs be dogs – with a full-bloom romance of course.

Yet, I don’t want to be put in the position of having been misunderstood.  I’m not at all suggesting that this remake is better or even equal to the original.  If shown to an audience (especially kids) who are unfamiliar with this story, I would insist that they see the original first.  What I am saying is that in the pantheon of recent live-action remakes from Disney, this one was done with some heart and some life.  It’s not an unwatchable carbon copy of The Lion King.  It won’t ruin your day, but it won’t linger in your imagination either.  I’ll say that I’m glad I saw it without entirely agreeing with why it was made in the first place.  Its breeze and sweet but of no great significance.  You’ll regard it while you’re watching it but you won’t carry it with you when its over.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2019) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized