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Disney's live-action remakes have become as important a pillar for the current studio as anything under the Marvel or Star Wars brand, and so, it's no great surprise that the next entry in that particular "franchise," director Charlie Bean's Lady And The Tramp, is being used as a lure to bring fans over to Disney+. The title may not have quite the fan base of something like The Lion King, but it's still a Disney classic, and likely to be of interest to the same movie-goers who were already interested in joining the streaming service on day one.
This in mind, the movie does its job. As with most Disney remakes, Lady and the Tramp provides the story that fans know, but this remake also offers a bit of additional charm to the familiar formula that both old and new Disney fans are likely to appreciate.
Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson) is a Christmas gift from a husband, known only as "Jim Dear" (Thomas Mann), to his wife, known only as "Darling" (Kiersey Clemons). She becomes the center of their world, and all her needs are attended to. That is, until "Jim Dear" and "Darling" see an even bigger addition to their family: a baby. At this point, Lady becomes a secondary concern.
Our other main character, which the new film never properly gives a name (he's a stray after all), we'll just call Tramp (voiced by Justin Theroux). He lives on the street and is happy to do so. He sees homes and families as constraints to freedom, which is what he'll tell anybody willing to listen. Tramp and Lady come into contact when he is being chased by a dog catcher, and he warns her that the forthcoming baby is going to displace her. When that happens, the two dogs find themselves together, and Lady begins to see a very different side to life as a canine.
Lady and the Tramp is the story you know, with few surprises
If you've somehow never seen the original Lady and the Tramp, or it's been so long that you don't recall the details, I'll skip the spoilers — but if you do know the story well, you're not in for many surprises here. The story unfolds pretty much exactly as you remember it. Like with previous remakes from Disney, some details are changed here and there, but there's nothing that drastically changes the plot.
The most obvious change is the removal of the very dated "We Are Siamese" song. The cats are still there, but they sing a new, more uptempo, number, "What A Shame." While less problematic, the new tune still isn't much to get excited about. It's harmless, and therefore forgettable.
While Lady and the Tramp might not be the powerhouse that The Lion King is, the two films have more than a little in common, as both attempt to portray animals as realistically as possible, beyond, of course, giving them the power of speech. However, there are a few key differences that actually aid this new film in comparison.
Lady and The Tramp benefits by not relying on CGI
First, actual dogs were used in Lady and the Tramp, and while there are, of course, digital effects being used to make them talk, as well as in other sequences, there are many moments when they are simply dogs. Every time the dogs interact even indirectly with humans, they act as humans would expect dogs to act. They don't speak English, they bark. The transition between real and digital dogs is essentially seamless. The digital dogs look no less real than the real ones.
Additionally, the human characters are a larger focus of the story. While Lady and the Tramp is still about the title characters, in the animated version characters like Jim Dear and Darling are mostly seen from a dog's point of view, and rarely shown above the knee. That's not the case any longer. The dogcatcher was also more an idea than a character in the animated classic, and here he's the closest thing the film has to a villain.
While, making the human characters more important to the story takes away some of the charm of the original movie, the positive trade off is that that CGI doesn't have to do as much heavy lifting as it did in The Lion King. The most emotional moments in Lady and the Tramp aren't as heavy as the death of Mufasa, and there's usually a human there when those moments happen, so the fact that dogs don't emote in the way that humans do is less of a problem.
Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux are a charming pair
However, that lack of emotional connections to the leads means that, much like The Lion King, it's completely up to the voice performances to carry the power of the words. This is where Lady and the Tramp excels. Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux are as good as any human couple in a quality rom-com, and that's ultimately what this movie is.
Lady and the Tramp has always been a romance, but with a few tweaks to the dialogue, and an awkward embrace is almost all it takes to shift the story into full-on canine romantic comedy. While the characters might be dogs, all the standard elements of your romantic comedy formula are here. The meet cute, the initial disinterest by one party, the event that throws them together, the blooming relationship seemingly ended by a misunderstanding... It's your standard rom-com formula, but the fact that we're watching animals go through it at least changes things up a bit. The only other thing a rom-com needs is the comedy part, and Lady and the Tramp is surprisingly funny.
Lady and the Tramp doesn't take any major risks, but it handles all of its pieces well enough to create an enjoyable companion to the original. This is likely exactly what early adopters of Disney+ are looking for, so it can be called a win.