Lady and the Tramp is the first live-action remake of a classic Disney animated feature to exclusively launch on the studio’s Disney+ streaming service, forgoing theatrical release. It is also the best live-action remake the company has released in 2019, mostly eschewing the bizarrely rendered CGI-overkill aesthetics of Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King in favor of location shooting and (mostly) live animals. Gone are the attempts at dour adult themes and overindulgent self-importance. Lady and the Tramp is nothing more than a fun romp, and doesn’t pretend to be.
In this version, Lady (voiced by Tessa Thompson) has a human family with a little more participation in the story. Darling (Kiersey Clemons) and Jim (Thomas Mann) are an upper-class family in the early 20th century. They welcome Lady into their home and, after time passes, a new baby of their own. “When a baby moves in, a dog moves out,” according to Tramp (Justin Theroux), a homeless dog who briefly hides in Lady’s yard to avoid the dogcatcher. Lady dislikes Tramp immediately, but after a series of circumstances, she winds up relying on him to show her the ways of the street dog. Comedy ensues. Eventually they enjoy a plate of spaghetti, compliments of F. Murray Abraham no less.
Heck, the cast is pretty stacked, as is the case with most of these live-action Disney offerings. Janelle Monáe sings as Peg, a Pekingese; she recorded two new songs for the soundtrack. The Siamese cats are back with a new, less racist song. Sam Elliott plays a bloodhound, which feels a little too obvious.
The CGI mouth movements when the animal heroes speak lends the whole affair a level of unreality that was problematic for The Lion King earlier this year but isn’t too distracting here. The Lion King took itself far too seriously whereas this (thankfully) does not. A large part of the tonal success belongs to Theroux, who probably would’ve used the same voice if he was wearing a dog costume. It’s a mixture of exaggerated excitement and self-aware absurdity that really lands.
Still, this being the “best” live-action adaptation is all relative: The Disney+ service offers access to the original, which is about 20 minutes shorter and still considerably more visually stunning than any live-action remake could muster regardless of the best efforts from everyone involved. Not that running time is an indicator of quality, but this new Lady and the Tramp still has trouble justifying the extra time with its added incidents and characters. If it all boils down to two dogs enjoying some pasta and learning a bit about class differences, do we need much else? No, but at least the dogs are cute this time.
You can read our preview reviews of the rest of the Disney+ Original Programming slate here.