This may sound ridiculous nowadays but Disney used to be a company that took risks. So much of their filmography have been gambles: the avant-garde fusion of classical music and animation in Fantasia, the groundbreaking effects of combining live-action and backlit animation in Tron, or the more mature and interesting deviations from usual formula like The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and many others.
Not all of these became successes, but at least they were boldly original creative endeavors that added variety to Disney’s assembly line. The company’s current onslaught of live-action remakes is the antithesis of these kinds of ideas. They are a creative dead zone- manufactured products that are the same thing you have seen countless times before with a shiny new coat of paint.
Blame cannot be placed solely on Disney though. In the quest for max profits, who are they to argue with audiences who demand more of the same? People flock to the theaters for nearly every single one of these- sending so many of them to the billion-dollar club in which membership no longer feels very exclusive. Going to the movies can be expensive, so most audiences prefer to play it safe by seeing something they are already familiar with and know they will at least enjoy.
This remake of 1955’s Lady and the Tramp is the definition of a safe bet. It is a wholly inoffensive, charming, and feel-good sort of film. Just like nearly all of the other remakes before it, 2019’s Lady and the Tramp does not stray much from the original’s plot. Deviations from the story, be it characters or events, are usually met with backlash by fans anyway. This only furthers Disney’s drive to stay away from anything different. If you are looking for a competent and comfortable family flick to settle into, this would not be the worst choice.
The classic story of loved and pampered house pet Lady (Tessa Thompson) meeting the rough but lovable loner Tramp (Justin Theroux) goes through its familiar paces. While the sleek and polished look of it all makes for some gorgeous visuals, the magic that came from traditional 2-D cel animation is obviously lost. Disney’s modern, hyper-realistic CG animation used for animal characters rears its uncanny head as usual. This presents something that is certainly a technological feat but loses the humanity and personality that the characters would otherwise have.
Thompson and Theroux manage to bring some life to their dog counterparts and their flirtation and friendship are sometimes more natural and sweet than the original. Thompson imbues Lady with a nice blend of wide-eyed innocence and surprising wit and Theroux is earnestly funny with his laid-back demeanor coming through an otherwise lifeless CG creation. There are moments when the effect, a combination of real dogs and computer replacements, is so good that it is hard to tell which shots are using which. However, other attempts to make the dogs look sad or emote in any way beyond what an animal’s face can naturally do, act as a reminder of how painfully fake it can be. As impressive as the technology is, the way it is currently being used is very restrictive for the stories being told.
This updated version also has some genuinely great moments of dry awkward humor. These kinds of quirky jokes are eventually outnumbered by the film’s more kiddie humor though. Such a shame since the former teases a much more fun movie. This risk-free approach to filmmaking makes for something perfectly watchable, but I would hope that viewers would ask for a little bit more. This is the same old song and dance over again; are we not tired of it yet?
Lady and the Tramp was exclusively released on the launch of the Disney Plus streaming service alongside the less-than-stellar holiday flick Noelle. You would hope that the freedom afforded by releasing films on this platform would allow Disney to branch out and roll the dice again, similar to how Netflix’s content has an extreme amount of variety. Time will tell, but if more of what we have been given here to kick things off is to be expected, then the future is looking rather dull and a bit bleak.