Film review: Lady and the Tramp

In this live-action and computer animated remake of the 1955 classic, privileged cocker spaniel Lady falls into an adventure with the street dog Tramp.

With March’s Mulan being delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Disney+ exclusive Lady and the Tramp is the latest of the company’s live-action remakes. A mix of live-action and CGI, this remake bares more resemblance to 2017’s Beauty and the Beast than last year’s fully animated, ‘photorealistic’ The Lion King, using a mix of real and computer animated dogs on real sets with human actors. Don’t let the company’s decision to release this for home viewing instead of the cinema fool you, however, as Lady and the Tramp offers the same potential for some stunning imagery. I say ‘potential’ as, quite like Disney’s other live-action remakes (namely The Lion King and 2016’s The Jungle Book), Lady and the Tramp’s dogs veer from indiscernible CGI to looking, at times, uncomfortably fake. Not that director Charlie Bean was given an easy task; over the years, animal movies have gone through many avenues to get their animals to talk. Sometimes they simply ‘talk’ via voiceover with still mouths, sometimes it’s clever uses of food and chewing, sometimes it’s an unconvincing CGI moving mouth. Lady and the Tramp goes for the latter, and while some shots are effective, many look rushed and awkward, like a higher budget Annoying Orange.

Thankfully, the effect is good enough for kids, who are surer to be convinced by the fake flapping, and the canine ensemble benefits from some enthusiastic voice performers. Tessa Thompson does her best with Lady, giving her an enthusiastic and sassy wit, while Justin Theroux is suitably gruff and soft as Tramp. It’s a shame that the characters seem a little more stripped back than their original counterparts though. Lady is far less the entertainingly uppity pooch she used to be, making her contrast and initial conflict with Tramp less lively than it was before. I can understand the want to modernise Lady a bit, but when the movie is still set in 1909, why not play up to the fun of the pampered stereotype? Tramp is equally a bit less slyly charming than before, Theroux sounding as if Seth Rogan and Alec Baldwin’s voices were thrown into a synthesiser without either personality shining through fully. As I said, the pair do well with the material, but one can’t help but feel some of the spark of the original is dulled a bit. This is especially odd in comparison to the human actors, who seem to be performing as though they were in a cartoon or one of Disney’s parks. Kiersey Clemons is lovely as Lady’s owner Darling, but she talks constantly like a Disneyworld princess, and her on-screen husband Jim Dear is played like the prototypical white-picket husband by Thomas Mann. They are not bad by any stretch, but their cartoonish performances seem at odds with the less cartoonish Lady and Tramp.

Thankfully, the world these characters inhabit is gorgeously realised. The original film was one of the first uses of the widescreen Cinemascope technology, and the filmmakers honour this visual legacy here. Giving Disney+’s HDR streaming a good chance to show itself off, the sets and photography are a league above the written material and elevate it all immensely – from the utterly stunning home of Darling and Jim Dear, to the bright and lavish early 20th Century Americana streets. A lot of the best scenes in the film come from a worthy use of these spaces, utilising some inventive and smooth camerawork. Namely the fight between Tramp and an invading rat, and the final chase scene between the dogs and the catcher’s carriage, are thrilling to watch and, arguably, the only scenes that match the original or are enhanced by the live-action overhaul. For many though, Lady and the Tramp is about one scene. As my girlfriend put it at around twenty minutes into watching, “when are they going to eat spaghetti?” Alas, the famous scene between Lady, Tramp, and some amazingly enthusiastic restaurateurs is one of the flattest remakes in the film. Like in The Lion King, the severe limitations the filmmakers face in emoting the animals rears its expressionless head once more, as the scene changes very little to accommodate for the new format. Tramp rolling the last meatball over to Lady still generates an “awh”, but the emotion is stripped so far from the expressionism of hand-drawn animation that the scene is rendered instantly inferior.

Nevertheless, I am sure that there are many kids and dog-lovers out there that will love watching Disney’s live-action Lady and the Tramp. For me, if anything, it was a sweet throwback to the Homeward Bound and Babe era of live animal movies that you don’t really get anymore (and at least they still made use of real dog actors in combination with the CGI, unlike the fully fake hound from this year’s The Call of the Wild). Passable entertainment for most, but could well be the new sweetly mellow favourite of a few Disney+ subscribers, Lady and the Tramp is better than one could expect of a straight-to-streaming, live-action animal adventure, but still pales in comparison to the original.





Author: Tom, Chelsea store