“Lady and the Tramp” is the latest Disney animated classic to get the live-action remake treatment. It also manages to be one of the best.
Closely aligned with the 1955 film, “Lady and the Tramp” finds a happy newlywed couple celebrating Christmas in their Victorian-era suburb. When the husband hands his wife a pink hat box, she laughs until she opens the gift and discovers a perfect, snuggly Cocker Spaniel puppy inside. Lady is the perfect family pet. She never causes problems or gets into trouble. At least until her people, Jim Dear and Darling, add a new baby to the family.
What immediately separates this from every other Disney live-action is the limited use of CGI. Unlike “The Lion King” or “Beauty and the Beast,” or “Dumbo,” this tale of puppy love features real dogs in its starring roles. And not only are the pups real, living creatures, nearly all of them were rescues, too. And by the time production had concluded, every one of them had a home.
Thomas Mann and Kiersey Clemons star as Lady’s human owners, Jim Dear and Darling. This is mostly Lady’s story, but Mann and Clemons are perfectly charming and adorable. Less charming but equally perfect for the role is Yvette Nicole Brown as Darling’s dog-hating Aunt Sarah.
The real stars of the movie, though, are Lady and a mutt called the Tramp. These pups are sweet and who wouldn’t want to take them home? But it wouldn’t be a Disney movie if these dogs stayed quiet. Sure, they don’t speak to their humans, but the dogs certainly talk to each other, and the voice cast is delightful.
Tessa Thompson embraces Lady’s love and enthusiasm, as well as her resistance to breaking rules. But the real star of this show is Justin Theroux, who fittingly voices the Tramp. His playful charm shines through, a rapscallion that charms his way into the hearts of every human and dog around town. There are plenty of fun voices in the mix, including Sam Elliott, Janelle Monáe, and Benedict Wong. And they all do a great job with their dialogue. But Theroux stands out from the pack with a performance that is just more. And that’s especially true when he tells the heart-wrenching story of how he ended up on the streets in the first place.
“Lady and the Tramp” doesn’t need to exist any more than any other Disney live-action (or photoreal) remake does. But if they are going to make them anyway, it would be nice if more of them would do what this one does. Stay true to the story, honor it, but then take care to make it something that matters to the world we live in now. Diverse casting is a great start. And truly understanding the story is vital. Worrying less about expensive visuals and more about simply making an honest adaptation is the only way these films can really succeed and last, and ultimately matter.
“Lady and the Tramp” is now streaming on Disney+.
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