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Disney+ is officially live as of today and that means that subscribers can watch a whole host of old and new Disney content, including Lady and the Tramp. The live-action remake/reimagining of Disney’s 1955 animated classic makes a notable change from the original in that it reworks the controversial Siamese cat song. It’s a change that Lady and the Tramp stars Justin Theroux and Tessa Thompson are glad to see, as they explained:
Justin Theroux: This movie obviously did a big re-work on that, and I think it’s an improvement. These are movies that are meant to be watched and enjoyed, and it’s nice to see them updated in several ways.
Tessa Thompson: That’s the benefit of them being looked at again with a modern lens.
Rather than omitting the scene with the cats entirely, as other of Disney’s live-action remakes have done for their controversial elements, Lady and the Tramp completely reworked the Siamese cat scene and presented them in a different way. The duo still gets a song, but a different one and their overall appearance is not offensive in the way it is in the original movie. They’re not even Siamese cats anymore. The result is a scene that Justin Theroux considers to be a major improvement.
The actor who voices Tramp in the film just wants people to be able to enjoy Lady and the Tramp, and including the Siamese cat song as it was in the original (which would never happen), would detract from that enjoyment. So he views updates like the reworked Siamese cat song as a way to improve on what came before, and create a product that modern audiences can love.
Tessa Thompson also brings up a great point to Yahoo Entertainment about the opportunities afforded by these remakes. As she said, the benefit of looking at these classic films again and remaking them, is that you can do so with a modern lens. By taking the core elements of these classic films that work and updating them for today’s audiences, you can give the stories new life.
Whether that process results in a better overall film is another question, but updating a story and improving upon things, while eliminating stuff that no longer works are good goals for any remake to have. And for Lady and the Tramp, the Siamese cat song had to go.
For those unfamiliar with it, “The Siamese Cat Song,” also known as “We Are Siamese (If You Please)” is a song sung by two Siamese cats named Si and Am in the original Lady and the Tramp. These two cats that torment Lady are drawn with slanted eyes and buckteeth, a racist caricature of Asians commonly used in the post-war period. Singer Peggy Lee even affects a stereotypical Asian accent in her performance. You can see the original song in the video below.
So yeah, that hasn't aged well. But it’s nice to know that the scene was reworked for the new movie. Of course, the Siamese cat song from Lady and the Tramp is far from the only thing in Disney’s past that is viewed as problematic today. While some stuff like Song of the South looks like it will forever be a permanent resident of the vault, other older content on Disney+ is getting a warning for outdated cultural depictions.