If the past few years are any indication, Disney plans to remake every one of its classics into $150 million-plus live-action projects in the foreseeable future. And 2019 was the studio’s most ambitious effort in that regard. In the matter of four months, new versions of Dumbo, Aladdin and The Lion King hit theaters and made $3 billion combined at the global box office. Yet, it’s Disney’s most recent and under-the-radar remake that reigns above the rest: the Disney+ exclusive title, Lady and the Tramp.
It’s ironic, isn’t it? Lady and the Tramp is likely the least expensive remake Disney has made all year, and the streaming service has yet to release any numbers on how many subscribers tuned into the feature amongst the other offerings Disney+ provides, such as weekly doses of Baby Yoda on The Mandalorian or the Anna Kendrick-led Christmas movie, Noelle. Believe me, I was surprised myself. But after watching two adorable pups fall in love under candlelight, I remembered the magic of Disney’s remake vision.
First off, critics agree. Lady and the Tramp was the highest rated Disney remake of 2019, with a 65% “Fresh” score on Rotten Tomatoes. CinemaBlend’s own Dirk Libbey shared this sentiment with his 3.5 out of 5 review of the film. The rest of this year’s reimaginings ended up “Rotten” on the site, Aladdin receiving a 57%, The Lion King a 53% and Dumbo a meager 47%. But, what is it about one of the first Disney+ original movies that beats out these blockbusters?
The main element that allows 2019’s Lady and the Tramp to stand out from the rest is because its jump to live action makes complete sense and works really well in this format. The only thing better than cute cartoon dogs is seeing actual performing dogs light up the screen with the beloved story. Live-action dog stories have become more popular in the past few years with movies such as A Dog’s Purpose and The Art of Racing in the Rain, but this Disney+ movie sets itself apart by injecting some signature magic the studio is well known for.
Other remakes this year have relied so much on the spectacle of flying elephants, blue genies and realistic African savannas that some grounded elements of their originals became lost in the mix. In Lady and the Tramp, the familiar story actually becomes more believable when we see the characters being portrayed by actual dogs. Yes, they’re talking dogs, but there’s a relatable and universal element of seeing what we’d imagine our own furry friends come to life.
And the CGI in Lady and the Tramp mixed with the live-action elements is seamless! It’s really an incredible technical achievement. The filmmakers used real dogs as actors in the film (Tramp is played by a shelter pup named Monte) with fully animated ones. It’s a magic trick that takes place throughout the movie that allows viewers to immerse themselves in the live-action world – where the completely CGI animals and landscape of The Lion King may have felt like watching a video game after a while.
There’s also something refreshing about the small-scale quality of Lady and the Tramp. This remake actually made me appreciate the 1955 classic more than I ever had before. That hasn’t happened often when viewing a recent Disney remake. Audiences are reminded of how incredibly underrated the Disney film is nowadays. The original Lady and the Tramp came at an especially exciting time for the animation studio when Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians were coming out. It’s a simple day-in-the-life of dogs in a neighborhood many of us have wondered about before.
Like a few remakes before it, 2019’s Lady and the Tramp benefits from the time between the original and live-action version. It has been 64 years since the animated version came out, so many folks have never seen the the original, and if you have, it was probably a long time ago. Due to this, the nostalgic quality of the movie works really well. For example, when I saw the white dog with “side bangs” covering one eye as a real dog, I was completely transported to watching the original as a kid – because I had completely forgotten about it until seeing it again.
When it comes to a release such as Aladdin, it’s one of Disney’s modern big hits. Chances are most Disney fans have revisited it a bunch of times before sitting down for the remake. There are higher expectations and more ownership over it. When Disney remakes a movie such as Lady and the Tramp, it allows the studio's still beloved, but less popular stories to really shine and find a new life somewhere else. Is anyone else game for an Aristocats or Oliver & Company live-action remake after this?
From the infectious chemistry of Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux’s dog characters, the magical wonder of seeing the story play out in live action, and a new song being reworked into the film, Lady and the Tramp offers up a subtle, but perfect recipe for what a Disney live-action remake should be. It doesn’t feel like a recycled cash grab, but a careful re-imagination of a memory tucked into your childhood. There may have been something gained from Lady and the Tramp having less anticipation surrounding it and sitting cozy at home to see it, too.
The Disney remakes certainly are not slowing down anytime soon. An epic new version of Mulan comes in March, and a live-action musical for The Little Mermaid starring Halle Bailey, Melissa McCarthy, Javier Bardem, Awkwafina and Jacob Termblay is currently in development for the big screen. But for now, it’s these Disney+ treasures I’ll look forward to the most going forward.
The streaming service’s next original movie is an arctic adventure between a man and his dog titled Togo, starring Willem Dafoe. The movie has already been nominated for an award: the first for Disney+. Check out what else is coming to the streaming platform in December!
What do you think? Which live-action remake do you think was the best from Disney in 2019? Dumbo, Aladdin, The Lion King or The Lady and the Tramp? Sound off in the comments below and participate in our poll.