On one level the Disney live action remakes as they exist in 2020 are the perfect example of corporately calculated cinema that will rake in the dough regardless of how many people point out its creative bankruptcy. That said they are also far too easy targets for the kind of overwritten analytical thrashing popularized by the likes of Lindsay Ellis and plenty of others in her field. None of the three live action remakes released theatrically in 2019 were particularly good but they were far from worst of the year contenders that some would have you believe they are. Disney’s final attempt at strip mining its back catalogue of animated classics in 2019 came with the launch of Disney + and another live action remake but this time exclusive to streaming., Does the nebulous quality of yet another remake fit the narrative.
Yes and no. On the one hand the remake does continue the narrative of creative bankruptcy, but it is significantly worse than any of the current wave of live action remakes. All the theatrical live action remakes released in 2019 were at least trying to bring something new to the table in various ways. Dumbo tried (and failed) to expand the story, Aladdin tried to give Jasmine an increased presence within the story and Lion King was showcasing “virtual filmmaking” on a huge scale. Watching the 2019 Lady and the Tramp give the impression that Disney showed the staff that worked on it one of the mid-2000s Bill Murray Garfield movies and told ” we want you to recreate one of these.” The “live action animals with animated mouths” approach feels cheap and outdated in 2019/2020. If this was released 15 years ago it would have gotten a big theatrical push plus soundtrack song from the Baha Men. Most of the voice work and live action performances (despite a solid cast) feel like a parade of actors turning up for the check and getting out of there as fast as they can. The one major exception is Tessa Thompson who actually does a decent job as the voice of Lady but the strength of her performance just reminded me about the much better Tessa Thompson performances I could be watching instead (we are just over halfway through the new season of Westworld right now.) As with the Lion King the musical numbers feel perfunctory and like that exist exclusively for because the audience would expect them. Overall, the film feels like it was put together by creatives operating at about 30% of their potential because they know that the Disney remakes will always have some form of audience.
After putting some thought into it this is the worst Disney feature (streaming or otherwise) since the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland. I’d rather watch Wrinkle in Time again. Say what you will about those two films they at least gave the impression of swinging for the fences in several ways. Lady and the Tramp 2019 is not interested in any level of creative risk beyond being a creatively turgid slog. Avoid at all costs.