Unrushed and even reasonably well-made, there's nothing specifically wrong with Disney's live-action retelling of Lady and the Tramp. However, its lack of a fresh perspective means it never feels more than workmanlike. Lady and the Tramp simply ... exists.
Lady (Tessa Thompson) is the pampered and beloved pet of Jim Dear (Thomas Mann) and Darling (Kiersey Clemons). Living in a 1920s Southern setting, things are perfect for Lady until the birth of the couple's daughter. Relegated to living outside and, at one point, running loose, Lady befriends a shifty con-dog who goes by many names but is the titular Tramp (Justin Theroux). Much of the film is centered around the development of the dogs' relationship, with the relatively thin plot remaining relatively unchanged from the 1955 animated original.
The biggest difference, bey0nd the obvious move to live-action and the use of actual animals, is probably the addition of Elliot (Adrian Martinez), a dog-catcher with a strangely personal vendetta against Tramp. But even with that threat hanging over the characters, the film largely lacks tension. It's a calming movie that banks on its cute visuals and simple gags papering over its simple story.
However, the extended run time doesn't lead to further development for either Lady or Tramp, let alone the supporting characters. Director Charlie Bean (The LEGO Ninjago Movie) doesn't stretch out the story so much as he allows it to play out at a languid pace. The film is perhaps too relaxed, to the point it's difficult to stay awake all the way through.
Lady and the Tramp boasts a strong voice cast, but the actors never elevate their performances beyond the basics. Thompson and Theroux are pleasant enough as Lady and the Tramp, and that extends to the supporting players. So while the movie doesn't waste the assembled talent, it doesn't find anything of interest to engage them either. Instead, it features subdued but perky performances by actors who we know can do better (among them, Janelle Monáe, Benedict Wong, Ashley Jensen and Sam Elliot). At times, they seem as bored with the film as the audience is.
The movie is similar to The Lion King, another Disney remake from earlier this year. Lady and the Tramp is far less ambitious, but that means it has far less room to fall. The CGI used to animate the animals' mouths and expressions are mixed, moving from convincingly realistic to distractingly less defined. The movie is at its best when it lets the visuals and music tell the story without using dialogue, relying on a cartoonishly idealized version of the unnamed town instead of on character work.
In the end, nothing about Lady and the Tramp really stands out, positively or negatively: The performances are fine; the direction is unimpressive but acceptable; the script isn't a dud, but neither is it all that exciting. There's a baseline of quality in the filmmaking that keeps the movie from being actively bad, but it's never all that good either.
Like other Disney remakes, the question that remains is why this film needed to reimagined in live-action. There's no new observation on the world or further exploration of the characters. There's nothing justifying this movie, beyond potentially a new coat of digital paint that isn't anywhere near as distinct or as charming as the animated original. Lady and the Tramp isn't the worst way to spend your time, but it's a shame that it didn't at least try to be something different.
Lady and the Tramp stars Tessa Thompson as Lady, Justin Theroux as Tramp, Sam Elliott as Trusty, Ashley Jensen as Jock, Benedict Wong as Bull, Janelle Monáe as Peg, Kiersey Clemons as Darling Dear, Thomas Mann as Jim Dear, Yvette Nicole Brown as Aunt Sarah, Arian Martinez as Elliot and Arturo Castro as Marco. The film arrives Nov. 12 exclusively on Disney+.