CS Soap Box: Does Lady and the Tramp’s Tony Have a Mental Illness?
Albert Einstein famously described insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” We can’t exactly extend this definition to what Disney has been doing, recycling one animation after the other (in the form of live-action remakes), because Disney does not expect different results. The result they expect with films like 2019’s The Lion King or Disney+’s Lady and the Tramp is the warm, fuzzy and lucrative feeling that has historically accompanied a cartoon-covered box and a VHS tape. Wanting to recreate the joy of a good meal is not insane. What is insane, or at least what appears to be, is the restaurant owner who used to be a cartoon and thinks he still is.
Many people criticized the Jon Favreau-directed The Lion King’s for losing all of the 1994 animation’s whimsical magic. It was like watching an episode of Animal Planet, with everyone half-expecting special guest Bear Grylls to appear. While the live-action Lady and the Tramp succeeds in maintaining most of its predecessor’s charm (using real dogs instead of full CGI is fricking adorable), some of the characters seem to have had their marbles scrambled during the transition from animation to live-action. The most notable being Elliot the dogcatcher (duh) and the godfather of spaghetti, Tony.
Brushstrokes and spaghetti.
The original animated film Lady and the Tramp came out in 1955 and shook the world with its unique brand of spaghetti-sharing sentiment. It’s important to remember that the stray Tramp and the cocker spaniel Lady’s love connection is all thanks to Tony (voiced by George Givot) and his Italian restaurant. Tony’s ability to communicate with Tramp is a humorous and dismissible tidbit. In the new live-action one, it’s a little jarring.
This new dude thinks he’s Dr. Doolittle. Something about Amadeus Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham’s performance made live-action Tony seem a little cuckoo bananas. When Tony’s chef Joe (Arturo Castro) questions whether Tony should be wasting time feeding dogs gourmet meals while he has paying customers inside, Tony gets defensive.
“You’re silly, Tony… dogs don’t talk,” Joe says.
“Well he’s talkin’ to me,” Tony replies angrily.
The moment is indicative of a man that takes his role as a romantic dog breeder way too seriously. It is possible to care TOO MUCH about dogs, especially at the expense of your own business and with indications that you can magically communicate with dogs with schizophrenic zeal? An aside involving two of said customers looking at the scene with Tony and the dogs and wondering aloud why they couldn’t get the special makes it seem like Tony might be ignoring his customers to his own detriment. One wouldn’t be surprised to see Tony in a straight jacket with his restaurant shuttered not too long afterwards.
The original scene shows the eccentric restaurant owner, at a super-saiyan level of Italian— belting out “Bella Notte.” What he adds to the scene helped to make it one the most iconic things in Disney history—no one would have ever thought spaghetti noodles were an avenue to first base. Is it weird to think the new dogs lack the chemistry of the old ones? Cartoons make it easier to suspend belief than a film trying to achieve an aspect of realism.
In an interview, F. Murray Abraham talked about how he felt burdened by the responsibility of bringing Tony to life. When people think of Lady and the Tramp they think of the scene with Tony. To be fair, Abraham does the role justice and that’s the point: Tony’s personality isn’t as charming in a live-action movie. As an actor, trying to replicate (or improve upon) the brilliance of an animated character is like attending your first karate class and all of a sudden finding yourself in the ring with Mike Tyson (circa 1988).
Should Disney’s live-action remakes be carbon copies of their predecessors?
Disney has been riding a wave of live-action remakes; Cinderella (2015), The Jungle Book (2016), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Dumbo (2019), Aladdin (2019), The Lion King (2019) and now Lady and the Tramp (2019). In the immediate future, we will see live-action versions of Mulan, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Snow White, Peter Pan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame to name a few…Whether these films are made too realistic (as is the case of The Lion King) or find a happy medium between cartoon charisma and picture-perfect realism remains to be seen. Regardless, there will almost certainly be moments/characters sacrificed along the way. We can only hope that the remakes find enough magic of their own without diluting nostalgia.
When you’re a kid, you pretty much think you live in a cartoon—the world is an exaggerated (in your face) version of itself. You don’t ignore uncle Larry’s beer belly or aunt Tina’s leopard print Uggs. Animated pictures and television shows only add to the idea that we live in one big playground. Everything is either taken literally or at face value. Elephants can fly, the world used to be black and white (obviously look at the photographs) and dogs can not only talk but order the special. This is why children’s films are a sacred thing: there is no ceiling. Live-actions remakes run the risk of ceilings.
Maybe original ideas are too risky. Proven intellectual property pays the bills. Maybe characters like Tony will remain iconic in their original animations, untarnished by live-action remakes. Or maybe insanity is doing the same thing over and over without caring about the results.
Movies rock regardless.