Disney+'s Lady and the Tramp 2019 mostly stays faithful to the original 1955 classic but revises the controversial Siamese cat sequence. Lady and the Tramp 2019 follows the ups and downs of a Cocker Spaniel, Lady (Tessa Thompson), who worries about being replaced in the family home by a newborn child. She hits the road with her schnauzer pal who goes by numerous names, but is indeed the titular tramp (Justin Theroux). Lady and the Tramp 2019 includes various musical numbers from the original film, but one particular cat sequence was altered for essentially being racially offensive and certainly out-of-date.
In the 1955 film, Lady encounters two Siamese cats, Si and Am, who sing “We Are Siamese (If You Please)”. Whereas the lyrics are relatively innocent, the cat’s appearances are associated with racist stereotypes of Asian-Americans. On top of that, Peggy Lee’s vocals make matters worse. Six years after the original Lady and the Tramp released, Breakfast at Tiffany’s featured a now-infamous and exaggerated performance by Mickey Rooney (a white American actor) as Japanese character I. Y. Yunioshi - a clear case of whitewashing, at least in retrospect. Back then, such casting was the norm, even if depictions of Asian-Americans were steeped in problematic and racist cliches.
Nearly 60 years later, Disney wisely changed the Siamese cat sequence for Lady and the Tramp 2019, and even has warnings on the new streaming service that some films in the Disney+ catalogue include “outdated cultural depictions.” For Lady and the Tramp 2019, Disney’s cats are just cats. When Aunt Sarah (Yvette Nicole Brown) arrives at the Dear family home, Lady sniffs out a basket and comes face-to-face with two cats who sing a jazzy performance number called “What a Shame”.
In comparison to the original film, the new cat sequence in Lady and the Tramp 2019 is a major upgrade with its overall tone, both with the character design and vocal delivery by Nate "Rocket" Wonder and Roman GianArthur. While speaking with Yahoo!, Theroux commented on the Siamese cat sequence revision: “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.” Theroux's co-lead, Thompson, followed up by noting “That’s the benefit of them being looked at again with a modern lens.”
Disney made a logical decision by changing the Siamese cat sequence in Lady and the Tramp 2019 but shouldn't necessarily be applauded. It was the right thing to do. Studios and filmmaker should want to avoid racist depictions, certainly in a time when the target audience is essentially an entire world of streaming consumers. But then again, this doesn't mean altering the original films to hide the fact that parts of them were racist. So in that regard, having disclaimers on Disney+ about "outdated" content is a good step as well.