Disney's live-action Lady and the Tramp remake will feature a new version of the original movie's Siamese cat song, as reinvented by Janelle Monáe. The Mouse House is actively preparing to launch its subscription-based Disney+ streaming service this fall, as it adjusts to life in the era of mega-streamers like Netflix. In addition to everything that Disney already owns (including, its newly-acquired Fox IPs), the service will feature exclusive content in the forms of original films and TV shows. Perhaps most notably, Disney + will stream The Mandalorian, which is the first live-action Star Wars series ever.
Unlike Disney's previous live-action re-imaginings of its animated movies, Lady and the Tramp will forgo a theatrical release and premiere directly on Disney+. It will nevertheless attempt to update its predecessor (which hit theaters in 1955) for 2019, in the same way the studio's other retellings have before it. Of all the elements in the animated Lady and the Tramp that could use some tweaking, the infamous "Siamese Cat Song" is probably the one that stands out the most. Turns out, the tune will get a complete makeover in the remake.
Variety has learned that Monáe will perform two original songs in the live-action Lady and the Tramp. In addition, the musician-actor and her artist collective Wondaland (specifically, Nate “Rocket” Wonder and Roman GianArthur) will re-imagine 'The Siamese Cat Song" for the film, in an effort to remove its racist subtext and infuse it with a more contemporary sound. Variety is also reporting the characters who perform the song in the movie will not be Siamese cats, like they were in the animated version.
While it's not surprising that Disney is changing "The Siamese Cat Song", it's welcome news all the same. The original iteration has a catchy hook, but includes cringeworthy references to post-WWII Asian and Asian-American stereotypes. Similarly, in the animated Lady and the Tramp, the design of the Siamese cats (Si and Am) draws heavily from racist caricatures of the Asian and Asian-American communities alike, making their entire appearance and musical sequence all the more uncomfortable to watch these days. Of course, Lady and the Tramp is far from the only older Disney animated classic with a racially insensitive song like that (see also: the Jim Crows singing "When I See An Elephant Fly" in the original Dumbo).
In the past, Disney's live-action remakes have often simply left these elements out, in an effort to "fix" the original animated movies. While this strategy has worked for the most part, it's also led to these retellings feeling increasingly formulaic as more and more of them are produced. Lady and the Tramp will attempt to mix things up in this regard, but that doesn't guarantee the results will work or feel any fresher for it. That said: if an artist as multi-talented and versatile as Monáe can't make a successful new version of this song, then it's frankly hard to imagine that anyone else could, either.