Disney to swap racist Lady and the Tramp song with Janelle Monae track
Following on the heels of Dumbo, Aladdin, and The Lion King, Disney’s live-action revamp of Lady and the Tramp heads to Disney Plus later this year. In addition to trading out the animated pooches for realistic doggos, the remake will reportedly cut a controversial number from the original: “The Siamese Cat Song.” Janelle Monáe will write a track to replace the number, according to Entertainment Weekly.
In the movie, Monáe plays Peg, a crooning pound dog voiced by Peggy Lee in the original, and is expected to re-record the songs first performed by Lee — such as the Siamese Cat Song. While she will simply cover Lee’s other song “He’s a Tramp,” a completely new song will replace “The Siamese Cat Song.”
The original Lady and the Tramp featured two slinky, villainous siamese cats (named … Si and Am) owned by Lady’s human owners’ relative Aunt Sarah. They appear as pretty standard animated siamese cats — except for their big buck teeth, a common racist caricature used in depictions of Asians during the 1940s and ’50s. Additionally, Peggy Lee performed with an affected accent and purposefully choppy English, especially noted in “The Siamese Cat Song.”
The song also makes heavy use of Orientalist elements, like a gong and rhythmic drums, borrowing familiar staples from Asian culture without context. The character designs and music choice, while standard for 1955, have not aged well.
Disney actively uses its live-action films to address the problematic content of their originals. For instance, March’s Dumbo completely removed the character of Jim Crow. But addressing the racist tones in older movies hasn’t always been as high a concern at Disney. In 2004, the company released a cover of “The Siamese Cat Song” by Hilary Duff and Haylie Duff for the Disneymania 2 album.
Lady and the Tramp features Tessa Thompson and Justin Theroux as the titular canine couple. Kiersey Clemons and Thomas Mann play Lady’s human owners. Sam Elliott voices Trusty the Bloodhound, with Ashley Jensen as a gender-flipped Jackie the Scottish Terrier and Benedict Wong as Bull the bulldog. The movie will debut on Disney Plus when the platform launches on Nov. 12.