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How ‘Lady and the Tramp’ Remake Solved Its ‘Siamese Cat Song’ Problem

Janelle Monáe's writing/producing team, Wondaland Productions, wrote a song for her to perform, but had a trickier task in coming up with a new one for some bad (and ethnically unspecific) cats.

Lady and the Tramp trailer
Disney/YouTube Screenshot

Janelle Monáe sings two songs, including the classic “He’s a Tramp,” in the live-action remake of “Lady and the Tramp,” among the most talked-about of the new offerings on the Disney Plus streaming service.

But the biggest challenge for her writing and producing team, Nate “Rocket” Wonder and Roman GianArthur of Wondaland Productions, turned out to be the replacement for the discarded “Siamese Cat Song” that was deemed inappropriate for its perceived racist overtones.

The new song, “What a Shame,” is sung by a pair of obnoxious Devon Rex felines who tear apart the family living room, so instead of faux-Asian sounds and “we are Siamese if you please” lyrics, Wonder and GianArthur reimagined the pair as would-be interior decorators who have their way while the owners are out.

“The song went through quite a few iterations,” says Wonder. “It needed to be funny and fun, and the cats needed to be cheeky. We took on the challenge gingerly.” They visited the Disney Archives in Burbank, Calif., where they were able to examine the manuscripts of the original Peggy Lee-Sonny Burke song.

“When we saw the development, the process that it went through, we thought, we’ll get there,” Wonder adds. “We knew we were on the right track when we started laughing while we were trying to record it. We were cracking each other up. A lot of it didn’t make it into the final song, but we knew it was funny enough to send along [to the filmmakers].”

“We had to figure out how to get the irony in there,” adds GianArthur. “That’s one thing we tried to protect from the original. These cats never acknowledge Lady. We thought, maybe they’re interior decorators, and once we had that we really started laughing.”

They ended up singing the song in the film, but that was not the original intent, GianArthur reveals. In their early demos, the voices were female, but “when we did it, it just landed,” he says. They delivered a demo with male voices and Disney executives asked who the singers were. “Well, that’s us,” Wonder — who is allergic to cats — conceded.

The result is one of the funniest scenes in the film, two and a half minutes of sheer destruction accompanied by clever lyrics (“That’s what i would call feng shui / Stand back, doggie, give us room to play”) and a decidedly dismissive attitude on the part of the writer-performers.

They were on the film for a year and a half, also writing the end-title song “That’s Enough,” which Monáe sings, and reconceiving “He’s a Tramp” for her. Monáe “has an amazing jazz voice,” Wonder notes, and the film’s 1910 New Orleans setting suggested, in GianArthur’s words, “a Dixieland vibe.”

Peggy Lee’s 1955 recording of “He’s a Tramp” is iconic, all acknowledged. Enhancing Monáe’s equally sassy vocal, recorded in Atlanta, was the inspired notion of recording the music track in New Orleans with top musicians, some of whom later flew to Los Angeles to spice up the orchestral score.

GianArthur and Wonder came out to L.A. too, and found composer Joseph Trapanese’s recording sessions an emotional experience. “Hearing the orchestra record ‘Bella Notte’ was so magical,” Wonder says. “I cried throughout the session, it was so good.”

9 responses to “How ‘Lady and the Tramp’ Remake Solved Its ‘Siamese Cat Song’ Problem”

  1. Wendy Murdock says:

    Stop trying to be politically correct on everything. You ruined the movie taking out the Siamese cats and the infamous song

    • Yin Shi Fong says:

      I thought the entire scene was stupid. I enjoyed the original version, this one just made me angry as I was watching it.

      • Anastasia Joy says:

        Exactly. That song changed my life in 1955, and is the reason two Siamese cats are sleeping on my radiator right now. What a stupid decision.

    • Emma Bruce says:

      I agree completely, they take out the Siamese cats (Who are actually Siamese cats and not regular cats in black face) but leave in a Scottish terrier with a Scottish accent in a kilt.

  2. Anastasia Joy says:

    There is only ONE iconic one anyone remembers from this film: The Siamese Cat Song. They needed to have re-recorded it without the silly accents. This is a disaster.

  3. Emma says:

    Personally, I wish they’d have replaced the original, cringe ‘Siamese’ song with one called “I’m A Fat Ugly Delusional Racist Honky Trump-Supporter Cat” that played over an hilarious sequence where the hideous, hairless, toothless cats destroyed their upper-class owner’s apartment while bragging about not knowing how to use a litter box. That would’ve cleared up the yellowface issue while not alienated the original song’s core demographic: dumb racist old white women who collect cats.

    & I wonder how interested in ‘political correctness’ Yin Shi Fong & his squad would be in that case? Hmmmmmm…

  4. Lisa says:

    Haven’t seen the film, but how did make the “interior decorating cats” male rather than female make it better? I’m cringing at those implications.

  5. razorjake says:

    Hey Disney!!!! Stop making all the princesses pretty!!! -_-………. EXACTLY MY POINT. No one cares that the damn cats were Siamese. Besides, for those who have proceeded to call the scene/cats racist, wouldn’t that make y’all racist for thinking it was racist???? XD swallow THAT concept, Disney! Now let’s replace Elsa and Anna with Godzilla and the hunchback of Notre Dame!