I had an unknown connection with Lady and the Tramp composer Joseph Trapanese. His first major composer tasks involved a collaboration with Daft Punk on the electronic score to 2010’s Tron: Legacy. My then-six-year-old son and I mainlined the soundtrack. It was the first time my son fully realized what a background score could do for a film, and he carries that love of the score with him today in all things electronica. It’s rare to have a connection like that with an artist you’re interviewing, so I couldn’t resist sharing when we spoke about Trapanese’s work on Disney+’s Lady and the Tramp.
“Wow, thank you for sharing that! There are those singular moments in a child’s life that we can all think back to in our own childhood, so thank you for sharing this with your child,” Trapanese enthused. “I’m going to hold onto that.”
Between Disney projects, Joe Trapanese embarked on a wide variety of composing projects for film, television, video games, and stage. His score for Disney+’s Lady and the Tramp brings him into contention at the 2020 Emmy Awards. His vast score – nearly every scene in the film boasts Trapanese’s music – draws from multiple sources, including New Orleans-based Jazz, classical inspirations, and of course reinterpretations of the original film’s much-beloved songs. Disney fully supported Trapanese in his creation of a memorable, and memorably diverse, score.
In fact, the film’s opening credits shows Disney’s willingness to play with their canonical films. Trapanese and Tramp director Charlie Bean reimagined the traditional strings of “When You Wish Upon a Star” using the sounds of a New Orleans jazz street band.
“Oh man, I’m so glad you noticed that. Not many people noticed that!” Trapanese gushed. “Funny story with that, from the beginning we wanted to bring the music of the film into the time period of the film. The time period of our version of Lady and the Tramp is actually the same time period as the original film’s – 1910 or 1915, somewhere in that time period. What’s interesting, though, about the original classic film is the music is very 1950s – when the film was actually made.”
The redesign of the “When You Wish Upon a Star” theme, recorded in a single take, provided a very purposeful introduction to the film’s updated score based in early American jazz. Disney proved game partners from day one, according to Trapanese, gaving him access the original film’s instrumentation which he leveraged for references while working through his own score. Additionally, Disney allowed him to travel to set during filming in Savannah, Georgia, to further integrate him within the world of the film. That’s a line item budget traditionally not found in most film productions.
Of the large volume of music within the film, both main characters – Lady and Tramp – have their own independent sounds that, at times, thematically merge to reflect on-screen action.
Lady’s updated score reflects the shift in her character’s direction from original to remake. In the original film, she emerges as the traditional Disney damsel in distress. In the remake, however, she has a more independent direction. She boasts her own desires and her own goals divergent from those of Tramp. The score reflects that shift by giving Lady a stronger, warmer melody with much more purpose and drive. Her score is played with traditional instrumentation based heavily in strings and reflects her more genteel, monied upbringing.
Conversely, the music accompanying Tramp’s scenes stem from the freer, more free-spirited New Orleans jazz inspiration. The homeless Tramp makes his living on the streets, so the score reflects that background as much as it does Lady’s. His music reflects the messier aspects of jazz instrumentation. You hear guitar strings as well as the fret noise, providing that street-based sound reflective of his personality. It contrasts with the more conservative approach used for Lady.
The two scores collide multiple times through the film as Lady and Tramp as they enter each other’s worlds and begin to fall in love. Trapanese found those moments some of the most fun to compose in the film.
“When you go on the dinner date, it becomes really interesting to hear Lady’s music being played with the instrumentation from Tramp’s music. There’s a really fun piece I worked on where she goes onto the riverboat, and it’s Lady’s theme but played by the Tramp band. It was fun to allow these two world to collide and create a new sound for the two of them together.”
Finally, one of the more freeing composition opportunities offered by the Lady and the Tramp remake was to reimagine one of the original films more problematic songs. We all remember “The Siamese Cat Song,” originally performed by Peggy Lee. For better or for worse, the song is burned into the collective minds of an entire generation of Disney kids.
Yet, it obviously would not play against more modern, more progressive, sensibilities.
“Most important in that scene is that these cats have an attitude, a menace to them. Throwing away the cultural problems was step one,” Trapanese explained, “but step two was making sure there was still a certain attitude and certain irreverence to them.”
Given that, Trapanese partnered with voice co-star Janelle Monae’s writing/producting team of Roman GianArthur and Nate “Rocket” Wonder. They wrote the new song and worked with Trapanese to produce the finished product. GianArthur and Wonder brought more a contemporary, pop music sound blended with Trapanese’s previously used New Orleans jazz band sound. The resulting song provided a compelling variety of musical tastes reflective of the film’s diversity. And one that avoided uncomfortable Asian stereotypes.
“I feel really proud of this film, in particular, because it feels like there’s quite a seamless flow between more contemporary music and score but also score and songs and sound of the time.”
Ultimately, Joe Trapanese’s 2019 Lady and the Tramp score emerges as a deceptively complex, accomplished, and engaging work. Far more so than the casual listener ever would have expected from a Disney live action remake.
Both Disney’s Lady and the Tramp original film and 2019 remake are available on the Disney+ streaming service. The 2019 Lady and the Tramp score is available on Disney Music.