They called it bella notte.
It was a beautiful but stressful night as director Charlie Bean began the daunting task of re-creating one of the most famous moments in Disney animated film history, the Italian restaurant scene from 1955’s “Lady and the Tramp.”
His stars – mutt Monte, playing Tramp, and American cocker spaniel Rose as Lady – did not share his sense of ceremony as they trotted onto the painstakingly re-created set featuring a dog-height table draped with a checked cloth and lit by a candle in a bottle.
“Rose walked right up to the table and stood on top of it. She did that a few times. It was hilarious,” says Bean. “It’s the little things that you don’t expect.”
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These are the challenges Bean signed up for when he agreed to direct the live-action “Lady and the Tramp” (streaming Tuesday on Disney+), which features real dog stars given voice by Tessa Thompson (Lady) and Justin Theroux (Tramp). The stakes were high in the scene, which ultimately hit all the right notes in the charming remake.
“To me, it’s one of the most romantic scenes in cinema history, not just animated history,” says Bean. “It was important to do it justice. So there were some sleepless nights leading into this.”
Bean had the perfect stars, including the rescue dog Monte, a mix of unknown breeds (most likely schnauzer and shepherd), and the headstrong prize hunting dog Rose (“She really was the alpha of the two”).
The famed dog restaurant was remade in a stone-filled alleyway off historic Factors Walk in Savannah, Georgia, for the three-day shoot.
The new film is a hybrid of live-action supplemented with fully animated dogs, used in scenes where the animals talk or do impossible stunts. But it was vital that the actual dogs hit certain key moments from the original, which required tremendous patience and skill from the professional handlers – and the canine actors.
For example, when Monte pushed the meatball with his nose toward Rose, the dogs gazed into each other’s eyes and chewed on the same spaghetti noodle. The latter act was achieved by replacing regular pasta with a noodle made of sugarless, undyed licorice soaked in chicken broth – strong enough to hold together and tasty enough for the dogs.
The footage was supplemented with computer-generated animation, including the famous nose touch that comes when the dogs chew to noodle’s end.
F. Murray Abraham and Arturo Castro play less-caricatured versions of restaurant owners Tony and Joe, who throw the impromptu spaghetti-and-meatball feast for their dog friend Tramp and his new girlfriend. On his birthday, Abraham worked the accordion and sang a version with Castro on the mandolin.
“The whole crew gathered round, they couldn’t believe it was happening,” says Bean. “It was magical.”
Bean was thoroughly relieved to nail the scene and gladly released the meatballs to his dog actors. Rose jumped right in.
“We put the plate down for them to just go for it and she just hoovered those meatballs,” says Bean. “You could see the meatball whole going down her throat. It was amazing.”