Movie and DVD Review: Lady and the Tramp
Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp is another animated feature in Disney’s vault that deserves praise and attention. To this uninitiated viewer, this movie, released in 1955, always looked like a harmless treat about a couple of dogs that swoon over one another. It is that and more, and it’s far superior to what passes for kids’ movies.
Set in early 20th century small town America during Christmastime and stocked with good characters and a steady plot progression, Lady and the Tramp has much to offer: beautiful animation in midnight blues, uniquely drawn characteristics and actions, an idealized town surrounded by hills and a perfect musical score.
The story was conceived long ago, before multiculturalism became an unofficial Hollywood code, so the humor is fresh and innocent and the characters are full-bodied and interesting. A brief, final conflict cashes in on bits and pieces and is more thrilling than a bagful of million-dollar whiz-bang tricks.
Our story begins as a purebred cocker spaniel pup (later named Lady) is bestowed upon a young bride by her husband. The couple is known as Darling and Jim Dear because the picture is presented from the dog’s perspective, scoped low to the ground cowering in foreboding alleys and peering up at daunting staircases. The pace is leisurely, neither rushed nor idled.
Lady is persistent, yelping her way to affection, and what seem like cute antics are actually early glimpses at traits that build the story. This is Walt Disney’s magic. Pampered Lady is proud when she earns her collar, and her discovery of the happy couple’s baby in a crib is something to behold, but her primary function is to protect her home—which will become urgently necessary.
This is Disney in its prime, weaving simple values—a life of work, family, property—into good entertainment for all ages. Lady has her friends, sprightly Scottish Terrier Jock and an aging bloodhound named Trusty, and their story succeeds on its own. Lady meets the Tramp, a cocky, self-made mutt from the streets, and they share the famous spaghetti-strand moment with fluttering eyelids and moonlight and swans and a golden valley at dawn.
But, with its lovable Italian restaurant owners, pre-Soviet Russian dog Boris (perfectly reflecting the Russian sense of life) and sinister Siamese cats, the whole thing is so much fun it’s easy to overlook the exciting climax, which deploys realism in a frightening conclusion with a baby and a rat that smacks the sweetness until it stings.
Of course, it resets a scene or two later. Several threads come together, from Jock’s hubris and Trusty’s true nature to the Tramp’s redemption, with Peggy Lee’s terrific vocal and musical presence, and it all happens in thin layers of subtle strokes and expressions that make the gentle but ferocious Lady and the Tramp a fine addition to any family’s motion picture collection.
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While not on the level of Disney’s Bambi or Cinderella Platinum Edition DVDs, the package pays for itself with a bundle of joys. Lady and the Tramp was filmed in CinemaScope at Walt Disney’s insistence, and the movie is available in that format or in pan-and-scan. The movie, which takes place between two Christmases, improves upon repeated viewings and the extras are very good.
Disc one includes the movie and previews—Disney’s FastPlay feature automatically kicks in and it goes straight to the previews, so press Main Menu fast—and it’s best to let the movie speak for itself, especially when watching with kids. For contrast, adult fans may want to start the experience with disc two’s original 1943 storyboard of the movie, which is markedly different in key aspects, emphasizing Lady’s virtues over the romance.
The dog trivia test is a thinly disguised ad for lower quality Disney movies that went straight to video—poor Pluto rated just one question in my game—and disc two is missing a comprehensive overview of the picture, though the 52-minute, chaptered Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp is worth watching, especially the trip to Walt Disney’s hometown.
Standouts include a fascinating feature on the art of the storyboard that credits Walt Disney as a pioneer in the technique, with participation from one of Alfred Hitchcock’s storyboard artists, complete with drawings from Saboteur and The Birds.
A Steve Tyrell music video of the movie’s spaghetti love song “Bella Notte” falls flat, and an enhanced home theater mix sounded the same as every other system. But what fun the dog personality quiz turns out to be, with everyone grabbing the remote and taking turns to see whether they rate a Lady, Tramp or a Siamese cat.
Proving that classics deserve to be pampered, the successful two-disc DVD for Lady and the Tramp, with references to Russians, Scots, Mexicans, Southerners, Italians and Orientals intact, ought to convince tentative Disney execs to finally release Song of the South on DVD. And, though what constitutes Disney’s limited, special or platinum edition DVDs is confusing, this 50th anniversary edition set is good no matter what it’s called.