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In 1937, one of Disney’s story men, Joe Grant came up with an idea inspired by his own dog, a Springer Spaniel named Lady and how she became a little forgotten when a new baby arrived in the house. Walt Disney loved the idea but as work was done on the film over the 1930s and 1940s, Walt did not feel that the story was working, primarily because the plot lacked action and Lady was too sweet, thus it was put on hold. However in the early 1940s, Walt read a story written by Ward Greene, called ‘Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog’, in Cosmopolitan Magazine, inspiring the idea of including a cynical dog character that the sweet Lady can fall in love with. In 1949, Joe Grant left the studio but the story men continued to use his original drawings and story, and yet Grant did not receive film credit, literally until the Platinum Edition DVD of Lady and the Tramp. Joe Grant returned to the studio in 1989 (40 years later!), working on many of the Disney Renaissance films and Pixar’s films until his death in 2005.
Although the veracity of this tale is often debated, Walt Disney claims that the opening sequence in which Darling unwraps a hat box and finds Lady inside, is allegedly based on an incident when Walt presented his wife with a Chow puppy as a gift in a hat box. Lady and the Tramp was a controversial title, considered far too risqué for a family film, but Walt put his foot down and insisted that that be the film’s title – to be honest, it works perfectly, especially considering that this is likely Disney’s most risqué film up until that point!
Lady and the Tramp was the first animated feature film that Disney produced to be filmed in the CinemaScope widescreen film process. It is also the first Disney film to be released under Walt’s independent distribution company, Buena Vista. No more RKO!
(Special Note from the Authors): An interesting point of note is that this is the film we were watching – in early summer 2013 – when we first began discussing the idea of watching all of the animated classics.
David: For me it was the first time I had ever seen Lady and the Tramp and it made me realise that there were a lot of Disney films that I had not seen.
Melissa: And while I had seen many, I realised that I had never watched the entire canon, and not only the entire canon, but in date order.
But first ORIGINAL TRAILER TIME!!!!!!!!
– ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is a preview of the motion picture event soon to be seen in this theatre’ – Ah nice to see that the incredibly awkward and roundabout phrasings from Voiceover Man are still present in the 1950s.
– Also this trailer is LONG!
– ‘We would like to show you and tell you something about Walt Disney’s Lady and the Tramp’ – thank you for telling us what a trailer is (obviously we have never seen one before!)
– Having dubbed it Disney’s ‘Happiest picture’ and built up the excitement around the ‘world of dogs’, the trailer cuts to images of crying dogs in the pound.
– ‘[Lady] was beautiful, innocent, intelligent’ – err why ‘was’? Are they giving the impression that she dies?
– The trailer gives us more exposition about Jock than we ever hear about in the actual film!
– Furthermore we learn more about all of the dogs in the pound than we ever do in the film … plus the phrasings in the trailer from Voiceover Man are a little … off – e.g. ‘Boris, an remnant of the old aristocracy who has fallen on evil days’ and ‘Pedro whose visa and luck ran out at the same time’
– ‘And you’ll meet Mr Busy the Beaver’ – did he even have a name in the film?
– But now for the worst – ‘And a pair of MICHIEVIOUS ORIENTALS!’ Voiceover Man … please STOP NOW!
– Major spoiler alert! It shows Tramp and Lady with their puppies and Trusty alive with his bandaged leg! Basically the ENDING! Thanks.
– Hi Michael from Peter Pan.
– It seems as though they muffled Voiceover Man, realising that he should not be allowed to speak again ever, and is instead replaced by on-screen text and the Disney chorus.
– And with that, the longest trailer ever comes to an end.
Lady’s character is essentially divided into several parts. She is first introduced as a puppy, and her mannerisms mimic the actions of a real-life puppy in terms of energy, gestures, habits and unwillingness to settle in her sleeping quarters. Essentially the audience sees the character solely as a dog (at least as we know dogs to be!) until she speaks her first lines approx. 10 minutes into the film. From then on, she alternates between being animalistic, primarily when she interacts with humans (and cats and rats!), and being a much more anthropomorphic character, mainly when she speaks and interacts with other dogs.
Her behaviour as both a puppy and a mature dog is very believable and accurate. During the puppy scenes, Lady’s behaviour is familiar to many dog owners.
(Special Note from David: Speaking as someone who has owned several dogs, it is very recognisable and familiar!)
(Special Note from Melissa: In a way Lady reminded me more of your cat Percy. When we started writing the blog, we were visiting David’s family and Percy had a tendency to meow non-stop, scratch at the door and even throw himself against the door … at 5am … in the summer. But he was just so cute that it was hard to get mad)
What did I do?
(Special Note from Melissa: Must point out, puppy Lady is so sweet!)
The naïve persistence and need for company is very entertaining to watch and immediately makes the character likeable. Before Jim Dear and Darling have even closed the door, Lady has scurried past them and is following them up the stairs. Despite their attempts to show who’s master and employ a firm hand, her constant whimpering and determination to be with them, means that they eventually give in. Although Jim Dear remarks ‘Just for tonight’, the shot fades from puppy Lady into a full-grown dog, amusingly signifying that that condition did not stick!
(Special Note from David: It’s hard to be stern with a dog, especially when they are young with their expressive big sad eyes!)
As a fully grown dog, Lady’s actions continue to warm your heart, as she is loyal to her family, even when they neglect her during the pregnancy. Her lack of understanding during that period is very – for want of a better word – dog-like. Although Jock and Trusty explain the concept to her, the arrival of a baby is still such a mystery to her and remains so until she meets the baby for the first time, which she receives with delight as she finally reconciles with her owners.
As a character, Lady is naïve but content. Unlike the majority of Disney’s leading ladies, she does not have an ‘I want’ song or a desire for something more. She is happy with the life she has, even after the period of ‘neglect’ that she experiences. When she is presented with the possibility of a world beyond fences, she does not accept it, as ultimately she is loyally devoted to her family and her responsibilities. She plays the ingénue in many ways, in that she is innocent, wholesome and sweet, but she is also a very frank and honest character. When she gets angry at Tramp, she calls him out on his behaviour (supposedly the first time in which he has been truly confronted about it), demonstrating that she is no doormat – she has pride and dignity, and while she clearly has feelings for him, she is not going to sacrifice her self-respect and he has to earn her love again. Absolutely protective and determined, when Tramp goes in to attack the rat, she is barking and pulling frantically until she finally breaks her chain and races to the baby’s aid. Audiences are so consumed by the Disney Princess issue that they forget that there is a fantastic strong female character in Lady (likely because she is not a human character). She lives up to her name – a lady to the core!
She has the loyalty of a dog and the grace and gumption of a lady – she’s a fighter and a protector. She learns from her mistakes and experiences, and continues to grow. We see her grow from a puppy to a mother of four – quite a feat for a Disney film! We rarely see Disney’s ladies go through such an extensive growth, to the degree of becoming a parent (excluding lousy sequels!).
Lastly, choosing a cocker spaniel for Lady’s breed is artistically clever as a cocker spaniel’s long ears give the impression of feminine long hair, and of course a very sweet-looking breed befits a sweet character!
In Tramp’s case, an Irish Wolfhound suits the ‘rough-around-the-edges’ nature of Tramp!
Segue! Now for the second protagonist: Tramp! In early scripts, Tramp was called Homer, then Rags and finally Bozo (???) – We are not even sure if Tramp is his actual name, it seems to be more of a nickname based on his reputation and the fact that he is a stray dog – he is referred to as ‘The Tramp’. It would make sense for him to be a nameless dog, as he seems like wanderer that does not tie himself down to ‘labels’ of any form. The introduction to Tramp excellently epitomises his positive nature and zest for life, as he sleeps by a train station (always on the move!), wakes up, gives what appears to be the greatest stretch ever and sighs, ‘What a day!’
Tramp is a very effective foil to a more sheltered Lady’s naivety and innocence, as he is contrastingly a worldly streetwise character. While she enjoys the comforts of home, consistent relationships and familiarity, he lives for adventure, spontaneity and change. Although it is more Lady’s story than Tramp’s, it is difficult not to perceive him as another protagonist as his character hugely grows and develops from his introduction to the film’s ending. While Tramp is streetwise, sharp, cynical and even cocky, he is an incredibly likeable character because he is passionate, spirited and has a good heart. He may be reckless and arrogant, but he is equally courageous and loyal, risking his own safety to help others, such as releasing the two dogs from the cart, rescuing Lady from the wild dogs and finally saving a baby from a rat. Nevertheless he is a flawed character and the flaws are what make him engaging. It is easy to question Tramp’s past; why is he so cynical about humans? Did he have a family once and was abandoned, or was he born a stray and his knowledge on the subject of ‘Baby moves in/Dog moves out’ is drawn from experiences that he has heard about from other dogs? Who knows?
Disney’s romantic male characters have not been particularly developed as they factored into the story so little, primarily due to the animators’ horror of animating human romantic male leads, meaning that Tramp was essentially their ‘get-out-of-jail-free-card’ – an engaging romantic male lead that was not human. He is a cad and a womaniser – allegedly women are his ‘Achilles heel’, but inevitably he becomes a one-woman man by the film’s conclusion, and on top of that, becomes a licensed dog, a notion to which he would have previously scoffed.
As opposed to being a restriction, the use of dogs is actually very liberating. Thus far, we consider them amongst the best female and male protagonists because they are so well-rounded. It would be easy to dismiss them because they are not ‘human’ characters, but to do so, would be a disservice because they are engaging, mature, and likeable characters that cross boundaries in many respects, imitating the behaviour of humans as well as possessing the virtues of dogs.
The film does not have a clear antagonist, but instead provides a number of antagonistic figures and situations for its lead characters.
Si and Am, voiced by Peggy Lee, only appear in one scene, but exhibit a very cat-like attitude within it – it is rather typical for cats to confidently stroll around like they own the place, even in a strangers’ house. In a film predominantly inhabited by dogs, it makes sense for cats to be antagonists. They playfully torment Lady, taking great delight in riling her up and keeping safely out of her reach. They make a big mess in the living room, knocking over a vase onto the piano, shredding the curtains, and threatening to eat the fish and the bird. They do so with confidence and glee, knowing that they will get away with it – and sure enough, once Aunt Sarah arrives they feign injury, and Lady is punished. We all know those kinds of people – whether at school or work – the people who mess around but as soon as the authority figure arrives, they have this irritating habit of managing to shift the blame onto others. They serve the purpose of being antagonists within one scene that shifts us into the film’s second story (the romance) as Lady is muzzled and escapes from the pet shop. Despite the awkward use of ‘broken English’, the cats are entertaining mean characters to watch during those few minutes in which we see them on screen.
This leads onto Aunt Sarah (another character voiced by Verna Felton) who is clearly not a dog-person. Upon arrival she slams the door into Lady, and then proceeds to do a terrible job of looking after the baby while Jim Dear and Darling are away. When she slams the door on Lady a second time, the noise clearly frightens the baby as he starts bawling, in which she precedes to sing a lullaby to him really really badly. After Si and Am succeed in getting Lady into trouble, Aunt Sarah takes her to get muzzled. This results in Lady running away, which Aunt Sarah simply allows – good job looking after someone else’s pet there!
Good job, idiot!
Aunt Sarah’s involvement continues, as she leaves the window to the baby’s room open during the night, which allows for a rat to break in. She then ignores Lady’s attempt to warn her – her dislike of dogs leads to a situation where the baby is placed in very real danger. Her stupidity has very alarming consequences. Then after Tramp rescues the baby she assumes that he was trying to attack it, and has him taken away to the pound.
GOOD JOB, IDIOT!
Ugh her incompetence just makes her such an infuriatingly unlikeable person. You want to see her get reprimanded in some way – in the space of two days, she loses the beloved family pet, the baby almost gets mauled by a rat and an innocent dog nearly gets put down. You … moron! They try to redeem her character when Jim Dear refers to the dog biscuits that Aunt Sarah sent for Christmas. Wow all has clearly been forgiven… imagine if the film had ended with her stupid actions leading to the tragedy that could have been:
‘Your dog is missing and your baby has been seriously injured … but do enjoy these DOG BISCUITS! Merry Christmas!’
The rat is another antagonistic figure – a non-speaking character – who is made incredibly effective due to its design. Unfortunately, even to this day you hear rare reports of babies or children being bitten by wild rats in bed, resulting in injury or even death, thus this concept alone is frightening. Consequently the rat is a very believable threat, and does not need any more of a character development than what it gets. The scene between Tramp and the rat is terrifying to watch.
Look at this shot sequence alone – frightening!
Animator Wolfgang Reitherman was assigned this scene, alongside the fight between Tramp and the stray dogs – fights and villains were clearly his forte! He also had Monstro from Pinocchio, the dinosaur fight from Fantasia, Ronno from Bambi, the headless horseman from Ichabod and later Maleficent as a dragon in Sleeping Beauty. He kept rats in a cage by his desk to analyse their behaviour and he made the decision to animate from the point-of-view of the loser, heightening the tension and the stakes of the scene even further as Reitherman attempts to ‘avoid’ that outcome. The rat is an effective frightening villain and we breathed a sigh of relief when the fight ended – it marks a return to the thrilling horror scenes of Pinocchio and Bambi.
Apparently the rat was originally going to be a comic character called Herman … pardon?
(Special Note from David: Good decision there, otherwise this film would likely have been rubbish!)
Jim Dear and Darling (a creative naming decision from the writers, pointing out that many couples rarely refer to each other by their actual names, meaning that the dog would simply assume that that is what they are actually called – we never even learn what Darling’s real name is) are the two most prominent human characters in the film, but their faces are very rarely seen because stylistically, the film is directed from a dog’s point-of-view.
(Special Note from David: Occasional glimpses of Jim Dear’s face show that he looks a bit like Walt Disney or Joseph Stalin)
They are a pleasant couple, exhibiting behaviour which is very much a sign of the times for the era in which the film is set. They are likeable, although they have their flaws, which are highlighted during Darling’s pregnancy when they unintentionally neglect Lady – which is mostly shown from Lady’s perspective. This sequence may draw any dog-owner’s attention to any time when they have neglected their own pets; it does not mean they love them any less.
(Special Note from David: The only time I got really ticked off was when Darling said to Lady, ‘No walk today’ – most dogs need at least one walk a day!)
Also giving a dog coffee?
They have some amusing moments, such as Darling’s bizarre pregnancy cravings, Jim Dear’s comments on not seeing any ‘disturbing headlines’ as Lady grins happily unaware through the hole in the newspaper …
Actually thank God Jim Dear doesn’t read the ‘disturbing headlines’ – it says ‘100 MEN KILLED’ …
… and the juxtaposition between the women at the baby shower gushing over how wonderful Darling looks, while the men in the other room guffaw and laugh at Jim Dear, saying that he has never looked worse – entertaining satire! There is some lovely warm voice acting from Peggy Lee and Lee Millar (Verna Felton’s son), that certainly contributes to their likeability, especially as we rarely see them in full shot.
Lastly, the scene between them, Lady and the baby is one of the most charming scenes in Disney’s canon so far – genuine and truthful.
In terms of supporting characters, there is a strong emphasis on characters with different accents and dialects, perhaps in an attempt to show American multiculturalism? Or as it states in the Making-of Documentary, animators allegedly love working with accents. There is a Scottish Terrier Jock, a Deep-South Bloodhound Trusty, the Italian chefs Joe and Tony, and the pound features a Cockney Bulldog, a German Dachshund, a Russian Wolfhound and a Mexican Chihuahua, among many others.
Jock and Trusty are unusual types of friends – a young woman (or female dog) Lady has only two somewhat middle-aged to elderly chaps as friends – a rare trio not only for a Disney film, but even for films in general! Jock and Trusty are a very likeable pair – loyal, protective and supportive of Lady, like kindly uncles. They comfort her in times of struggle, stand up for her when Tramp is scare-mongering Lady about babies, attempt to offer to ‘marry’ her to protect her ‘honour’, display their fury at Tramp for his treatment of Lady, and yet when they discover that Tramp has redeemed himself, they feel guilty for misjudging him.
While Jock is a gruff and old-fashioned, exhibiting a frugal nature when hiding his bones, he is also kind-hearted. Trusty is sweet-natured and less serious than Jock, but demonstrating the pitfalls of old age, he is sadly somewhat forgetful – it is mostly played for comic effect but there is a tragic subtext in an elderly character losing his memory.
(Special Note from David: I actually got a little annoyed by Jock’s refusal to let Trusty tell the story of his grandfather, ‘Old Reliable’ and what he supposedly used to say. I wanted Jock to humour his friend as opposed to constantly cutting him off)
There is also a running plot thread that Trusty, once an excellent tracking dog, has lost his sense of smell – meaning it is triumphant when he re-discovers it in the climax scene while tracking down Tramp. He and Jock save Tramp from going to the pound (and potentially from being euthanised) by chasing the horse and cart, barking until eventually the cart topples over. It is a truly devastating moment when the camera zooms in on Trusty, unconscious and under the wheel of the cart – tears fall from Jock’s eyes as he nudges Trusty and he howls.
(Special Note from Melissa: My eyes well up and my throat tightens during that scene every time. I know that he survives but oh God in that moment, none of the characters know! It is heartbreaking)
It was originally intended that Trusty stay dead, but Peggy Lee fought against this, arguing that they cannot kill off Trusty as it would be too devastating. Although in many films, the death of a character can be incredibly effective and in some cases (particularly in several Disney films that we will eventually review), there are certainly characters that technically should have died but did not (fake-out territory), we believe that keeping Trusty alive was a good call. He is so loveable and it is a such a relief to see him in the final scene (perhaps seeing him a bit more bandaged up may have improved it a little, but then again, the film does indicate that a couple of months have passed, considering that puppies have arrived!). Besides, it does not make the end of the climactic scene any less effective or less heart-rending. The point is that two older male dogs put themselves a risk to save another – a move that nearly ended in tragedy.
Peg and the Pound Dogs make their presence most known obviously in the Pound scene. Peggy Lee is encapsulated in the form of the Pekinese dog, Peg. She is kind-hearted, comforting, suave and sassy, protective of Lady when the male pound dogs are mocking her for being a posh licensed dog. Most importantly, she sings one of Disney’s sassiest songs! Allegedly Eric Larson who animated Peg, was absolutely smitten by the suave Peggy Lee, aiding his ability to draw this sassy pooch: His former assistant, Burny Mattinson (now a story-boarder for Disney) laughs remembering, ‘It was interesting because here was Eric, who’s a Mormon, and he’s animating this sexy girl and having a great time!’
Tony and Joe are of course, Italian stereotypes, but they are hilarious! Nothing more to say other than they are a very joyful and amusing double act, and yet they are part of one of the most romantic scenes in cinema history, never chewing the scenery during that moment, and instead contributing to it.
(Special Note from Melissa: Think how many animated films have had comic relief trying to sneeze all over genuinely touching scenes in the past two decades)
(Special Note from David: I really liked these characters particularly Tony’s insistence that he understands what Tramp is saying: “He’s a talkin’ to me!” When we were watching the film I followed up that line by saying “And don’t you DARE suggest otherwise!”)
Artwork and Imagery
Many critics of the time dismissed Lady and The Tramp for having inferior animation to Disney’s previous films. We COMPLETELY disagree! The artwork in the film is absolutely stunning, easily the most detailed and consistent of all the ‘Restoration Era’ films. Up until this point every film has had its standout moments where the visuals have been really impressive, but they have also cut corners at points; but there is no such moment in Lady and the Tramp. The film has a clear artistic vision, which is adhered to throughout. Mary Blair was originally going to be the background artist, but when she left the studio, Claude Coats was appointed as the key background artist – he made models of the interiors of Jim Dear and Darling’s house and allegedly took photos from a low perspective in order to obtain a dog’s point-of-view. It works very cleverly and effectively! The Belle Notte sequence is romance personified – beautiful, delicate, and tastefully sensual. Eyvind Earle made many concept sketches for the sequence and he would later become the art director for Sleeping Beauty (another beautiful film coming up next!).
Walt Disney gave a fantastic direction to the animators – to make both staying at home and leaving home look like wonderful prospects!
The film is replete with beautifully nostalgic imagery; from the gorgeous opening sequence with the establishing shots of Lady’s street (an Edwardian American Upper-Class neighbourhood); the dramatically lit staircase in Jim Dear and Darling’s house – which leads to many great shadowy visuals – as well as the wonderfully vibrant colours of the house and garden itself; and again the romantic montage between the two leads.
And… beautiful images of Christmas!
The film’s setting was partly inspired by Walt Disney’s childhood town, Marceline, in Missouri, which likely contributes the warm, reflective tone and style of the animation in Lady and the Tramp. From the 1920s onwards, the Edwardian era was frequently perceived as a golden age (before the horrors of WWI), particularly by those who could remember it – and the nostalgia for the period is ripe in Lady and the Tramp, primarily through tiny intricate details (old-fashioned telephones, old-fashioned cars, horse and carriage, interior design and architecture of the era, etc …). Another film that immediately comes to mind that has a similar stylistic perspective to Lady and the Tramp, is Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St Louis, released only ten years prior to the former.
Was Walt Disney partly inspired by this film?
Dogs were brought into the studio for the animators to create sketches from – much like in Bambi – and as a result the movements of all the dog characters are very fluid and lifelike, even though some of the designs are of course cartoonish and heightened. They are anthropomorphic enough to be relatable characters, but animal-like enough to be found endearing,and of course to fondly remind you of real-life dogs. The majority of the human characters are much more grounded in reality, in addition to their generally only being seen from the dog’s perspective. There are a few exceptions to this, Aunt Sarah, Tony, Joe and the Guard at the Zoo all have much more heightened, and more ‘animated’ faces, whereas other human characters replicate realistic human behaviour and manners, and are consequently more understated in their designs.
Lastly the CinemaScope works excellently in Lady and the Tramp – it was definitely a risk, but it paid off as the scope of the film contributes to highlighting the gorgeous backdrops and having multiple characters in shots without appearing squashed or crowded. However, to Walt’s irritation, not all theatres were equipped to show a film in CinemaScope, therefore another version of the film had to be made in original aspect ratio.
The soundtrack for Lady and the Tramp marks the first – and not the last – time that the majority of the songs were designed to showcase the talents of an individual artist. In this case that artist was Peggy Lee, who performed ‘The Siamese Cat Song’, ‘La La Lu’ and ‘He’s A Tramp’. The score was composed by Peggy Lee and Oliver Wallace.
‘What is a Baby’ is a blend between monologue and song … a very simple, melancholic number that illustrates Lady’s curiosity and confusion, effectively creating a sensation of her thought process – the lyrics beautifully sum up a dog’s lack of comprehension: ‘What is a baby / I just can’t understand’. The song actually has quite a haunting quality with the echoey lyrics. The musical arrangements are very pretty and minimal, with a light twinkling quality – and this allows for the song to transition rather seamlessly into ‘La La Lu’ which is the lullaby sung by Darling to the newborn baby – really sweet and fits the scene perfectly.
‘The Siamese Cat Song’ for all its dubiousness, is an entertaining number. The comedic set-pieces throughout the scene are very entertaining, and synchronise with the music very smoothly (the clattering piano notes are particularly skilful in their integration). The tune has a rather typically ‘eastern’ sound: there is the sound of a gong at the start, and then chimes and percussion. The lyrics are not particularly strong, and this is not helped by the deliberate use of broken-English (‘maybe we could reaching in…’, ‘there are milk nearby’) but the tune is memorable and very hummable! The high-pitched, purring quality to the song is tonally feline-like.
‘Bella Notte’ (which could also be called ‘This Is The Night’) is used several times throughout the film, and is a very pleasant song, translating as ‘Beautiful Night’ in Italian. When performed by the Disney chorus over the opening titles the song has the soaring sound of classic Hollywood, and then the song is integrated into the film’s diegesis in the now iconic spaghetti eating scene, and it once again works very effectively. Romantic, sweet and lovely – it is a very memorable number. The spaghetti scene nearly did not happen! Walt Disney thought the idea of dogs eating spaghetti was terrible, but Frank Thomas, in secret animated it, and successfully managed to change Walt’s mind.
Well done Frank Thomas! A shining example of why sometimes you should not listen to your boss
‘He’s a Tramp’ is a very enjoyable number, a slow-jazz arrangement, and a vocal performance with a much lower resonance from Peggy Lee. It is definitely the film’s toe-tapper! For us, it is the first proper toe-tapper of the ‘Restoration Era’. The song is used to explain Tramp’s reputation for Lady’s benefit, but everyone else was already well aware of it. Unfortunately the song is let down a little bit by the dog-chorus, courtesy of the Mellomen (the bulldog’s bass notes are reasonably creative, but the majority of the wailing is just invasive of what is such a cool smooth jazz number). Nevertheless it is a very enjoyable number.
Our favourite song has to be Belle Notte, but He’s a Tramp is a very close second!
The story for Lady and the Tramp is probably one of the tightest, and most mature, from the animated classics canon up until this point. Structurally the film’s narrative is very like that of Bambi but it takes place within a much more familiar and identifiable domestic setting – and the characters within it are much more fleshed out.
The film’s timeline covers a span of about two years, starting at Christmas time when Darling receives Lady as a present; Darling’s pregnancy continues through the following December, and the film concludes at Christmas time the subsequent year.
The story is like a bildungsroman coming-of-age tale, as we see Lady blossom from a cute, high-energy, nervous puppy to a young ‘Lady’ sporting a ‘grown-up’ collar and falling in love for the first time, to becoming a mother of four.
The film is divided into two stories – the first half focuses on Lady discovering her place in the family, in which the major obstacle/threat is the impending arrival of a baby, while the second half focuses on her relationship with Tramp, and inevitably the two stories are joined together in the final scenes. The first half is engaging, as we cared about Lady’s relationship with her family, and it built towards a very neat resolution (and a wonderful scene) with the birth of the baby.
The romance within the film is very similar to many other romances of the era – a lot like many of Gene Kelly’s films – charming, free-spirited cocky ladies man meets a no-nonsense, kind-hearted woman that softens his heart, they fall in love, there is a misunderstanding / fall-out, but inevitably they get together again and he settles down to become a one-woman man.
(Special Note from Melissa: I love Gene Kelly films … so MUCH! Interesting coincidental fact – Tramp’s voice actor, Larry Roberts played Harry the Hoofer on Broadway in The Time of Your Life, a role originated by Gene Kelly himself)
Perhaps had Larry Roberts not been available, Gene Kelly could have fit the bill!
It is by far the most developed romantic relationship from any Disney film to date – and the animators got themselves off the hook by not having to base it around human characters. Typically up until this point the romances have followed the fairy tale tropes of ‘love-at-first-sight’ and ‘ride-off-together-into-the-sunset’ – and the relationships themselves have not really faced any obstacles. In Lady and the Tramp the story does not end when the two of them get together – as that occurs about halfway through – but we see what happens next, which is the first time we have really seen that.
The relationship faces real conflict when Lady discovers more about exactly what kind of animal Tramp really is. After he carelessly manages to get her captured and taken to the pound, she learns about his womanising ways, and is rightfully appalled. Again this is where the maturity of the story and its adult risqué themes particularly shine through. Essentially, if this were a human story, we have an innocent privileged young woman who is taken out by a charming cad, they have a night of a passion …
… he recklessly gets her into trouble, she is arrested, is mocked by a few ruffians, she discovers that her beau has broken many women’s hearts, and finally she is pregnant and ‘unmarried’, perceived as a ‘fallen’ woman to the degree that even her older male friends offer to ‘marry’ her to salvage her self-respect – heavy stuff! As a result, Lady gives Tramp the cold shoulder when he attempts to make peace and sweet-talk his way out of the proverbial doghouse, and she even sends him away after heatedly confronting him about his shady past. It is only through a selfless act of redemption – rescuing the baby from being bitten/killed/eaten by the rat – that Tramp is able to win his way back into Lady’s good-books – by sacrificing his own safety to protect a human.
The story also deals quite extensively with the issue of social prejudice and the class system. Lady belongs to a wealthy upper-class family, and lives in a fancy neighbourhood. Tramp meanwhile is a stray (or an ‘unlicensed’ animal). Frequently comments are made – by both human and animal characters alike – when one appears within a different social setting. The class issue is not ham-fisted (like some Disney films will be in the future … yes Pocahontas we are looking at you), but is rather delicately handled with subtlety and veracity.
Lastly one of the finest elements of the story is that the world of this film has a clear logic concerning the way in which the animal characters interact with one another. Whenever human characters are in shot or are interacting, Lady and the other dogs do not speak and they behave in a much more canine-like manner. These transitions between human perspective and dog perspective were so fluid that we did not even notice until we retrospectively took the time to think about it. There are a great many films that involve talking animals that don’t manage this anywhere near as well – clearly logic is not always an issue for some filmmakers!
I have to say that of all the films in the ‘Restoration Era’ this is the one that I have enjoyed the most so far. The film has the best artwork and animation since the Golden Age. The story is strong and consistently paced – with barely anything that could be called filler, as nearly every scene involves one or both of the main characters. There are a lot of very mature issues and themes explored within the film too; social class systems and prejudice, a genuine threat to the life of a defenceless baby, and a main character with a shady, womanising past.
I really enjoyed the relationship between the two leads, because it felt like a big step forward for the studio: previously the romantic relationships have been glossed over, or haven’t really factored into the story that much, but here the relationship is a central part of the story. It helps that both characters are established as being likeable in spite of their flaws, and so there is reason to care and become invested in their relationship. The reason for conflict is completely justified – not based on a misunderstanding – which makes the relationship seem more truthful. This then requires Tramp to call upon the need to learn from his mistakes and grow as an individual, which also feels believable.
The film has a few weaknesses too (some of the supporting cast are a bit so-so) but these aren’t particularly harmful to the film overall. I actually found it quite funny that, in a film largely inhabited by dogs, the human characters are – for the most part – rather stupid. The human characters in the famous spaghetti eating scene could very easily have annoyed me, but I was actually really amused by their ridiculousness (“He’s a’talkin’ to me!”). Although Aunt Sarah annoyed me perhaps a bit too much through her astounding displays of incompetence!
Even the soundtrack boasts some memorable songs, which is something I’ve been waiting for. So overall Lady and the Tramp gets the thumbs up from me, I would say that it is the best Disney film since ‘The Golden Age’ as it showcases all of the studio’s best attributes. The film follows a similar structure to Bambi and I personally think that Lady and the Tramp surpasses it.
Although technically I should not be thinking about this so early in the canon, I know even now that Lady and the Tramp will be high up on my list of favourite Disney films. My old VHS box containing the film is worn out due to the amount of times that I saw this film as a child, I have fond memories of it and I have seen it a few times since it came out on DVD. It is such a charming film; I love the story’s maturity and the fact that it does not patronise its audience (unlike many current ‘animal’ films) but instead draws out more adult themes and difficult issues in an entertaining and engaging manner. I am a lover of nostalgia in the arts and this film is clearly directed with a very nostalgic and reflective gaze; the backdrops are so glorious to behold that I could not help but smile at how pretty they looked, aided by the film’s gorgeous use of CinemaScope. So many films of the 1950s were obsessed with CinemaScope, but frequently they were not done effectively (I love Guys and Dolls and High Society but their use of CinemaScope did not do the films any favours) – Disney used the technique as an advantage to the artwork and story rather than as a detriment.
I was really drawn in by the scenes between Lady and her owners, from the happier times to the difficult times, and finally I was overjoyed by the reconciliation scene when Lady meets the baby. One of my favourite moments is when Jim Dear reaches down to pet Lady when she’s trying to see the baby and she cowers, and he lifts her up to look into the cot, she looks curious and her tail wags in delight – lastly Jim Dear and Darling stroke Lady and rub her ears – so simple, so delicate and not at all overblown. There is no ‘We’re sorry we’ve been ignoring you’ speech; it is not necessary, it is all so clear in that graceful scene alone.
And this introduction between a dog and a baby is recorded in many forms all over YouTube!
The romance between Lady and Tramp is very engaging, primarily because the characters are well-rounded and likeable and their journey as a couple is gripping – so far, I would argue that they are Disney’s best couple in the canon up to this point. The Belle Notte scene is famous for a reason and it stands up there in lists containing most romantic scenes; thank God that Frank Thomas fought for spaghetti eating dogs! The music is lovely and the sights of gorgeous parks, starry skies, ponds, bridges and silhouettes of couples in their cars are beautifully romantic and reflective – it captures the hazy, giddy, starry-eyed feeling of falling in love, appealing very much to my own romantic soul. Overall it is a film full of fantastic scenes; the fight between Tramp and the rat is terrifying and the intense climax in which Trusty and Jock run after the cart taking Tramp to the pound makes my heart race even to this day – even though I know the outcome, my eyes automatically well up when I see unconscious Trusty and Jock in tears, essentially because I care about these characters. I agree with David that it has been the best film of the Restoration era, and I look forward to seeing it again – a delightful film full of romance, nostalgia, humour, melancholy, terror and charm.
Lady and the Tramp was originally released in June 1955. A month later on 17 July 1955, Disneyland opened! LANDMARK MOMENT! This is what Walt Disney allegedly said when he opened Disneyland:
‘To all who come to this happy place: Welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams, and the hard facts that have created America, with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.’
In that sense the nostalgic Lady and the Tramp actually seems like a fitting film to complement this conceit.
Apart from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, it was the most financially successful Disney animated feature to that date, earning approximately $7.5 million at the domestic box office (and their budget was approximately $4 million – a PROFIT!). The film would be re-issued in 1962, 1971, 1980 and 1986. It was nominated for ‘Best Animated Film’ at the BAFTA Awards and it won Best Foreign Production at the the David di Donatello Awards. However despite being a tremendous financial success at the box office, the film received mixed reviews from critics at the time. It is more critically appreciated today than it was at the time of its release. The AFI ranked the film as No. 95 on the ‘100 Years … 100 Passions’ list. It was one of only two animated films to make the list, alongside Beauty and the Beast (No. 34).The spaghetti scene is perceived as one of the most iconic scenes in film history. TIME named it as one of ‘The 25 All-Time Best Animated Films’.
Peggy Lee is arguably considered the first ‘superstar’ voice – yes there have been many famous performers that had lent their voices to Disney, but Peggy Lee was likely their most famous star to that point and she played such vital roles in the filmmaking process. Peggy Lee sued the Walt Disney Company for breach of contract during the release of videotapes, primarily because she retained the rights to transcriptions of the film’s music – consequently she was awarded $2.3 million in 1991.
A direct-to-video sequel was released in 2001, called Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure.
(Special Note from Melissa: Ugh that is a bad Disney sequel. It means that I cannot look at the adorable puppy scene at the end of Lady and the Tramp without thinking, those puppies are going to be super annoying. The best thing to do is block most Disney sequels from your mind!
P.S. I think it would take a lot of stamina (and money!) for us to review the infamous sequels!)
In terms of the spaghetti eating scene, that certainly has left its mark! Many have tried to replicate that scene … including us. We’ll explain:
(Special Note from the Authors): We decided to make an occasion of this film, and watched it over a themed meal of Spaghetti and Meatballs!
Including the sharing a spaghetti strand – no photo of that!
If anyone has any suggestions for other ‘themed-meals’ to accompany any other Animated Classics, please leave us a comment and let us know!