“Lady and the Tramp” is another one of those movies that’s a fond childhood memory for me. I’d seen films like “Robin Hood” and “The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh” before it and enjoyed them (not to mention, “Balto” and “The Land Before Time”), but “Lady and the Tramp” was the one that sparked my interest in animation in 2006, when the fiftieth anniversary DVD was released. There were a number of featurettes on it detailing the production of the film and watching them was what made it click to me that animation is art imitating life, that a lot of work is put into it, and that’s when I really started to pay attention for the first time.
“Lady and the Tramp” was the first of Disney’s features to be released in CinemaScope, and I have to say, widescreen is a damn good look for Disney. The grander sense of scope and scale allows the film to show off it’s lush, iridescent backgrounds and easily establish it’s universe (the shaded nighttime scenes are especially breathtaking). Interestingly enough, although “Lady and the Tramp” is remembered as a love story and Disney promotes it as one, the romantic part doesn’t enter the equation until halfway through. Like the nature film “Bambi”, “Lady and the Tramp” tells a life story through the eyes of animals, but unlike “Bambi”, the leads are not thinly sketched but are characterized strongly, allowing the film to stave off “Bambi’s” greatest flaw: tedium. They’re hybrids of sorts, between naturalistic canines and anthropomorphic ones, and they embody all the traits people associate with man’s best friend – courage, loyalty, curiosity and contriteness – while still being their own definable characters. Brave, devoted, adorable Lady (particularly puppy Lady). Playful, mischievous, trouble-making Tramp. Proud, supportive and a bit classist Jock and Trusty. The character animation is key to making this approach work and it’s as solid as the background work. The movements are quite sprightly throughout the film and there are times, like Tramp’s fight with the alley dogs, where you can you actually feel tension. That’s awesome. Which isn’t to say that the animation is all flawless. There is that odd reveal of Jim Dear and Darling’s baby, which resembles a baby doll more than it does a newborn, and the action seems strangely sped-up during Tramp’s showdown with the rat in the climax. But for the most part, it’s all very impressive.
Like a lot of Disney films, “Lady and the Tramp” is very much of a film of it’s day with 1950’s values, which couples well with the film’s surprisingly extensive exploration of the various social classes through dogs (from the sheltered house pets to the dogs down on their luck in the pound) and the difficulties each class faces. “Lady and the Tramp” revolves around an inquisitive young springer spaniel with large ears named Lady, a house pet who’s just starting to get an idea of what the outside world is like beyond her front yard. Lady has mentoring uncle figures in two older neighborhood dogs, Jock and Trusty (a Scotsman and a Southerner, a match made in heaven) and has frequent encounters with a roguish troublemaker from across the tracks, Tramp, who she may or may not have a crush on. Unlike Lady, Tramp savors his life as a stray and questions if canines really need humans to give them a happy home and a happy life (the voice Larry Roberts gives Tramp is that of a cynical 1950s salesman, so Lady definitely has a unique taste in men, being attracted to a slick canine salesdog with a heart of gold). Our leading lady spends half of the film experiencing what many dogs do, a sense of her home being upheaved and her own place in the family being threatened by a newcomer in the clan, the Darlings’ baby. She honestly envies the stranger for a while before eventually coming to accept him in all his innocence, which segues quite nicely into her new dilemma in the second half of the film. Along with the canine angle, the relationship between the two leads is a large part of what makes this film unique in the Disney Canon. It’s one of the first Disney romances where the guy and the girl hooking up isn’t the resolution of the story; the happily ever after. There’s still some conflict after it happens, the usual external conflict but also some internal conflict between them. It’s also one of the first Disney films to suggest that having a fling or a relationship with a guy you just met has it’s risks.
In contrast to the hellish day she’d been having before (courtesy of Aunt Sarah), and arguably the rocky months before then, Lady has one of the best nights of her life seeing the town, bonding with her street dog friend, Tramp, and pretty soon she’s smitten with a kind, carefree and courageous bad boy. And he is with her, despite their ideological differences. They both get swept up in it all, and come the serene morning after, the film even implies they slept together. She can’t run away with him like he’d like her to, but perhaps they can keep in touch? However, it’s here that the magic dies. Tramp’s hell-raising attitude gets her nabbed by the dog catcher and while she’s behind bars, her fellow inmates sing her a very informative song about how her new man is a player, having already been with a line of dames, leaving her feeling horrified and betrayed. The film’s subtext was risque before this moment, but it’s full-on adult from here out. Feeling like she’s just his latest conquest, Lady regrets ever loving him or giving him her virginity (perhaps they rushed into this?), so she tells him to go fuck himself when he visits her later, and this is honestly something I really like about the film. Over the last few days, Lady has come to really like Tramp, and up until now she hasn’t wanted to choose between him and her strained ties to her family (including the baby that she’s only just recently warmed to), but she’s perfectly willing to do so when she thinks he’s no good for her, showing both backbone and self-respect. Tramp, of course, isn’t a bad dog, just a bit selfish. It’s only when he nearly gets himself killed helping Lady protect the youngest member of her family that she’s convinced his feelings for her are real and he gets another shot. And it’s when he learns to commit – giving up his increasingly fatal life as a rogue for a chance to make things work with his pidge – that their relationship flourishes. “Lady and the Tramp” is a simple, old-fashioned love story, but the message here is timeless: that love is selfless, and sometimes it means being the best you can be. It’s a notion Disney would return to in a far more extreme way in “Beauty and the Beast“.
Along with the main arc for our heroes, there’s also a side-plot devoted to Lady’s best friends, involving old Trusty’s waning(?) sense of smell and Jock and Trusty overcoming their prejudices towards the Tramp, a lower-class ruffian, that comes to a head in the climax, when they help Ms. Lady rescue her bad boy boyfriend from being put down. Jim Dear and Darling are Lady’s loving but occasionally neglectful owners. Their faces are rarely ever shown, keeping with the movie’s theme of a dog’s point-of-view of the world, so their characters rely on strong vocal performances from their actors more than many of the animal characters in the film. Poor Lady has the misfortune of having to deal with their curmudgeonly relative Aunt Sarah – who’s been tasked with watching the Darlings’ baby – for much of the movie. Aunt Sarah really doesn’t like dogs or her. In fact, the woman dislikes dogs so much that she either doesn’t know or chooses to ignore that family pets don’t just start barking and howling madly in the middle of the night for no reason, it’s usually a warning sign. Ignoring that warning almost costs the Darlings their baby, a lesson she soon learns from. So like “The Little Mermaid“, there’s a satisfying sense of all the side-characters in this movie getting their own development (of varying substance) that extends beyond the roles they play in the protagonists’ journey. Lady and the Tramp encounter a number of colorful, minor characters during their adventures (many of whom are dogs like the sassy Peg or the troubled mutts in the pound, though there’s also a work-obsessed beaver and a pair of antagonistic Siamese cats), but the two most notable examples are Tony and Joe, a pair of Italian chefs who really only get one major scene but make the absolute most of it with their theatricality and spirited, exaggerated personalities. The film doesn’t have a consistent antagonist – threats to the protagonists range from the local dogcatcher to mischievous cats to a bloodthirsty wild rat – but somehow this never hurts the film. In some ways, it contributes to the movie’s smaller-scale, slice-of-life feel.
The songs don’t tend to stick around for very long in “Lady and the Tramp” but they’re all lovely; thanks in no small part to Peggy Lee, whose contributions range from a comforting, motherly lullaby (“La La Lu”) to a saucy, vivacious flapper number (“He’s A Tramp”). “Peace On Earth” is quiet, serene Christmas hymn with a surprising amount of staying power. “The Siamese Cat Song” is the first ‘rational guy chases asshole’ type of Disney song, as I like to call them. They’re not all that common but they’re always so fun and crazy (“Why Should I Worry?” and “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” would later succeed and surpass it). The most memorable piece and the highlight of the film is the main theme, “Bella Notte”, a soulful serenade that helps to sell the bliss of young love. It’s not surprising really that the love song is the best of the bunch. Ever since Bambi and Faline frolicked through the fields in “I Bring You Song”, Disney has excelled at their love songs (“Love”, “Kiss The Girl”, “A Whole New World”, “Beauty and the Beast”, etc) and this one is one of my favorites. Oliver Wallace’s soft, underplayed score also gives the film a cozy, comfortable, playful feeling throughout (particularly Lady’s brisk theme), with the occasional bit of fear and dread creeping in towards the end.
In short, “Lady and the Tramp” is a beautiful movie. I love the animation, I love the music, and I love Lady and the Tramp as a couple. They care for each other, a lot, but their relationship isn’t perfect like Bambi and Faline’s or Cinderella and Prince Charming’s. They both have to work at it and really earn their happily ever after. “Pinocchio” may have usurped “Lady and the Tramp” as my favorite film from Walt’s era, but I still have a great deal of love and respect for this movie and I know I always will.
* “So take the love of your loved one, you’ll need it about this time, to keep from falling like a star, as you make that dizzy climb! For this is the night, and the heavens are right, on this lovely Belle Notte!”
* Lady ignores her master’s protests and keeps the house up with her barking and howling and then her face lights up when she hears him coming downstairs, expecting something good to happen. Lady, you sweet summer child.
* I love that when Lady gets a new collar, her first impulse is to run next door and show off that bling.
* Thanks to Trusty, I’m quite fond of calling our heroine ‘Ms. Lady’.
* “Hiya handsome, come to join the party?” Not for another two acts, hon.
* “Now lass, get on with the details” Give us the deets, girl.
* Lady’s mortified reaction to her master calling her ‘that dog’ is pitch perfect.
* “It didn’t hurt, really, but Darling has never struck me before” That does not sound right out of context. It doesn’t sound right in context either.
* “What’s a baby?” “Just a cute little bundle… of trouble” Yeah… guess who fathers Scamp?
* Tramp rudely shoves Jock out of the way, and Jock runs right back over there to kick him out. Good dog.
* I’m sorry Lady, but you really can’t sing.
* I’ve always found it funny how Jim Dear and Darling spend eight months or so eagerly awaiting the birth of their child, and then a couple of weeks after the baby arrives, they entrust it with Aunt Sarah so they can go on vacation already. It wore them out quickly, didn’t it?
* It’s up to you how racist or offensive Si and Am are in the final film, it varies with each person, but the concept art is especially bad.
* “Maybe we could reaching in and make it drown!” Y’all do know you’re talking about a fish right?
* Like the Bambi vs Ronno fight, let’s not think about what would have happened to Lady if Tramp hadn’t appeared to save her.
* “Uh-huh, it’s a free sample.” You get in on that con, Lady.
* “But Tony, dogs don’t talk” “HE’S A-TALKING TO ME!”
* “Exactly, life on a leash. Look again, Pidge. There’s a great big hunk of world down there with no fence around it, where two dogs can find adventure and excitement and beyond those distant hills who knows what wonderful experiences? And it’s all ours for the taking, Pidge. It’s all ours” I swear, this scene does such a great job of getting you as swept up in Tramp’s proposal as Lady is, and I think a lot of it is owed to George Wallace’s score being on point the whole time.
* Lady and the Tramp getting nabbed by the dog catcher is most certainly worrying, but when you think about it it might have been karma, seeing as how their trip to the zoo the day before nearly put a beaver in the hospital and most certainly got some guy arrested for assaulting an officer.
* “There, there Ms. Lady, some of the finest people I’ve ever tracked down were jailbirds”.
* It sure is lucky for the plot that the evil rat waited until Lady was home and Lady and the Tramp’s relationship was on the rocks to make his move, and not during their love montage the night before.
* Trusty’s battle howl is unintentionally hilarious.
* Can I just say I really like Larry Roberts’ delivery of ‘hiya, Pidge’? It’s simultaneously happy, relived and a bit proud. You can tell Tramp is touched Lady came to save him, and after everything that’s happened, both dogs know they’re going to be alright now. And then they notice Trusty has been run over. Thank the gods Trusty didn’t die, by the way. He’s easily one of the best characters in this movie.
* Something else this film has in common with “Bambi”: there’s a nice bit of mood whiplash when the movie jumps from Trusty’s near-death experience to a cheery Christmas Eve.
* Scamp is an annoying little brat, and he not only got his own comic strip (that ran for thirty years, no less) but his own movie. Wow.
* I like to think Tramp encouraged Lady to be a bit mischievous with Si and Am in the future.
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- Lullaby by Winter Midnight.
- Lady And The Tramp: Together Always by RomanRuler.
- Spring Days And Puppy Hearts by GreenWallsOfArt.
- My Fair Lady by VioletsAndLillies.
- One Lucky Dog by Conejojo.
- Tramp: From Pup To King by Necke.
- Beyond Those Distant Hills by HobbitsOfMordor.
- Humanized Lady And The Tramp One-Shots by CurlyTheIntrovert.