“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, greats from other studios like “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, from concept to completion, and watching them was what made it click to me that animation is art imitating life, that a lot of work is put into perfecting the art-form, and that’s when I really started to pay attention for the first time and gained a lot of respect for the medium.
“Lady And The Tramp” is a love story but it’s also a love letter to dogs, man’s intrepid best friend, and their ever-changing relationship with humans, chronicling their lives. I feel like this is one of the most underrated Disney classics from Walt’s era. Don’t get me wrong, everyone knows about the “Bella Notte” spaghetti sequence and everyone talks about how romantic it is (because it truly is), but there are so many other reasons why this movie is remarkable and beautiful. For one example, “Lady And The Tramp” has a very clever, brisk, tightly-written and surprisingly unpredictable screenplay. There are a whole lot of elements strewn throughout the film – like the rat poking around the backyard, Jim Dear and Darling’s newborn baby, the dog-hating aunt, Lady and the Tramp’s strained romance, the dogcatcher cracking down on strays, and Trusty’s lost sense of smell – that are seemingly and innocuously unconnected for most of the movie until the last act, when they all coalesce perfectly to create a thrilling climax where Lady and the Tramp have to save Lady’s family from losing their youngest member to wild vermin, followed by Lady, Jock and Trusty having to rescue Tramp from being euthanized by the dogcatcher.
Like a lot of Disney films, “Lady and the Tramp” is very much a film of its day with 1950’s attitudes and values, which couples well with the film’s setting in the early 1900’s, along with the movie’s remarkably extensive exploration of the various social classes represented by dogs (from the sheltered and secure house pets, to the scruffy and down-on-their-luck dogs 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.
When we first meet her, Lady is a precocious and adorable little scamp of a puppy, and something of a troublemaker, but is very loving and loyal. As a young adult, Lady is a house pet who hasn’t lost her best qualities as a pup, still fiercely devoted to her owners and content in her everyday life, but is just starting to get an idea of what the outside world is like beyond her front yard. Lady has a close friendship with two older neighborhood dogs, Jock and Trusty (a Scotsman and a Southerner by the way, a match made in heaven), who act as mentors to her and are really her honorary uncles and father figures. Disrupting her usual routine (in a good way), Lady has infrequent encounters with a roguish troublemaker from across the tracks, Tramp, who she may or may not have a crush on.
The male protagonist of the film, Tramp, is a courageous, free-spirited, clever and scruffy mutt who wanders from place to place, and compared to Lady, his appearances aren’t as frequent. He’s crafty, cunning and charismatic; he’s scrappy and a pretty tough brawler from spending years on the streets; and he’s also somewhat cynical and jaded. 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.
It’s implied that Tramp may have had a bad experience with humans in the past – his owners may have abandoned him in favor of their new baby, or he may have left them behind by choice – and he generally has the demeanor of an easygoing, traveling salesman (the voice Larry Roberts gives Tramp certainly fits the profile, so Lady definitely has a unique taste in men, being attracted to a slick canine salesdog with a heart of gold). When one of her owners gets unexpectedly pregnant, 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. Since the Darlings don’t have as much time for her as they used to, she honestly envies the little 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. With many of the couples from the golden and silver eras – like Bambi & Faline, Snow White & Prince Florian, Cinderella & Prince Charming, or Aurora & Phillip – there wasn’t much development to their relationship beyond the lovebirds meeting and falling in love, and if there was any sort of conflict it was the external kind: like the villain trying to break them up or the villain trying to kill them. Lady and the Tramp’s relationship is substantially more developed, and while they face the usual external conflict (in the form of the killer rat and the dogcatcher) they also deal with some internal strife between the two of them. It’s 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, and that relationships can have rocky periods.
After having a hellish day, courtesy of Aunt Sarah and her devil cats, and being somewhat neglected for several months before then, it feels good for Lady to get away from home for a day or two. She has has one of the best nights of her life seeing the town and bonding with her street dog friend, Tramp, who wants to show her a good time. 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 enter a relationship without really thinking about what it will mean in the long term, 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, since she has a life back home and he gets that, 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 before her, 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 starts to wonder if she rushed into this and she and Tramp aren’t as compatible as she thought. She regrets loving him and giving him her virginity, so she tells him to go fuck himself when he visits her later to shoddily apologize, 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. Lady has displayed courage, backbone and self-respect in the movie before now, but not as fiercely or under these circumstances, and it’s clear she’s learned she should stand up for herself more. Tramp, of course, isn’t a bad dog like she thinks, just a bit selfish. He still helps her to save the Darling’s baby, despite previously making it clear that he doesn’t like the little things, because he knows how much Lady’s family means to her and he doesn’t want to see the little tyke be killed by a rat.
It’s when Tramp nearly gets himself killed helping Lady protect the youngest member of her family that she knows his feelings for her are real and he gets a second chance, and it’s when he learns to commit that their relationship flourishes. During a time skip, Tramp winds up giving up his increasingly dangerous and near-fatal life as a stray to try out being a house pet (again) and make things work with his pidge, who’s glad to have him safe, and in the end he’s pretty content with his choice. “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 many years later 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. Jock is a short but scrappy Scottish terrier. He can have a fiery temper and stern demeanor when provoked, as Tramp discovers a few times, but overall he’s a sweetheart who’s warm, friendly and amiable. Likewise, Trusty the bloodhound is an old Southern gentleman with a thick accent. A retired lawdog, Trusty can be somewhat absent-minded and has a tendency to drone on about life in the south, but is just as good-natured and fatherly as his pal. Don’t let his old age fool you either, Trusty proves to have nerves of steel. After having a strong presence in the first act, Jock and Trusty surprisingly disappear for much of the movie, but when they are around they have their own side-arc involving them overcoming their prejudices towards Tramp, a lower-class ruffian who has an interest in Lady and who they worry might lead Lady astray.
Jock and Trusty are more than a bit classist, though they eventually realize what jerks they’ve been after Tramp does Lady a solid with her rat problem, so they set out to help ‘Ms. Lady’ rescue her bad-boy boyfriend from being put down. Up until now, several characters have speculated if Trusty has lost his once famous sense of smell (which may be the dog equivalent of growing senile), but as it turns out, there are some talents or instincts that stick with you your entire life. Jim Dear and Darling are Lady’s loving and pleasant, 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 most of the animal characters in the film. They’re good pet owners, but they get swept up in the excitement of a new baby and start to forget about Lady. When they notice she’s acting strangely however, they make a greater effort to include her and let her know she’s still loved and still a part of their family.
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 is first and foremost a cat lover who dotes on her spoiled pets and intensely dislikes dogs (since this is a talking dog movie, cats are pretty fucking evil by the way. There’s even an entire song where Aunt Sarah’s cats trash the house and pin it all on Lady). Unlike Jim and Darling, who are sometimes unthinkingly dismissive, Sarah gives Lady the cold shoulder on purpose. In fact, the woman dislikes dogs so much that she ignores Lady’s desperate and suspicious warning about a rat breaking into the house, which nearly costs the Darlings their baby, and nearly gets Tramp killed unjustly right after, which imparts a lasting and humbling lesson on her.
Despite there being so many side-characters in this movie, there’s a satisfying sense that most of them do manage to receive 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, like the sassy Peg and her musically-inclined back-up mutts in the pound, a work-obsessed, busy beaver in the zoo and an antagonistic pair of Siamese cats. But the two most notable examples are Tony and Joe, a pair of eccentric, theatrical, spirited Italian chefs who have a fondness for Tramp. They really only get one major scene but they make the absolute most of it, since they ship a pair of dogs and help them out with their date. 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.
“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 its lush, iridescent, colorful backgrounds and easily establish its 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 and refined throughout the film and there are times, like Tramp’s fight with the alley dogs, where you can you actually feel tension tumbling off the screen. That’s awesome. The only noticeable flaw I noticed was the odd reveal of Jim Dear and Darling’s baby, which resembles a baby doll more than it does a newborn, but it’s quickly forgotten.
The music has an enormous amount of presence in “Lady And The Tramp” and is a large part of the movie’s identity. While the songs don’t tend to stick around for very long, they’re all very lovely; thanks in no small part to Peggy Lee, whose contributions range from a warm, 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, and “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. The whistling chorus promises an open future filled with endless possibilities and loads of untapped potential, making it very easy to believe that Lady and the Tramp would get swept up in such a romantic outing, since the audience does as well. It’s actually not surprising 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, sprightly and at times fervent theme), with the occasional bit of fear and dread creeping in towards the end as things get darker.
In short, “Lady and the Tramp” is a beautiful movie. I love the animation, the music, and Lady and the Tramp as a couple. They care for each other, a lot, but their relationship is far from perfect; they both have to work at it and really earn their happily ever after. “Pinocchio” may give it competition 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.
* Thanks to Trusty, I’m quite fond of calling our heroine ‘Ms. Lady’.
* I love that when Lady gets a new collar, her first impulse is to run next door and show off that bling – she’s clearly loving the attention.
* “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.
* “I wouldn’t take it too personally, they are only humans after all” That’s racist, Jock.
* “It didn’t hurt, really, but Darling has never struck me before” That does not sound right out of context.
* “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’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?
* This concept art for Si and Am is pretty cringy.
* “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 too much about what would have happened to Lady if Tramp hadn’t appeared to save her from those dogs.
* “I wouldn’t even bother with them” “Why not?” “They’re too closely related to humans” That’s still racist.
* “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!” “Alright, he’s a-talking to you! You the boss!”
* “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, George Wallace’s score is just perfect for getting you lost in this scene.
* 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.
* “Miserable being must find more miserable being, then he’s happy” Why does that describe me so well?
* “There, there Ms. Lady, some of the finest people I’ve ever tracked down were jailbirds”.
* It sure is convenient for the plot that the evil rat waited until Lady was home and her relationship with Tramp 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, 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. Yowza.
* I like to think Tramp encouraged Lady to be a bit more 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 / A Spring In The Rain by GreenWallsOfArt.
- My Fair Lady by VioletsAndLillies.
- Just A Little Walk by VivaJayne.
- 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.
- Lady And The Tramp: Family Troubles by Heroes N’ Disney.
- Complications by Titch98.