Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Lady and the Tramp Poster 2

“Lady and the Tramp” is another one of those movies that’s a fond memory for me. I’d seen “Robin Hood” and “Brother Bear” before it and loved them both (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 is 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.

“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. 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 “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, 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 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. But for the most part, it’s all very impressive.

Morning

Favorite scene in the movie.

Our leading lady spends half of the film experiencing what many dogs do, a sense of her home being upheaved and her own self being displaced by a newcomer in the family, the Darlings’ baby. She honestly envies the stranger for a while before eventually coming to accept him in all his cuteness, 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 end of the story; the happily ever after. There’s still some conflict after it happens, 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, 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, courageous, carefree and chivalrous bad boy. And he is with her, despite their ideological differences. 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, leaving her feeling horrified and betrayed. If the film’s subtext was risque before this moment, it’s full-on adult now. Feeling like she’s just his latest conquest, Lady regrets ever loving him or giving him her virginity, 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 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 a respectable amount of self-respect. Tramp, of course, isn’t really 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 genuine and he gets another shot. And it’s when he settles down and learns to commit (giving up the increasingly fatal life of a street dog for a chance to make things work 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”.

Jock And Trusty

The songs don’t tend to stick around for very long in this movie, but they’re all lovely; thanks in no small part to Peggy Lee, whose contributions range from a comforting lullaby (“La La Lu”) to a saucy flapper number (“He’s A Tramp”). “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 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). Oliver Wallace’s soft score also gives the film a cozy, comfortable feeling throughout with the occasional bit of fear and dread creeping in towards the end.

In short, “Lady and the Tramp” is a beautiful movie. “Pinocchio” may have usurped it as my favorite film from Walt’s era, but I still have a great deal of love and respect for it and I always will.

Side-Notes:

Beautiful Night

* “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!”

* I love that when Lady gets a new collar, her first impulse is to run next door and show off that bling.

* I think it was Unshaved Mouse who noticed a lot of Disney protagonists get scenes of them being nice to children to establish they’re good guys. Tramp gets one early on, and it’s cute.

Lady’s pitch-perfect reaction to her master calling her ‘that dog‘.

* Thanks to Trusty, I’m quite fond of calling our heroine ‘Ms. Lady’.

* “What’s a baby?” “Just a cute little bundle… of trouble” Yeah, guess who fathers Scamp?

* 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. 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.

* “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!”

* 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”.

* Trusty’s battle howl is unintentionally hilarious.

* 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 happy 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.

Further Reading:

Fanart:

Lullaby

Fanfics:

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