Lady and the Tramp

Lady and the Tramp
Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, & Hamilton Luske
Screenplay: Erdman Penner & Joe Rinaldi & Ralph Wright & Don DaGradi (based on a story by Ward Greene)
Voices: Peggy Lee (Darling / Si / Am / Peg), Barbara Luddy (Lady), Larry Roberts (Tramp), Bill Thompson (Jock / Bull - the Bull Terrier / Policeman at Zoo / Dachsie / Joe), Bill Baucom (Trusty), Stan Freberg (Beaver), Verna Felton (Aunt Sarah), Alan Reed (Boris), George Givot (Tony), Dal McKennon (Toughy / Professor / Pedro), Lee Millar (Jim Dear / Dog Catcher)
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 1955
Country: U.S.
Lady and the Tramp Diamond Edition Blu-Ray
Lady and the TrampAlthough often extolled as such, it is only partially true that The Lion King (1994) is the first Disney animated feature not based on previously published source material—whether it be a book, myth, fairy tale, or symphony. Lady and the Tramp, Disney’s 15th animated feature, began life as a series of sketches in the late 1930s by Disney artist Joe Grant that were inspired by the reactions of his Springer Spaniel’s response to his newborn baby. Grant’s ideas were eventually merged with a character inspired by Ward Greene’s 1943 short story “Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog,” which was originally published in Cosmopolitan. Numerous writers were subsequently involved in shaping the story, which Greene published as a novelization in 1953, two years before the film debuted. Thus, while Lady and the Tramp is credited as an adaptation, it is really more of an original story and therefore a unique Disney production for the time.

It is, however, a Disney movie through in through. No doubt about that. In fact, in many ways it is closer to the man Walt Disney’s view of the world than any of his preceding films, especially the way it is filtered largely through his sense of nostalgia for the Victorian era into which he was born and its associated comforts of hearth and home. The story takes place near the turn of the 20th century in an idealized New England town of manicured Queen Anne Style homes. The film begins in perfect bliss, as a cocker spaniel puppy named Lady (Barbara Luddy) joins the family of Darling (Peggy Lee) and Jim Dear (Lee Millar), a happily contented young couple who treat her like their child. Lady’s blissful existence, which begins each morning with a romp in the yard chasing birds and convocation with the neighboring Jock (Bill Thompson), a feisty Scottie, and Trusty (Bill Baucom), an old bloodhound, is disrupted when Darling gives birth to a new infant. Further disruptions ensue with the arrival of Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton), a fussy old maid who sees Lady as a nuisance and a threat, and Sarah’s vicious Siamese cats, whose slinky sadism is neatly encapsulated in their immortal “We Are Siamese” chant, which, while reeking of stereotypical Asian fear-mongering, is nevertheless unforgettable as a character piece.

Into Lady’s previously unruffled life also comes Tramp (Larry Roberts), a devil-may-care stray mutt who relishes his freedom as much as Lady relishes her creature comforts. One imagines that James Cameron had Tramp in mind when he wrote Jack Dawson’s speech in Titanic (1997) explaining why his “rootless existence” is so “appealing.” Tramp literally lives on the wrong side of the tracks (which, in this film’s world, still have aesthetic appeal despite their hard-scrabble drearinesss), but he has nothing to confine him beyond his own desires. It doesn’t hurt that everyone in the neighborhood seems to love him, most of all Tony (George Givot), the owner of an Italian restaurant who is more than happy to feed the stray whenever he wanders by. Thus, Tramp’s existence is by no means bereft of the basic necessities, and he gleefully mocks Lady and the other members of the “leash and collar crowd.”

Yet, the film’s ultimate message is that Lady’s existence is the more desirable of the two. Even though she absconds with Tramp for a while and shares his unleashed lifestyle (including a night spent together that has some not-so-subtle sexual connotations), the film is ultimately about incorporating Tramp into the domestic space—getting him into a collar and by the roaring fireplace, happily married and raising a litter of pups. While conservative messages are hardly rare in Disney cinema, something about the ending of Lady and the Tramp feels almost excessively so, especially given the conviction and appeal of Tramp’s earlier celebration of his free-wheeling life. You can sense the taken-for-grantedness of this social conviction in the fact that Tramp’s change of heart is left entirely off-screen. Once he saves Jim Dear and Darling’s baby from a marauding rat and is rescued from being taken to the pound, he immediately adopts and is adopted into Lady’s human family, no questions asked.

Messages aside, Lady and the Tramp is certainly a gorgeous film (also the first animated CinemaScope production), lovingly drawn and painted in a way that evokes both the incredible detail of its idealized Victorian world and the uniqueness of dog behavior. Just as they did when making Bambi (1942), the Disney animators spent a great deal of time observing dogs in order to animate their peculiar movements in just the right way; any dog owner will immediately recognize the way that Tramp stretches out his back and legs when waking up in the morning, the way Trusty smashes his nose to the ground when following a scent, or the way that Jock bounces up and down when aggravated. Directors Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske (who would go on to make One-Hundred and One Dalmatians six years later) also wisely keep the view at dog level, especially inside Jim Dear and Darling’s house, which means that most of the human characters are reduced to legs and feet and arms and hands. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of anthropomorphism going on as well, especially in the character of Peg (also voiced by Peggy Lee), a sultry stray who has clearly spent time with Tramp and sings a salacious ditty in his honor that would make Mae West proud. It’s just one of the film’s numerous memorable moments, as well as a much needed bit of spice in a film that is otherwise contented with domestic bliss.

Lady and the Tramp Diamond Edition Blu-Ray + DVD

Aspect Ratio2.55:1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish
  • “Disney Second Screen: Inside Walt’s Story Meetings” viewing mode
  • Audio commentary: “Inside Walt’s Story Meetings”
  • “Diane Disney Miller: Remembering Dad” featurette
  • Three deleted scenes
  • Never recorded song: “I’m Free as the Breeze”
  • “Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp” documentary
  • “Finding Lady: The Art of the Storyboard” featurette
  • Original 1943 storyboard version of the film
  • “PuppyPedia: Going to the Dogs” featurette
  • “The Siamese Cat Song: Finding a Voice for the Cats” featurette
  • “Bella Notte” music video
  • Trailers
  • Excerpts from Disneyland TV shows
  • DistributorWalt Disney Home Entertainment
    Release DateFebruary 7, 2012

    As expected, Disney’s presentation of Lady and the Tramp on Blu-Ray is superb. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is pristine, with excellent color saturation, strong contrast, and an amazing level of detail that allows you to appreciate the finest nuances of the hand-drawn cells without losing the filmlike feel. The image is presented in its original 2.55:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, which give us the full breadth of animation and background. Because there were so few theaters equipped to screen ’Scope films at the time of its release, Lady and the Tramp was actually prepared in two different theatrical versions: the widescreen ’Scope version and an Academy Aspect ratio version that was created by moving the animation cells closer together and cropping off the edges of the backgrounds (which had been artificially extended anyway because the decision to go ’Scope was made well into production). It would have been interesting if Disney had included both versions since they are both “official,” but it’s hard to complain when the film looks this good. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1-channel soundtrack is also a delight, as the restored sound is nicely spaced out across the multiple channels without feel unduly stretched.
    As they did with the Blu-Ray of Bambi, Disney has included “Inside Walt’s Story Meetings,” an audio recreation of the creative process by which Walt Disney and his story consultants and animators developed the story and look of the film. This time the disc makes use of the “Second Screen” viewing mode, which allows you to sync the Blu-Ray disc to an app on your iPad or laptop and look at production design sketches and storyboards while watching the film and listening to the story meetings. Also new to the Blu-Ray is “Diane Disney Miller: Remembering Dad,” an eight-minute featurette that focuses on Disney’s love of the Victorian era and the apartment he had over the firehouse on Main Street at Disneyland; three deleted scenes that were storyboarded, but cut early enough that no dialogue or sound effects were recorded; and “I’m Free as the Breeze,” an unrecorded song written in 1946 and originally intended for Tramp. The Blu-Ray also includes the supplements from the 2005 two-disc Special Edition DVD: “Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp,” a 52-minute retrospective documentary; “Finding Lady: The Art of the Storyboard” featurette; the complete original 1943 storyboard version of the film; “PuppyPedia: Going to the Dogs” featurette; “The Siamese Cat Song: Finding a Voice for the Cats” featurette; “Bella Notte” music video; theatrical trailers; and excerpts from Disneyland TV shows.

    Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Walt Disney Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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