RELEASE DATE: Wednesday 22nd June 1955
When you look at the story-based movies in the Disney canon up to this point: Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan, they had one thing in common: they were all adapted from existing stories. With Lady and the Tramp, audiences saw the first original full-length story to come out of the House of Mouse.
One of Disney's story men - Joe Grant - first came up with the basic concept in 1937. He himself owned a dog called Lady who had been pushed aside somewhat at the arrival of a baby. Walt liked the idea and the story continued to germinate in the minds of the Disney storytellers, even after Joe Grant had left the company. Eventually the character of the Tramp was created and the story found its heart.
Always one to push the envelope using new technologies, Walt decided that this would be the first animated film to use the new widescreen "Cinemascope" format. This provided a new challenge to the animators and background artists, as they now had a lot more space to fill and they had to reconsider how to lay out each shot.
All of the years of planning and hard work paid off. Lady and the Tramp was a resounding success, and the highest grossing film that the company had seen since the very first release of Snow White. The world simply fell in love with this beautiful doggy tale.
The film opens on a cold winter Christmas night. The story's main human characters (although they are far from main characters) "Darling" and "Jim Dear" are exchanging presents. Darling opens a hat box to reveal an adorable Cocker Spaniel puppy. (This is allegedly exactly the way Walt gave his wife a puppy one Christmas!) They decide to call their new baby "Lady."
The little puppy instantly wins their love, but she proves to be quite demanding and ends up being rather spoiled. Months pass and she has developed into a beautiful and energetic dog.
She lives a loving and affectionate life with Darling and Jim Dear, and she gets along well with her neighbours Jock and Trusty.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, the homeless Tramp lives his life of freedom to the fullest. He has a number of places he can get food from and he doesn't have anyone or anything to tie him down.
One morning Lady is very upset. She explains to Jock and Trusty that something strange has happened to Darling and Jim Dear, and they've started treating her differently. They won't play with her and they're much quicker to anger. Jock and Trusty inform Lady that her humans are going to have a baby.
The Tramp, who has come to the rich side of town to avoid a dog-catcher, overhears the conversation and tells Lady how horrible things are going to become when the baby arrives. As a voice of experience, he convinces her that her life is about to become a disaster until a furious Jock sends him on his way.
The day finally arrives, and as Lady looks nervously into the new baby's crib, she realises that she could learn to love this helpless little creature as well.
Some months later, Darling and Jim Dear go away on a trip and leave old Aunt Sarah in charge of the house and the baby. Aunt Sarah is not fond of dogs, and tries to keep Lady well and truly away from the baby.
Worse... Aunt Sarah has brought her own pets... Two sneaky Siamese cats who begin to wreak havoc around the house and blame everything on Lady.
Aunt Sarah decides that the only reasonable course of action is to buy a muzzle for Lady to wear. Lady is so horrified at having it placed on her in the pet store, she runs away. She finds herself lost in an unknown part of the city, alone and frightened. When a gang of dogs threaten her, who should come to save the day, but the Tramp! He fights them off heroically.
Lady follows the Tramp to the city zoo, where he is sure there will be someone who can remove the muzzle. Turns out he is right... a busy beaver is very grateful to have a "log-puller" to help him with his work, and his teeth are perfect for chewing through the muzzle.
As it is getting late, the Tramp decides to take Lady out to dinner. He chooses his favourite Italian restaurant, run by Tony and Joe. They treat the dogs to a candlelit dinner of spaghetti and meatballs which results in one of Hollywood's most famous kisses.
The following morning the Tramp tries to convince Lady to live a carefree life like him, but she decides that Darling, Jim Dear and the baby are what's important to her now. On their way back to her house (and after an energetic game of chasing chickens) Lady is captured by the dog-catcher and thrown in the pound. Anyone who's ever felt pity for an unwanted pet will feel their heart break at the sad scene that follows. Each dog waits sadly for someone to come and take them to a loving home.
Lady, horribly frightened, is befriended by Peg, an acquaintance of the Tramp. She tells Lady that the Tramp is quite the ladies' man, and he's very unlikely to settle down for a single girl.
When Lady is eventually taken home (thanks to her collar - something the other dogs make fun of but secretly wish they all had) she is very grumpy with the Tramp, firstly for landing her in jail, and also for the stories she has heard about him.
Her high-strung manner is short lived though. She sees a rat going into the baby's room and being chained up, she can't do anything about it. She quickly sends the Tramp inside to do the job.
A viscous battle ensues between the dog and the rat. Both are injured, but the Tramp emerges victorious. The baby's cradle is knocked over during the attack, and when Aunt Sarah discovers the scene, she blames everything on the dog and calls the pound to pick him up immediately.
Recognising his innocence, Trusty and Jock race to track down the dog-catcher before they take the Tramp to the pound, and the "long walk." Meanwhile, Jim Dear and Darling arrive home and realise everything that has happened. The Tramp is rescued in the nick of time.
Sometime later, the Tramp has been adopted into the family and Lady has become a mummy. With the adorable new litter of puppies, the family lives happily ever after.
Not only that, but it's a gorgeous love story. You could take the basic plot: well-to-do lady gets mixed up with rough larrikin from the other side of town, who tries to convince her to abandon her snobbish lifestyle to be free, but she gets very grumpy when she discovers he's a ladies' man... This story could work perfectly well with human characters. The fact that this story is told with dogs just makes it more interesting, but the emotions are all human.
There are also a lot of disturbing home-truths about dogs in this film. The scene at the pound is terrifying and horribly sad. We see a dog effectively get hit by a car. (Thankfully he turns out to be all right, but it sure doesn't look that way when it happens...)
The supporting cast is the backbone of any good Disney movie, and in this movie they're all excellent. From the stuffy Jock and slow, good-natured Trusty to the single-scene characters like the Siamese cats and the hilarious beaver, each one is entertaining, quirky and memorable. Even the minor human characters - though rarely seen - are good. I particularly love the Italian restaurant owners.
Lady and the Tramp is a beautifully told story with so many magnificent "doggy" elements. It's a film you can watch again and again, and continue to pick up on so many new details every time.
The animation is also among Disney's best. On the one hand, the movement of the dog characters is completely authentic. The way Jock's little legs swish when he walks, the way the Tramp scrapes his paw on the restaurant door, and of course, Lady's adorable wagging tail. On the other hand, the animators managed to get so much emotion and expression on those faces!
Even though the locations are more everyday, I feel like this is quite possibly the most expertly designed film in the Disney canon yet.
"Bella Notte" is both the opening credits song as well as the song accompanying the Italian dinner scene. It's a lovely romantic song that has stood the test of time. (It was even sung on "Glee!")
"What Is A Baby / La La Lu" is a nice but completely forgettable lullaby sung to the newborn baby.
"The Siamese Cat Song" is funny, a bit creepy, and probably the most memorable song in the film. I used to sing it a lot when I owned a Siamese cat. ;-)
Lastly is "He's A Tramp," which is sung by Peg in the pound. Singer Peggy Lee, who voiced Peg, co-wrote the songs in Lady and the Tramp and helped write the score as well.
The songs are nice, but the best part of the musical score is the "happy dog" theme, which seems to perfectly capture that doggy love of life. (Skip to about 27 seconds in to hear it)
The music works great for this movie. It hasn't quite secured its place in the overall Disney zeitgeist, but it's a lovely soundtrack nonetheless.
At any rate, it's a beautiful, funny and highly entertaining movie and anyone who's ever loved a dog will find a lot to appreciate here.
MUSHU: It adds so much to the movie, having owned dogs and being able to recognise all the mannerisms. All the running around in circles and the wagging tails. Everything is perfect.