Original Release: June 1955
Runtime: 75 Minutes
Directed By: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske
In the grand scheme of watching these films, Lady and the Tramp seems a bit out of place. After all, most of our films of late have featured human characters and have been progressively over the top fantasy tales, filled with magic and wonder. Everything seems to slow down with Lady and the Tramp as we watch what I’ve come to consider Disney’s first animated Romantic Comedy. There is no magic or flying or fairies or little wooden boys. This is a story about a few dogs and their perspective of the world and in its simplicity, it is a huge breath of fresh air in the Disney Vault lineup.
While many will attest that Lady and the Tramp is based on the short story, “Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog,” by Ward Greene, that’s not entirely true. The story was originally pitched as a tale about Lady herself by a gentleman named Joe Grant. If you don’t know this name, you really should. He was a character designer and story artist for The Walt Disney Compnay starting in 1933 and was responsible for many of the greats. He created the Queen in Snow White, helped write Dumbo and was also one of the leading artists for Pinocchio and Fantasia. He left Disney in 1949, and is not mentioned in the credits for Lady and the Tramp, but rest assured, this was his story to begin with. Oh, and don’t worry about Joe. He’ll be back to help out with some other films later on in this series.
Walt liked the original idea for Lady but felt that it did not have enough action and that Lady was just too sweet for her own good. It wasn’t until the 1940’s when Walt read “Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog,” that he got the idea to include a rougher dog who was bitter towards humans and lived on the other side of the tracks. He was Homer and then Rags and even Bozo before Walt finally approved the name we’ve all come to know and love, Tramp.
Joe’s original idea was based on the real life tale of how his dog got pushed to the side when he and his wife had their baby, and this is still very true in the film. Lady, who is the center of Jim Dear and Darling’s world, names chosen to reflect the perspective of a dog, is suddenly cast aside as Darling has her first child. When the two of them go on a trip, leaving Lady with their Aunt Sarah and her two cats, Si and Am, things go from bad to worse and Lady ends up on the streets. Fun fact, Lady being given to Darling on Christmas morning is based on a time when Walt gifted his wife their pet chow chow as a puppy.
The most iconic scene of this film is surely the romantic spaghetti dinner between Lady and the Tramp. Believe it or not, this scene was almost cut from the film. Walt felt that the animation of these dogs in a romantic way could not be done well enough for the audience to connect with it. Animator Frank Thomas, however, saw the value in this scene and took it under his wing, animating it all by himself. Obviously Walt was impressed and the scene ended up being the most pivotal of the film.
The film ended up presenting more challenges than just dogs eating pasta. Lady and the Tramp was also the first animated film to be produced in the newly created Cinemascope, or as we know it better, widescreen. Suddenly, the animators had to account for a significant amount of extra space on the screen and thus had to change everything from how the scenes would be cut to how much the characters moved in a shot, as too much could make the aesthetic appear frantic.
Walt was concerned that the film was not going to do well as it would be his first feature not based on anything that his audience would know beforehand. To help aid the audience’s enjoyment of the film, he commissioned the writer of “Happy Dan,” Ward Greene, to write a novelization of the film that released before the film’s actual debut so that audiences would know what they were getting into.
The inclusion of Tramp in this film is so pivotal. It’s easy to look at Lady, Jock and Trusty as extremely privileged and this could make sympathizing with them a little more challenging. They live in lavish houses and talk about their shiny new gold collars or Jock’s new sweater. It sort of feels like the Real Housewives, Dog Edition. Tramp, however, presents a seedier side of the scene. He lives on the streets and eats scraps and we see him run into animal control early and often. He also forces us to look at the world through the eyes of an abandoned dog, which much like Bambi feels like a very worthwhile point to make.
There’s a real class war going on beneath the surface of the film. Tramp walks into Lady’s neighborhood and comments that even the trees have fences and when Jock denies Tramp a chance to be with Lady, it is based purely on class. The Tramp is the low income, trash of the world and these higher up types won’t be bothered with it. In many ways Jock feels like a villain in this sense, not seeing the good in the Tramp until the absolute last bitter moment, when he finally tells Trusty that they’ve made a mistake.
I really like the inclusion of the Pound scenes in this film and the subtle reference to the fact that not all dogs make it out alive. It’s dark and sad, but I think to not go there in a film like this would be a big miss. There is a sinister thread that moves through this movie. I’ve talked before about how much I like it when Disney gets dark.
On that note though, I will say that Peg provides some interesting points to be made. First off, she looks sort of like a battered woman. I’ve read some historical pieces that compare her to a, keeping family friendly here, ‘lady of the night.’ She appears to have been given a rough life and we find that she constantly goes back to the Tramp who is the sort of man who “shows up as he pleases.” Yet she keeps going back to him. Peg is actually loosely based on Peggy Lee, the singer who wrote the song “He’s a Tramp.” Walt liked this song so much that he had the animators create the character so that the song could fit into the pound sequence.
I love that the rat in this film, which tries to attack the baby in the night, looks so devious. It looks like a monster and I remember being pretty scared of it as a kid. The fight between Tramp and said rat is intense even to this day. I found myself leaning forward, investing in the scene even though I knew how it would end and that’s a great feeling when an animated film elicits that response.
To this point, I also like the scene of Tramp having to fight off a pack of angry dogs, which chase Lady after she runs from the pet store with her muzzle still on. Seeing these dogs fight for dominance is also strongly similar to the sequence in Bambi where we see the male deer fight for Faline’s courtship. It has the raw nature to it that strays away from the clean higher class feel of Lady’s home life and really let’s the feeling a danger build.
Alright, we have to talk about the Siamese cats because oh boy do they need to be talked about. Disney, right about now you’re killing me a little bit. From the Natives in Peter Pan and now this. I get it. They’re cats. Not humans. But they are so clearly Asian stereotypes. They speak in broken English and have slanted eyes and the whole thing just hurts, because you know that some executive was like, “Let’s make them like shifty Asian cats.” This is coming right after World War 2 as well so you know that some of that stigma is still in air.
I think I could even forgive this if these were more full fledged characters, but they aren’t. They show up to start drama and then get taken up the stairs by Aunt Sarah after she determines that Lady was to blame for the mess. They don’t ever come back. They don’t play a roll later or get what is coming to them for being so naughty. They just feel like an incomplete piece of the film and a racially charged one at that.
If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I love dogs and anything dog related and this film is no different. It’s a quieter film, a slower film. It takes great care and time to introduce us to Lady and her perspective and there is something in here for every dog owner. We’ve all gone through the phase of saying that our dog can’t sleep in the bed but when push comes to shove, we allow it. We’ve all had those days where our dog wants to play ball but our minds are too preoccupied and I think being able to see all of this through the eyes of a dog is so fun and heartbreaking at the same time. I laughed when Lady pulled her puppy self up the stairs for the first time, and cried when Trusty gets run over by a horse and nearly dies. The film is the ultimate dog film and I’m happy to say that, unlike most dog films, this one has a happy ending.
I’ll end this one a little differently. Meet Izzy, my German Short-Hair pointer. What is she thinking? What have I done to make her think I’m mad at her? What does she call me to her friends? These are all things I wonder now and I have Lady and the Tramp to thank for it.
Next Up: Sleeping Beauty
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head over HERE and check it out!