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Should I Watch..? 'Lady and the Tramp' (1955)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the big deal?

Lady and the Tramp is an animated romantic musical film released in 1955 and is the fifteenth animated feature film produced by Walt Disney. Based on a story by Ward Greene that originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine, the film follows the trials and tribulations of two dogs who fall in love - one a pampered pooch from a respectable family, the other a roguish mongrel. Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske, the film features the vocal talents of Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton and singer Peggy Lee, who also contributed to the film's soundtrack. Initially released to a fairly muted response from critics, the film has grown in stature since and is now considered one of the best animated features Disney has ever produced. Its estimated global earnings since its release are around $187 million and it was followed, albeit rather belatedly, by a direct-to-video sequel and a live action reboot of the same name in 2019.

Enjoyable

Trailer (Blu-ray release)

What's it about?

In a quiet American town on the Christmas Eve of 1909, young Jim Dear gives his wife a present - a cocker spaniel puppy named Lady who quickly becomes an integral part of the household. Pampered by her owners and licenced (via the gift of a fetching blue collar), she becomes close friends with her neighbourhood companions Jock the Scottish terrier and the retired bloodhound Trusty. Across town, a happy-go-lucky mutt known as the Tramp scavenges his way through life dining off scraps and helping his fellow strays escape the zealous dog catchers operating in the town.

After being mysteriously ill-treated by her owners, Lady is comforted by Jock and Trusty who inform her that her owners have a baby on the way. Having escaped the dog catchers, Tramp finds himself in their better-off area of town and interjects into their conversation by warning Lady that when babies arrive, the dogs move out. Jock and Trusty warn Tramp off and before long, Lady is introduced to her owner's new child. But when they take a short vacation, they allow their dog-hating relative Aunt Sarah to babysit. Falling foul of Aunt Sarah's sneaky Siamese cats, Lady soon finds herself out on the streets and in need of Tramp's experience in order to survive.

Main Voice Cast

ActorRole

Barbara Luddy

Lady

Larry Roberts

Tramp

Bill Thompson

Jock / Chef Joe / Bull / Dachsie / Policeman

Bill Baucom

Trusty

Verna Felton

Aunt Sarah

Peggy Lee

Darling / Si & Am / Peg

George Givot

Tony

Lee Millar

Jim Dear / Dog Catcher

Stan Freberg

Beaver

Technical Info

*based on the story "Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog" by Ward Greene

DirectorsClyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske

Screenplay

Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright & Don DaGradi*

Running Time

76 minutes

Release Date (UK)

3rd January, 1956

Rating

U

Genre

Animation, Comedy, Musical, Romance

The animation holds up really well compared to some early Disney films, helping to create memorable and likeable characters

The animation holds up really well compared to some early Disney films, helping to create memorable and likeable characters

What's to like?

By now, everyone knows what to expect from vintage Disney - crisp visuals, lots of harmonious singing and lots and lots of sugary sweetness. But rewatching Lady And The Tramp yesterday, I had forgotten just how good the film is. The animation is among the best Disney had produced up to that point and is certainly a step up from the equally beloved 101 Dalmatians. It's clean, emotive in places and inventive too - I loved the use of shadows and lightning briefly illuminating the scene, creating a really dark and mood atmosphere. But this is not a dark film - the film feels like a celebration of love and everything it brings thanks to some wonderful songs that have stood the test of time. Even those who haven't seen the film will be aware of the iconic spaghetti scene which has been imitated and parodied countless times in the years since. But the fact is, it still brings a wholesome smile to your face - how can it not?

Beyond that culinary confusion, the film still has plenty of highlights. The film is arguably the first to feature a huge star in its voice cast with the dulcet tones of Peggy Lee who delivers decent performances, whether she's singing or acting. But I also loved Freberg's appearance as the lisping beaver - it was a character that stuck with me when I first saw the film as a child, to the point where I can still say "66 per cent" to my parents more than thirty years later and they know what I'm talking about. The film's relatively reduced running time means that the story and pace feel spot on but it's the visuals that impress the most. Having watching Howl's Moving Castle earlier this week, it's remarkable to think that there is almost a fifty year gap between the two pictures but not that much difference in terms of the animation quality.

Fun Facts

  • Disney animator Joe Grant came up with the idea and even preliminary sketches back in 1937 but Walt Disney wasn't happy with their development and shelved the project. After Grant left the studio in 1949, his drawings were revisited and by 1953, the project was in full development. Grant never received any credit from the studio for his contribution to the film until the Platinum edition DVD was released in 2006.
  • The Scottish terrier Jock makes two further appearances in later Disney films. He appeared in 101 Dalmatians helping the puppies and he appeared again, along with Trusty and Peg, in Oliver & Company in 1988.
  • The film was the first animated film to be shown in Cinemascope widescreen. However, Walt Disney only decided to do this midway through production which meant that much of the artwork needed to be expanded. He was said to have been furious upon learning that not every theatre could show films in this format so two different versions of the film exist - one in widescreen and one in standard Academy format, 1.375:1.

What's not to like?

Aside from the slightly odd sight of two dogs eating a plate of spaghetti, the film also has a rather less comfortable association to its name. The two Siamese cats, Si and Am, are illustrative of Disney's less-than-stellar reputation for cultural insensitivity and there is no doubt that their appearance is somewhat awkward these days. Much like the Native Americans that popped up in Peter Pan or the singing crows in Dumbo, younger viewers won't understand all the fuss but adults might be somewhat troubled by their portrayal, demeanour and characterisation. It's not a deal-breaker but it does leave a nasty taste in the mouth.

Not being a subscriber to Disney's streaming service, I was unaware that a live-action reboot had been produced and released exclusively for the service. Not surprising as Disney have been going through much of their back catalogue looking for potential reboots lately but it did make me wonder why anyone would bother. After all, there is little about this film to criticise besides a couple of racist cats and live action reboots featuring animals as the main characters tend to feel sterile and artificial whereas this film warms the cockles of any heart. Children aren't going to be put off by the animation unless they only watch CG animations - frankly, a crime in my book. This might not be as exciting or explosive as modern films but that isn't this film's style so it doesn't need to be. I'd wager that if I screened this for my niece and nephew who are both under 5, they'd love it as much as I did back in the day.

The film contains one of the most iconic scenes in not just Disney's history but cinema in general as well.

The film contains one of the most iconic scenes in not just Disney's history but cinema in general as well.

Should I watch it?

Lady And The Tramp remains a quintessential Disney effort, matching some quality animation with excellent voice work and unforgettable songs. It's a genuinely enjoyable tale that may overdo the schmaltz but stands up remarkably well in the face of other animated films, including many of Disney's later efforts. Yes, it has some questionable stereotypes regarding some of its characters but only older viewers would recognise these anyway. But the film is certainly one of Disney's better efforts and a highlight of their golden years before they fell into more cynical filmmaking practises.

Great For: family viewing nights, dog lovers, Disney aficionados

Not So Great For: Chinese viewers, cat lovers, viewers more used to more modern or CG animation

What else should I watch?

Disney have had a somewhat chequered success since they revolutionised feature-length animation in 1937 with Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. However, many of their films remain popular from throughout their history as each generation grows up with a specific era. My own childhood, for example, coincided with the company's late Eighties renaissance with films such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty And The Beast. From the company's early days, there are a number of classic films that have seen live-action reboots - Dumbo is a much loved story about an elephant with wing-like ears who learns to fly while its reboot directed by Tim Burton failed to revive much of the magic. Hopefully, the forthcoming remake of Pinocchio won't follow the same trajectory.

Disney and dogs have actually had quite a long association, although the company often use other animals as well. 101 Dalmatians is a fun but poorly animated farce that has amassed a loyal following while The Fox And The Hound is an uninspired effort from their fallow years in the Eighties. The same can be said for Oliver & Company and the company revisited dog characters again in the underrated Bolt, a CG animation from 2008 that helped revive the company's fortunes once again.

© 2021 Benjamin Cox

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