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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

“I Don’t Recollect if I’ve Ever Mentioned Ol’ Reliable Before?”

            Lady and the Tramp was Disney’s first romance film.  I know that Disney had dabbled in love before, but for films like Snow White, Bambi, Cinderella, and to a lesser extent, Peter Pan, romance was something that happened alongside the main action of the story.  Romance was not what was propelling these stories’ plots and it was not the main focus of each of the films.  Lady and the Tramp is a romance in the tradition of classic cinema and Jane Austen.  It just happens to be a love story told through dogs.
            It was also the studio’s first original story since Dumbo.  Those who watched the Platinum Edition documentary know that it was Joe Grant who first planted the seeds of the idea in Walt for a story following a pretty Springer spaniel named Lady, but they could never get the right story off the ground.  Since Grant left the studio in 1949, it was Ward Greene who created the story of Lady and the Tramp using Grant’s designs for Lady as the base.  Mr. Disney insisted that Greene publish the novel for Lady and the Tramp before the film’s release so that audiences would be familiar with the characters (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048280/trivia).
            This was also the first film to be distributed in house by Buena Vista, not RKO.  I always considered the moment when Disney no longer needed RKO was the moment that the company realized that it was becoming an empire.  It only took fifteen animated features to do it.  On the monetary side of things, this was the most successful animated feature Disney had since Snow White.  This was also the first Disney film featuring a singing super star.
            You know I’m talking about Peggy Lee.  And feature her they did.  Not only did she have a hand in writing more than a few of the film’s songs, she also voiced a few of the characters: Darling, of course, but surprisingly Si and Am as well.  But the character that had Peggy Lee written all over her from top to bottom was the pound bound bombshell, Peg.  I used to not like that scene as a kid, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve really come to appreciate the kind of number “He’s a Tramp” was. 

            In fact, I appreciate a lot of things about Lady and the Tramp more now that I am older.  It was a mature plot to say the least.  It’s happened a couple of times in Disney films where a young hero and young heroine are shown having a romantic evening together and then we cut to the next morning with the two of them sleeping beside each other.  Then when the ending rolls around – which we know happens in the not-so-distant future of the story – there are babies present with the proud parents.  Similar circumstances occurred in Bambi, but unlike that film, Lady’s night with Tramp actually drives the story in the latter half of the film.  Jock and Trusty both came to Lady with the proposition of marriage, the significance of which I admit is something that completely flew over my head as a kid.  It’s amazing what Disney was able to get away with in a story featuring a cast of animals; I highly doubt they could accomplish this in a story entirely about humans.
            But whether I am young child or a young adult, I still have to say that this was one of the most romantic films Disney has ever done.  Animated by Frank Thomas, their date at Tony’s is so iconic and famous that all you need to do is set a plate of spaghetti in front of two lovers and you’re back to Lady and the Tramp.  I’ve seen references to this scene on The Fabulous Beekman Boys, Glee, and the Josie and the Pussycats movie.  I don’t know if it’s the most famous scene to come out of Disney, but I do know that it’s up there.

            While my mother has always discouraged me from consuming any quantity of Italian food in the presence of a male friend, this film has made a simple plate of spaghetti with meatballs more sexy and romantic than a whole platter of oysters (sorry, Walrus).  I don’t know what it is about this scene that makes it the signature scene of the film.  It could be the wonderful song “Bella Notte,” the moment their noses touch, the way Tramp nudges the last meatball over to Lady with his nose, or their walk through the park where they immortalize the occasion with paw prints in wet cement.  But this touching scene between two dogs (of different breeds no less) has become the pinnacle of the perfect date night. 
In fact, if you and your sweetie want to recreate the scene for yourselves, Disney (of course!) has provided an option.  Just swing by Tony’s Town Square Restaurant on Main Street U.S.A. down in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.  As well as being home to a very tasty tiramisu, the entire establishment is themed after the film.  They even play the film on repeat in the lobby while guests wait to be seated.  And right in front of the outside seating area is probably my all time favorite Imagineering detail in the theme parks that’s so subtle if you don’t know where to look for it, you’ll miss it all together.
            Lady and Tramp are one of the premiere couples to come out of Disney, so it’s amazing for me to think about how Larry Roberts was in his twenties when he voiced Tramp while Barbara Luddy was in her fifties when she voiced Lady.  If no one had told me how old the voice actors were, I wouldn’t have known there was a great discrepancy.  I can’t imagine any other voices with the two characters though.  They both managed to convey the idea that these were two individuals falling in love possibly better than a number of real actors working in today’s Hollywood.
            But the film would not have been what it was if it had not been for the animation.  Considering that the most famous dog Disney had animated up until this point was Pluto makes this film a giant leap forward for the studio.  They did not settle for cartoon dogs in this film.  These were real dogs.  When Jock pushes debris with back legs roughly, I immediately thought of my pug, Max, who does the exact same thing.  When Tramp is in that big dogfight defending Lady, he immediately goes for the neck, which is something dogs do to other dogs and their chew toys.
              But once again, Disney has proven its mastery of imparting human emotions upon creatures that we normally would not humanize. The moment where Lady becomes smitten with the baby is precious.  When Tramp informs Lady, Jock, and Trusty how the baby will change Lady’s life for the worse is really a masterwork, because he goes from being an incredibly realistic dog barking to a perfect caricature of a person fussing over a newborn.  Jock also is really amazing in that scene.  His temperament is so convincing as a Scottish terrier and yet he manages to be the most adorable Scotsman ever to grace a Disney film.
            But if I had to give an award to a character that reaches into your heart and never lets go, it’s Trusty.  I loved that his voice was a true Southern gentleman and I loved his design.  Most of all, though, I loved his heart.  When he and Jock run off to save Tramp, it’s Trusty who takes charge even though his nose isn’t quite what it used to be.  And once again, a Disney film drove me to tears.  I know that Trusty lives, but just hearing him be so determined to find Tramp and even risking his life to save him… yeah, I get misty just thinking about it.
            This brings us to an interesting story development.  Should Trusty have died?  Honestly, I think they made the right call in letting him live.  We wouldn’t have had that great final scene with Lady and Tramp’s puppies wagging their tails as they listen to their Uncle Trusty.  If a grown woman can cry at just the thought of Rusty being hurt, then it would have been downright traumatic if he had died.  This film is already traumatic enough.
            It’s traumatic in its rather realistic portrayal of the problems with stray dogs, a problem that is still relevant today.  That scene where poor Nutsy takes “the long walk” is just a small taste of how many animals are put down every day.  And if you were to ask me who the “villain” of Lady and the Tramp was, I wouldn’t say Si and Am; I would say Aunt Sarah, who was voiced by an almost unrecognizable Verna Felton (I could sense some Queen of Hearts overtones in her voice, but that’s just me).  I know that she redeems herself at the end with the gift of dog biscuits, but I really hated the way she treated Lady.  I was raised to believe that pets are what make families whole, so I get a bit miffed when I see someone ignorantly treating an animal poorly.  So if you have a dog or even a cat (so long as its not Siamese!), give them a hug.  Offering them a plate of spaghetti and meatballs is completely optional but recommended.


  1. I've never been a dog person, but I love this movie. The design work is great; love that the dogs have ears and fur designed to resemble hair. I love the gag about their names being "Jim Dear" and "Darling", though this is spoiled when it turns out those really ARE their names (one of the women calls Darling that at the baby shower).

    The backgrounds in this movie are exquisite. This film was the first they made in CinemaScope, and it makes good use of the wider frame without feeling off.

    As you say, it's a suprisingly more adult film, even with its jovial nature. The two leads spend the night together... And there's that dark moment when Nutsy takes the long walk. It's not just that he's a dog being put down; it's that they made him crazy. This sequence then speaks not only to prison cliches but to our treatment of the mentally ill.

    I love the bit with the beaver at the zoo. There's so much great humor in this movie. I love the musical score as well, with it's bouncy little theme. That near wordless opening with puppy Lady is flawless.

    But my favorite moment is the brief exchange with the doctor: "Doctor it's a boy!" "Yes, I know."

  2. Since I haven't seen this movie since I was younger, there are many things that I catch now that I didn't then. Such as Lady and Tramp spending the night together. In fact, I still wouldn't have realized what was going on unless Trusty and Jock not had a conversation about asking for her hand.

    Ahh Trusty. The Southern gentleman at its finest. As for Jock, I love his little feet and his accent (Scottish I think) is great!

    Nutsy's long walk is quite a scene. It always made me wonder what happened to the other dogs. You never know if they made it out again.

    The music in this is great! Peggy Lee does a great job in "He's a Tramp" and I was quite surprised to find that she sang "We are Siamese". "Bella Note" is my favorite though. I especially like the harmonies in it.

    As for Aunt Sarah. I've got to say she's the least likable character.. She treats those cats like angels and then blames anything that goes wrong on Lady. She's highly unobservant and she jumps to conclusions.

    Now that I think about it Lady and the Tramp reminds me a bit of Guys and Dolls. A male ends up changing his ways to be with a female. I've got to say that I love this movie so much more than I did as a child.

  3. Yes, this was a daring plot. An animated love story, where the lovers' romantic date (THE MOST ROMATIC DATE EVER!) carries on into the next morning after tastefully fading to black. It took me some time to figure out why Lady's friends were offering their hands (paws?) in marriage to her; I always assumed it was because she looked so sad that Tramp had seemingly abandoned her. Supposedly even the title was a source of minor controversy within the studios; 'tramp' apparently brought in negative connotations of wandering homeless guys and loose women. Then there was Trusty's near-death experience and that horrible scene in the pound where the dog gets put down. Side note: I loved Tramp's different identities with each of the diverse families in town, including his alter-ego 'Butch' at Tony's. Tony is a true romantic; poor Joe, the waiter, looks like he's convinced the boss has lost his marbles when he's told to help set up a romantic date for a couple of dogs.

    But this was nonetheless a heartwarming film. Little Lady is adorable and completely believable as a curious puppy who's not too keen on sleeping in the kitchen alone. I think the 'Jim Dear and Darling' gag works--perhaps 'Darling's friends call her by her pet name as well? I know of women who call their girlfriends 'darling', and Cruella DeVil will later do so with Anita. I love the scene where Darling sends Jim off in the middle of the night--in a lizzard, no less--for watermelon and chop suey!

    On a different note, I love the design of this film! The houses are so perfect, like little dollhouses or a Norman Rockwell painting. It's a gorgeous, lush, detail-rich approach that is stunning to look at. The background animators for "The Princess and the Frog" based the look of their 1920s New Orleans on "Lady and the Tramp"'s turn-of-the-century New England.

  4. “...or even a cat (so long as it’s not Siamese)”?

    Okay granted, Si and Am many not exactly be the villains of this movie. They *are*, however, the one part of it that I find highly problematic.

    I fully realize that ‘Lady and the Tramp’, like many other wonderful films, books and plays, is necessarily a product of its time. But as a confirmed and lifelong Cat person (and also as a Chinese American), I do find it sadly disappointing that the stereotypes of both cats and Asians which Aunt Sarah’s Siamese twin terrors represent, to this day remains effectively un-counterbalanced by more positive portrayals-- ‘The Aristocats’ notwithstanding.