51 Days of Disney (Day 15): Lady and the Tramp

Walt Disney was a man who always had one foot in the future, but one foot firmly planted in the past. Whenever there was a new technology, he would jump on it instantly if only to see how it works and how it can be improved. He was also an innovator, though. He wanted sound in his animated shorts to really distinguish them from the other ones on the market, so he made it happen and the world was introduced to Mickey Mouse and sound in a cartoon in 1928’s Steamboat Willie. He wanted his shorts to be shown in living colour, so 1932’s Flowers and Trees became the first animated film to be shown in colour. He wanted to make it sound like the symphony was actually in the room when Fantasia was being shown, so he had his studio technicians work out an early version of surround sound that was actually installed into select theatres for their viewings of the concert feature. He wanted to make an animated film that was shown in the now popular CinemaScope widescreen aspect ratio, so Lady and the Tramp became the first animated film to use this once again popular aspect ratio.

That being said, Walt was a very nostalgic man and he always had a soft spot for the time right around the turn of the century when people were starting to move more into cities, when gas lamps were starting to be phased out by the new electric light, and when automobiles were on the rise. That was the time of his childhood, and he incorporated this adoration of the time period into Lady and the Tramp, but also Main Street in any of the Disney parks (except for Disneyland Resort Paris with it’s 1920’s Main Street) and later into the Carousel of Progress.

Lady and the Tramp starts in 1909 with Jim Dear giving Darling (the names make sense within the context of the film) a cocker spaniel puppy, the titular Lady (Barbara Luddy, who was Merriweather in Sleeping Beauty and Kanga in the Winnie the Pooh shorts), as a Christmas Present. What follows are some absolutely adorable scenes of Lady as a puppy establishing her as being a very intelligent dog that is able to get whatever she wants. Her best friends are Jock (played by Bill Thompson who also voiced Droopy in the MGM Droopy Shorts, the White Rabbit and Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, King Hubert in Sleeping Beauty, Ranger J. Audubon Woodlore in various Donald Duck and Humphrey the Bear shorts, Scrooge McDuck in Scrooge McDuck and Money, and voiced 5 different roles in Lady and the Tramp (Jock, Joe the cook, Bull the bulldog, the Policeman, and Dachsie the dachsund) that showed off his incredibly versatile accent range) and Trusty to tell them about the collar and license that Jim Dear and Darling gave her.

We are then introduced to the the polar opposite of the life that Lady lives, the life of the Tramp. The Tramp is without an owner, he gets scraps from the local restaurants, and constantly eludes the local dogcatchers and wouldn’t have his life any other way. Jim Dear and Darling have a baby, which initially causes Lady some stress that it will replace her, but she realizes that there is nothing to worry about. The baby is born and Jim Dear and Darling go on a trip for a few days and leave the baby in the charge of Jim Dear’s Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton once again) and her evil cats, Si and Am. They cause a lot of trouble and have Lady blamed for and Aunt Sarah puts her into a muzzle. She meets back up with the Tramp who helps her get the muzzle off at the zoo with the help of a Beaver. (A little note about this scene is that the laugh of the hyena was later used in the Africa scene of it’s a small world). Afterwards is the most famous (and most parodied) scene in the film, the spaghetti scene. This is where the movie becomes a romance, the Tramp shows Lady how to live life to the fullest and she shows him how to settle down in one place.

The last specific scene that should be noted is the climactic battle with the rat. In a film that has been pretty benign all the way through so far, this is a very surprising moment. It’s significantly more scary and violent than the rest of the film.

One reaction I always have when watching this film is in regards to the house that Trusty lives in and namely the connection it has to one of my favourite Disney properties. Trusty lives in the freaking Haunted Mansion. I’m not kidding. Freeze frame the house and compare it to a picture of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Besides the paint job and some slight architectural differences, they look the same. There is even a connection in his southern accent and the New Orleans setting of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. While the Haunted Mansion would not open at the Happiest Place on Earth until 14 years after the 1955 release of Lady and the Tramp, the attraction had been in development since the earliest planning stages of Disneyland in 1953. It is completely reasonable to assume that the Southern plantation styling of the Haunted Mansion could have been one of the designs being planned.

Lady and the Tramp is one of the greatest romance films ever, even going on to be ranked 95 in AFI’s A Hundred Years… A Hundred Passions (which sounds more like a top 100 of trashy romance novels rather than a list of the greatest romances). It is touching, the characters are well developed and likable and the animation is fantastic. I honestly do not know why I don’t watch this film more, it’s not really in my consistent watch list of Disney films, but it should definitely be added, especially when the Diamond Edition Blu-Ray is released next spring.


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