Disney's "Lady and the Tramp" was just re-released as a new two-disc DVD to celebrate the film's 50th Anniversary. It is worthy of everyone's money and attention. Children in the family? Fond childhood memories of the film? A film student? Interested in filmmaking? A kid at heart? This is the film for you.
"Lady and the Tramp" is easily one of the best films ever made by Disney, animated or otherwise. It combines an irresistible romanticized view of Victorian America with great animated characters and a couple of catchy tunes. Perhaps the best thing about this film is the relative lack of overly cutesy elements. Because the film is told from the viewpoint of the animated animals, they become a much more important element of the story, downplaying the tendency to make animated animals `adorable' and `cuddly' (see Disney's current "Chicken Little" for an example of how overdoing it doesn't work).
On Christmas morning, Darling, the lady of the house, opens a gift from her husband, Jim Dear. The box moves, wiggles and whimpers, and Darling finds a little Cocker Spaniel puppy inside whom they quickly name Lady. Lady is soon an integral part of the family and has grown into a beautiful adult dog living a happy life following Darling around and waiting for Jim Dear to come home. When Darling has a baby, Lady initially feels neglected as she no longer receives the attention she once did. The Tramp, a mutt who makes it his practice to visit many of his adult friends on a weekly basis, stopping at the Italian restaurant one night, the deli the next, takes a liking to Lady. Darling's aunt comes to visit and take care of the baby while Jim Dear and Darling are away on a trip. Her two Siamese cats, Si and Am cause mischief and Lady gets into trouble and become banished to the dog house. Can the Tramp help her?
Made in 1955, "Lady and the Tramp" is a beautiful, fun animated film, certain to please every one in the family. Thankfully, the DVD release features both a full screen and a widescreen version of the film. When the film was released, both anamorphic and academy prints were made available to theaters. Anamorphic films were created in an effort to battle the impending threat of television. Watching the widescreen print, I was struck at how beautiful the film looks. The colors are crisp and bright, the images are believable and lifelike, and it just looks mesmerizing. This is the result of restoration done by the studio for this DVD.
There are two more reasons why these Disney Platinum DVDs are so important for any family or film aficionado.
In each of the Classic Disney films, the primary reason they are remembered today is because of the story. As subsequent generations watch the films, they are equally entranced by puppets brought to life, the plight of a deer, the story of a boy who would never grow up and two dogs who fall in love, in addition to the adventures of various kings, queens, princes and princesses. In the late 80s and early 90s, the studio enjoyed a resurgence creating a new batch of films with timeless stories. These films work because both audiences can enjoy them; the kids can enjoy the stories along with the adults. Because parents grew up with them, and loved them, they take their children to them or rent the DVDs for them, exposing a new generation to the magic of these films.
The story is charming. It was a stroke of genius to set the story in Victorian America. Walt's childhood home of Marceline, Missouri seems to have been the setting, feeding off of the filmmaker's romanticized memories. Not only are the settings and backgrounds beautiful, but the depiction of a simpler time is beneficial to the story. Because there are fewer things going on, the relatively simple story has greater impact. The story also calls on familiar moments in our lives. Many people have received pets on Christmas day, a little box squirming around, with a pet wearing a bow inside. Many people have dealt with jealousy and being blamed for something we didn't do. It all brings back memories of our childhood and of happier times, making the film all the more endearing.
When the story does deviate from the traditional, it does so in an exceptional manner. When Lady arrives in the pound, her fear is palpable until she meets the other dogs, realizes they are all very nice and would do her no harm. This is also the opportunity for the filmmakers to introduce another song, "What a Dog!" by Peggy Lee. While the song doesn't exactly fit the setting, it is very memorable and enjoyable, introducing a very timely Jazz theme into the film. "The Siamese Cat Song" and "Bella Notte" only further enhance the musical heritage of this film. I think a large number of people who have never seen the film could at least tell you something about these songs.
The film does have some racial stereotypes, but they don't seem offensive or mean-spirited. Any dog character uses the accent associated with their name. For instance, a Chihuahua has a Mexican accent, a wolfhound, Russian. Jock, a Scottish terrier, speaks with a heavy brogue, Rusty, an old bloodhound, speaks with a heavy Southern accent. Then, of course, there is Tony and his assistant. Because they are Italian chefs, they have heavy Italian accents. I think the key here is most of the characters involved play an integral part to the story. Tony is the host to Lady and Tramp's first date, including the very memorable and often spoofed spaghetti kiss. With the exception of the Chihuahua, none of the stereotypes seems mean-spirited or offensive. Perhaps you could use this as a platform to discuss this type of behavior with your kids and help them recognize why this practice is no longer PC.
The Disney Platinum DVDs are like encyclopedias of information. They include deleted songs, storyboards, portions of Walt Disney television shows explaining techniques or promoting the films and much more. Each DVD title has a second disc containing a plethora of extras. Of course, the more recent titles have more extras, but the folks at Disney usually come up with at least two or three great finds, making these discs a great treasure for film historians.
Disc Two features a lengthy documentary about the making of the film, covering everything from the origins of the story to the design of the characters to the different voices used for different characters. Each of the segments in this documentary can be watched separately or as part of a nearly hour long documentary. There are two particularly interesting extras featuring reconstructions of abandoned scenes and a different, extended version of the song "La La Loo". There are also the obligatory kids' games and excerpts from related Disney TV specials. There is a lot of information here and it will provide any film scholar with a good look at the making of this animated classic.
"Lady and the Tramp" is a joy to watch, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. Since they seem to have stopped re-releasing the films in movie theaters, this DVD is the next best thing to watching it on the big screen.