What a Dog!
I will come right out and say it: this has always been a favorite of mine. Even as a kid, I liked this movie. Really, there’s only a few things you need to know about me to understand how I rank my Disney movies: 1) I love animals, 2) I love me some good songs, and 3) I love good characters. #3 becomes more important later in life, as I watched Disney movies as a high schooler to now. If a Disney movie has all three, I’m going to ADORE IT. If it has 2/3, I’m going to LOVE it. If it has just one, it’s going to be a favorite. That being said, I literally have like, 15 favorite disney movies; typically I classify them as before I was born/after I was born. This is one of my favorite classic Disney movies… along with 101 Dalmations, Robin Hood, and Bambi.
Lady & The Tramp has, in my opinion, 2/3 of my favorite Disney formula. That doesn’t mean I’m going to rate it higher than, say, Peter Pan. It just means that I might like it better, but maybe it has a weaker story. Maybe it doesn’t make me feel as happy or as good as another movie. But I still love it. It makes it closer to the top of MY list with any of those three things than if it had none. In the end, it’s just a feeling as to how I rank favorites: how many times would I watch this movie over and over? how does it make me feel? those things.
Anyway, Lady & The Tramp is only Walt Disney’s 2nd original story, after Dumbo. That’s right. All the movies between were adaptations. There’s some freedom that comes with that. There’s no book or fairy tale to adhere to (not that Disney was ever one for really adhering to details – I mean… classic fairy tales have DEPRESSING endings). Things can change with the story or the characters as the animators and the story tellers get to know them. As a viewer, seeing an original story is exciting. We have NO idea what’s going to happen, and we don’t spend the entire time comparing it to the source material (and in a day and age like today when everything is an adaptation, I know what I’m talking about).
Our story follows the life of a cocker spaniel named Lady. She is a Christmas present to her owners, who we only know as “Jim Dear” and “Darling.” They live in a very nice area of their city in the Southeastern part of the United States in the late 1800s/early 1900s (sometime before cars). Everything is fine and dandy in Lady’s life for a few years, until it’s discovered that Darling is pregnant. Lady gets confused and doesn’t understand what’s going on. Enter The Tramp – a street dog who ends up in the posh end of the neighborhood. He comes, touting how babies ruin everything and how she won’t be the center of the universe any more and how she’s one step away from being thrown on the street. Lady’s friend’s, Jock and Trusty, kick The Tramp out, and reassure Lady that everything will be fine.
The baby comes, and go figure, everything’s fine. Although Jim Dear and Darling are busy, they enjoy including Lady as part of the family. Then they go on a trip and leave Aunt Sarah in charge, who is crazy cat lady and hates dogs. She thinks that dog is going to hurt the baby, so gets a muzzle to put on her. Lady gets scared, escapes, and after an encounter with some evil street dogs, meets The Tramp again. He helps her get the muzzle off, then shows her his way of life, complete with, of course, that spaghetti dinner. After spending a night together, Lady wants to return home, and Tramp reluctantly takes her. But dogs are dogs, and after talking her into chasing chickens, it’s not the Tramp that gets caught, it’s Lady. The poor girl is thrown into the dog pound, where she finds out that The Tramp has a rather long list of former girls he’s had affections for. She’s returned to her home, the Tramp comes after her to apologize. She gets mad, but then they see a rat head into the baby’s room. The Tramp rescues the kid, making a mess in the meantime, and Aunt Sarah freaks because there’s a dog in the room. They come to pull The Tramp to the pound, but then we all figure out (Jim Dear and Darling are back by now) what’s happened, and Trusty & Jock go after them, rescue the Tramp, and he decides to stay with Lady. The end.
In all honestly, there really isn’t much to this movie. What I love about it (much like Bambi) is its simplicity. We’re experiencing life through the eyes of a dog. As a person who IS a dog trainer (it’s my hobby/2nd job), wow, did Walt nail puppies right on. And owners of puppies. They try to separate her in another room, and when the whining starts, they give her attention. In the movie, you can see the dog incredibly happy she got through to them, even though it was yelling. So she continues. Seriously, I may refer my puppy customers to the opening scene of the movie. It’s that good. “just one night in the bed.” HAH.
The other thing I love about this movie are the characters. Lady herself is soft spoken, sweet, and very devoted to her family. Being loved and obedient is what she lives for, and when things go off her routine, or Jim dear calls her “that dog,” she takes it personally. She’s young and naive, but through the movie grows (partially in anger) to become more outspoken.
The Tramp is also a very lovable character. He’s footloose and “collar-free,” as he calls it. He’s not tied down and loves it. At the same time, as an adult now, I can see a bit of a burned character in him. He seems to know a lot about new babies, and I think he might even mention how he once had a family. Suddenly his actions and behaviors make sense. He was dumped, and had to figure out how to survive on his own. Does he really enjoy his free life? I think it’s argued that no, he really doesn’t. While lady’s in the Pound, a dog named Peg mentions that one day he’ll meet a girl he’ll actually stick around for. Lady just happens to be that girl.
This story is first and foremost a love story. love between humans and their dogs, and the love between Lady and The Tramp. I guess a lot of people don’t really get why at the end the Tramp just stayed with Lady. He loved her. She made him better and she made him realize that families aren’t bad and oh, look, they actually came after him and rescued him when they realized he had saved their baby from a rat. I would adopt that dog too!!
We have a bunch of side characters, from the Beaver in the zoo to the two cats, Si and Am (I’m not even gonna do my whole Disney race talk for them. just go back and read my Peter Pan or Dumbo part if you’re curious how I feel about that.) We have the dogs in the pound (which Jesus! show that scene to everyone and they’ll adopt a dog – it’s sadder than any Sarah Mclachlan commercial i’ve ever seen!) These characters are all well done, even if they’re not in the movie for a long time. They serve their purpose and they’re quite memorable. I never forget one of them.
Most prevalent in the movie we have Trusty & Jock, a bloodhound and a Scottish Terrier that live in Lady’s neighborhood. They’re both older and act almost as mentors/friends to the spaniel. Trusty’s old, tells stories all the time about his old hunting days, and a big thing in the movie is that they all think he’s lost his sense of smell (surprise! he hasn’t!). Jock is smart and gives good advice, but is fiercely protective of his friends, chasing off The Tramp from annoying Lady. As a duo they’re great. (side note: Trusty was actually supposed to DIE in the cart-chasing scene, but Walt thought it was too scarring for kids, so made animators add him in to the final scene. Thoughts?)
The animation is beautiful. I love that we only see the Jim Dear and Darling from the knees down (Muppet Babies anyone?). It’s from a dog’s point of view, and it’s brilliant. The Backgrounds are beautifully painted. Each character is noticeably a certain type of dog, but they each have their own personality given in the way they’re designed. I still really can’t figure out what type of dog The Tramp is – I’m going to guess Schnauzer/terrier (maybe fox terrier). Maybe something else. I dunno. He’s a mutt. Leave it to me though to try to figure out the breeds in a cartoon.
The songs are great. Of course everyone knows “Bella Notte.” The scene with the spaghetti and meatballs is part of our culture. The song itself is beautiful. I used to think it was boring, but it really is gorgeous. The song the cats sing “We are Siamese” is ok. I love the animation that goes along with it, as the cats destroy the house and Lady tries to put everything back together, but the song itself is unique enough sounding that I find it a bit out of character for the movie. My personal favorite from the movie is “He’s a Tramp,” sung by our friend Peg in the dog Pound. Seriously, it’s so unique, and I get it stuck in my head all the time. Are these the best songs in a Disney movie? hah – far from it. But they’re good all the same.
This movie holds up really well. It gives us Disney’s first “real” love story, and as such, our first sort of developed male lead that’s also a legit love interest. Now if Disney were this good with our next male character…
I love this movie. Others will definitely disagree with me. I can watch it over and over, but not as much as a lot of others. It’s a harmless movie with a few scary moments. If you or your kids enjoy just a fun, cute, harmless movie with some great characters, this one’s for you.
I give Lady & The Tramp (1955) a 3.8 out of 5.
Next up: Sleeping Beauty (1959)