by D.W. Lundberg

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.

Title: Lady And The Tramp (1955; based on the book by Ward Greene)

The Plot: A sheltered cocker spaniel fears she's about to be replaced by her masters' newborn baby, and winds up out on the streets, where she learns the ways of the world from a stray silver mutt.

The Songs: "Bella Notte (This Is The Night)," "Peace On Earth (Silent Night)," "What Is A Baby?," "La La Lu," "The Siamese Cat Song," "He's A Tramp"

A Little History: Story development began in 1937, when Walt Disney assigned writer Joe Grant to create a series of storyboards based off a sketch of Grant's pet Springer spaniel. Walt, however, hated the initial plot (set entirely in one location), and shelved the project, feeling there wasn't enough conflict to sustain a feature-length film. Then, in 1943, Walt read "Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog" by Ward Greene in Cosmopolitan magazine, and realized that a street-smart, cynical dog character was the perfect counterpoint to Lady's sheltered lifestyle. (Under Disney's influence, Green would eventually publish Lady And The Tramp: The Story Of Two Dogs, which became the basis for the finished film.) Disney based the story's setting on his hometown of Marceline, Missouri. He originally did not want to include the spaghetti sequence, now one of the most iconic scenes in the studio's history. Also, during the first cut of the film, Trusty the bloodhound was killed while trying to rescue Tramp from the dog catcher's wagon; Walt, however, ultimately nixed the idea, refusing to traumatize young children.

How It Broke New Ground: The first Animated Disney Classic to be distributed under their new banner, Buena Vista. Also the first animated feature released in widescreen CinemaScope. Most films of the time were framed at a standard, square-ish 1:37:1 aspect ratio, but when televisions became popular during the 1950s, studios started using anamorphic lenses to project movies at a wider, rectangular 2:55:1 ratio, to lure audiences back into theaters. As production had already started on Lady And The Tramp by the time Walt decided to capitalize on this new trend, animators had to overlay images of trees and other objects to mask the areas where backgrounds were added to every frame. (They also had to learn how to space their characters further apart, in order to utilize all areas of the screen.) To Walt's disappointment, some theaters were still not equipped to show films in widescreen format, so he was forced to create an alternate, cropped version of the film in the standard Academy ratio.

How It Holds Up Today: Another harmless, infectious concoction from Disney, this time with talking dogs as the stars. I like the simple structure of it: The opening sequences are nostalgic and sweet (with Lady acclimating herself to Darling and Jim Dear's household – or is it the other way around?), the plot flows so smoothly you hardly notice it (I wonder how many people realize that the movie begins and ends around Christmas, one year apart?), and the dog's-eye POV (low angles, always titled upward) is so persuasive it's a shock when we see actual human faces. The songs by Sonny Burke and Peggy Lee are unique to the canon, too – "Bella Notte" is appropriately swoon-worthy, but I prefer the odd, distinctive beats of "The Siamese Cat Song," or the sultry-swingy "He's A Tramp" (both performed by Lee). As for the CinemaScope, it doesn't add much to the movie, I'm sorry to say. The backgrounds may be lovely to look at, but they're too stylized, I think, too ambitious for the story being told.

Grade: B


Hold tight, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, and Peter Pan. Please comment! Let me know what you think!

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