Directed by: Clyde Geronimi/Wilfred Jackson/Hamilton Luske
Written by: Erdman Penner/Joe Rinaldi/Ralph Wright/Don DaGradi
Based on story by: Ward Greene
This is one of the most beloved of all Disney animal movies. Seriously, who doesn’t love watching dogs eat spaghetti? It’s amazing, right?
Lady’s roots go all the way back to 1937 when Joe Grant went to Walt with an idea based around his dog and what happened when he and his wife had a baby. Walt loved the idea and paid for a story. The story didn’t pan out mainly because there was no real conflict.
Fast forward a few years. Walt reads and buys the rights to a short story called Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog by Ward Greene. He decides that Happy Dan (eventually, Tramp) should meet Lady (Grant’s dog). Grant eventually left the studio in 1949, but Walt went on with the story, anyway. In fact, Grant’s name was taken off of everything to do with the film, which sucks. Then again, Peggy Lee co-wrote six of the songs and had to sue for royalties from video sales years later. So, royalties are an issue with Disney.
Basic rundown: Jim Dear gives his wife, Darling, a puppy for Christmas. That puppy is Lady. Time goes by and the humans have a baby. This leads to Lady being kind of…forgotten. Or at least shooed out of the room on occasion. That’s something that she’s definitely not used to.
Enter Aunt Sara and her two cats, Si and Am. They make a mess and blame it on Lady, prompting Aunt Sara to get her a muzzle. Lady runs away and eventually meets Tramp. She learns about life on the streets while Tramp tries to get her home. They get thrown in the pound. They escape. They have dinner. They get back to her house and a rat shows up, threatening the baby. Tramp kills it, Aunt Sara thinks the dogs are threatening the baby and calls the pound to take Tramp away, Jim Dear and Darling find the rat, they save Tramp, all is forgiven.
Then Lady and Tramp do the devil’s business and have babies.
As a cat lover, it’s strange to me that cats are rarely depicted as protagonists. (We’ll get to that later.) Luckily, I love dogs, too, and Lady And The Tramp is a really charming movie. And it makes spaghetti far more romantic than it really is. (Walt wanted to cut that scene, thinking it was just going to be stupid. Frank Thomas (one of the Nine Old Men) animated it on his own and won Walt over. Lucky for the rest of the world.)
A couple of things really stick out in this movie, besides its inherent charm. First off, it’s the first animated feature to be shot in CinemaScope. The animators basically had to relearn their entire job so that they could fill the entire widescreen. Then, when Walt realized that not all theatres were equipped to handle CinemaScope, he ordered an Academy ratio version. So they had to redo everything.
For years, the VHS version was that Academy ratio version. In 1998, the CinemaScope version was finally released for the home video market. (I can’t find that info anywhere, but I remember that being a HUGE deal when I worked at Blockbuster at that time.)
The other thing is the perspective of the film: It’s all shot from a low angle so we see what the dogs see. The names are all what the dogs here (“Jim Dear,” “Darling”). The humans are a dog’s best friend. That’s awesome. I love movies that change perspective based on the characters.
Here’s the problem with the movie: Si and Am.
Yeeeeeesssssss, more racism that, in 1955, seemed totally ok. Today, though, it looks pretty awful.
But, baring Si and Am, the racist cats, Lady And The Tramp is pretty light, but mainly perfect entertainment. It was critically panned when it came out, but it’s since become an unmitigated classic. It also made more money in its initial release than any Disney film since Snow White…so what do critics know?