Disney // 1955 // 76 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // February 13th, 2012
In the whole history of the world, there is but one thing that money cannot buy...to wit -- the wag of a dog's tail.
Another Disney masterpiece gets the first-rate "Diamond Edition" treatment.
Lovely Lady (Barbara Luddy) is the pampered cocker spaniel companion of "Jim Dear" and his wife, "Darling." Life is good for Lady until Jim Dear and Darling expand the family -- with a baby.
When her people decide to take a trip, they leave the baby and Lady in the care of crusty Aunt Sarah. A series of mishaps leaves Lady out in the cold -- literally. She is saved from the jaws of doom -- again, literally -- by streetwise stray Tramp (Larry Roberts).
Both pups are smitten, but just as with humans, the course of true love doesn't run smoothly: Lady is still attached to her family and accustomed to the comforts of home, while Tramp isn't ready to settle down and become part of the "leash and collar" crowd.
Lady and the Tramp was Disney's first full-length animated feature that had domesticated animals as its stars. Most pet owners -- myself included -- anthropomorphize companion critters, so after giving us the woods (Bambi) and the circus (Dumbo), the backyard was a logical place for Walt Disney to set this tale of passion, betrayal, and bravery.
Yes, passion, betrayal, and bravery. While some might consider Lady and the Tramp to be a charming but safe entertainment, it's really far more complex and moving than most standard "family fare."
Disney films are cherished not only for their craftsmanship, but because they never "talk down" to us; they work as allegories for adults as much as they work as entertainment for children. In Lady and the Tramp, Disney offers a deceptively simple story -- a beloved pet is displaced by a baby and ends up having an adventure with a street mutt -- but layers it with sophistication and a decidedly dark undercurrent.
The theme of abandonment is prominent here. Lady is emotionally abandoned by her family when the baby comes; Tramp and the other street dogs have been abandoned by owners and society, in general. Early in the film, before the baby is born, Tramp offers up a surprisingly clear -- and chilling -- prediction about how Lady's life will change when the baby comes, reminding us that people's love for animals is often transient and suggesting that he might have been dumped from a more comfortable situation.
Lady, in fact, does find herself on her own, though on account of Aunt Sarah and not her own people. In a harrowing sequence, she's chased and nearly mauled by a pack of vicious dogs, only to be saved by Tramp, who puts his life on the line to save her. Much of this dogfight is depicted in shadows, a technique Disney animators would use later in The Lion King. That gentle dogs like Lady are sometimes prey to vicious animals makes this sequence genuinely tense and upsetting.
Then there's the scene at the dog pound, where Lady finds herself after getting picked up while running with Tramp. Much of it's played for dark humor -- I wonder how many children actually got the references to old prison flicks or noticed that the shadows of the bars on the cages making the dogs look like they're wearing stripes -- but it's really a pretty sobering sequence. Close-ups of dogs in cages with tears running down their faces effectively communicate the horror of abandonment; one dog (again, in shadow) even walks "the last mile." It's also a very witty scene that includes a Russian breed who quotes Gorky and an English bulldog with a heavy accent. We also get Peggy Lee as a dog named Peg (who used to be in the "Dog and Pony Follies") singing what might be the sexiest song ever included in a Disney film, "He's a Tramp."
In lesser hands, this all might have been too much, too sad or too facile, exploitative or obvious. But Disney and company knew just how far to take things, how to push the emotional envelope without losing the audience.
Of course, the romance between the title characters is what most people remember, and it remains delightful. The scene of the two dogs sharing a spaghetti dinner while being serenaded with the lovely "Bella Notte" is an icon of romantic cinema.
For its Blu debut, Disney gives Lady and the Tramp (Blu-ray) its "Diamond Edition" treatment; like the other Diamond releases, the studio hits this one out of the park. Much as I love this film, I'd never been bowled over by the animation -- until now. At the risk of tossing out a cliché, frankly, watching this edition was like seeing the film for the first time. The stunning image -- Disney's first in widescreen Cinemascope -- is presented in its original aspect ratio. Detail is remarkable, and the colors are vivid. The image is simply breathtaking -- exactly the kind of great work we've come to expect from Disney Blu.
Audio is equally fine. There are two English language tracks, a rich DTS-HD 7.1, as well as a DTS-HD representation of the film's original 3.0 track.
The disc comes fully loaded with supplements old and new, with enough goodies to keep the disc in play long after the film has ended.
Here's the new stuff:
* "Disney's Second Screen" -- If you're viewing this with an Internet-ready device, you'll get storyboards, drawings, photos, and other graphics while watching the film, along with an interesting alternate audio option. Rather than a commentary, Disney has re-created meetings Walt Disney had about the story and production (based on transcripts). If you don't have an Internet-ready device, you'll still get the audio. This is a fascinating listen that offers insight on the film and the man behind it.
* "Remembering Dad" -- Diane Disney Miller, Walt's daughter, offers up recollections of her father in this featurette that showcases archival footage of Walt and Disneyland. Miller also provides a short introduction to the film.
* "I'm Free as a Breeze" -- This is a song that had been planned for Tramp (explaining his philosophy of life) that was dropped when it was decided that he shouldn't be a singing character.
* "Deleted Scenes" -- There are three, presented with storyboards and illustrations.
Ported from the 2006 standard def release, we get:
* "Lady's Pedigree" -- Almost an hour long, this is a fun and comprehensive "making of."
* "Finding Lady: The Art of the Storyboard"
* "Original 1943 Storyboard Version of the Film"
* "The Siamese Cat Song: Finding a Voice for the Cats" -- Aunt Sarah's Siamese cats almost prove to be Lady's undoing, and their hilariously nasty song (voiced by Peggy Lee) is a highlight of the film. Excerpts from various approaches to the song, featuring artwork.
* "PuppyPedia" -- Fred Willard on dogs.
* "Bella Notte" -- A music video with Steve Tyrell performing the song.
* "Excerpts from Disneyland TV Series" -- These excerpts from two segments of Disneyland, as the show was called in the '50s, were created to help promote Lady and the Tramp. "The Story of Dogs" and "Cavalcade of Songs" are charming and quaint, and a comforting reminder of how affable and enthusiastic Walt Disney was as a TV host. Catch the introduction for some intriguing backstory on how these segments were restored.
In addition, there are some more deleted scenes as well as a selection of trailers for the film's original release and theatrical re-releases.
There's also a DVD version of the film that includes "Remembering Dad" and "PuppyPediac" as extras.
Heartfelt, funny, moving, and more than a little subversive, Lady and the Tramp is a great film getting a great Blu-ray release. Unqualified recommendation.
Review content copyright © 2012 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Discs: #69
* Top 100 Films: #22
* 2.55:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 3.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Archival Footage
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* Official Site