Thursday, February 26, 2015

Classic Movie Review: Lady and the Tramp

One of the Disney animated classics that I fondly remember from childhood is Lady and the Tramp. It ws re-released to theaters when I was a kid (before widespread home video releases and before Disney put them out on VHS). It felt more monumental to me then than it does now. At only 76 minutes, it is briskly paced and spare. There’s really not much story to tell and the big romance between Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy) and the street mutt Tramp (Larry Roberts) is developed in one brief sequence when Lady is lost away from home and Tramp saves her from some unsavory dogs and takes her on a date to an Italian restaurant for the iconic spaghetti-eating scene, which is now one of the most indelibly romantic moments in cinema history.

The story by Disney’s then crack writing team of Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright and several others both credited and not, was only Disney’s second original story for an animated film to that point. Basically, the pure-bred cocker spaniel Lady grows up in the wealthy household of Jim Dear and Darling, sees the world from a dog’s-eye view, becomes less important in the family after the arrival of a new baby, falls for a dog from the wrong side of the tracks, and then gets her new ‘man’ adopted into the family. The good girl falling for the bad boy is classic with archetypal characters. The point is never pushed too hard and you can imagine that if the film were made today it would be at least twenty minutes longer and feature more romantic interludes and more scenes of Lady’s friends advising her against being with Tramp.

The trio of directors consisting of Clyde Geronimi, Hamilton Luske, and Wilfred Jackson worked together on Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Alice in Wonderland, all of which share a similar pacing and animation style. Wolfgang Reitherman served as animation director and would later helm the animated movies through the 60s and 70s, taking Disney in a new and somewhat less vaunted direction. One of the challenges they found on Lady and the Tramp was filling the space of the wide Cinemascope aspect ratio. It suffers visually from a lot of empty space in the frame, awkwardly laid out blocking of characters, and noticeable lack of close-ups. The majority of the film could very easily be cropped on the left and right sides to reduce it down to 4:3 without losing any detail.

I guess it’s somewhat considered a musical although there are few songs and most of them are unmemorable. They were written by Peggy Lee (who also voiced Darling) and Simon Burke. When I think of Disney animation and song from that era, Cinderella and The Jungle Book come to mind long before Lady and the Tramp. So where does this one sit in the pantheon of the fifty or so animated feature films Disney has put out in the last 77 years? Probably around the middle of the pack, which to be honest is pretty good company to be in.

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