One of Disney’s more underrated animated classics is Lady and the Tramp. It lacks many elements younger generations associate with Disney. It is not a fairy tale, there is no princess and while there are songs, most of them are not big song and dance productions. The film is simply a touching tale of love, growing pains and class differences, from the perspective of dogs.
Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy) is an innocent cocker spaniel owned by a young couple she knows as Jim Dear and Darling. The three of them live in a beautiful Victorian house in an upper class neighborhood, complete with a fence around every tree. When her life suddenly feels complicated as Jim Dear and Darling are expecting their first child, her friends, Jock and Trusty try to cheer her up. However, Tramp (Larry Roberts), a mutt from across the tracks, overhears their conversation and offers an upsetting bit of wisdom to Lady, “When the baby moves in, the dog moves out.”
Thankfully, Jim Dear and Darling usher the baby into their lives without pushing Lady out, and she assumes a protective role over the baby. But when the couple goes on vacation, leaving Aunt Sarah and her mischievous Siamese cats the look after the household, Lady is misunderstood to be a vicious dog. In her fear and confusion while being fitted for a muzzle, Lady runs away across town, running into trouble that Tramp saves her from. The two form an unlikely friendship budding with romance, but an unfortunate run in with the dog catcher exposes Lady to more of Tramp’s life than she can bear. He will have to do something pretty selfless to earn Lady’s trust again, but Aunt Sarah could put his life in jeopardy.
The most recognizable scene from this film is the serenaded spaghetti dinner. As Tramp shows Lady his haunts around town, he decides that a nice dinner at the town’s Italian restaurant, Tony’s, will be perfect. He has built up a friendly reputation with Tony and Joe and they gladly give Tramp and his lady friend a candle light dinner in the alley and belt out Bella Note for them. It’s sweet and Lady goes all starry eyed at the romance she has never has never known. And the whole scene is topped off with unforgettably innocent accidental sharing-spaghetti kiss.
One of the more poignant scenes, especially for animal lovers, is the scene in the pound. While we listen to a mournful dog a capella group howl a tune, we look around at all the poor pups locked up. In a rickety, dark, old building behind bars and fencing, we see wet-eyed puppies huddle together in despair. A whimpering little mutt looks out between uneven boards. And in the middle of it is Lady, frightened and embarrassed to learn about Tramp’s reputation. And it’s such a double edged sword to realize that she will be set free since she has a license, but the others will end up taking the long walk.
What few people realize about Lady and the Tramp, is that it was Disney’s first animated film to be made in a widescreen format. With the rise and popularity of CinemaScope, Disney wanted to be a part of the new trend. It was a new challenge to animators, filling the wider frame, but starting this process with a film featuring dogs looks like it was a good first step. It was a new venture in animation that Disney took on gracefully and just another step in their technological advancement in film. At an aspect ratio of 2.55:1, it is the widest animated film Disney has ever made.
This was also Disney’s first time working with a popular recording artist. Peggy Lee had been singing and writing jazz hits since 1941. In 1955, she teamed up with Disney to write and perform many of the songs for Lady and the Tramp, including The Siamese Cat Song and He’s a Tramp. She is the voice of all the female characters, except Lady and Aunt Sarah, which includes a downtrodden sassy singing blonde dog at the pound, aptly named Peg.
Whether you’re an animal lover or not, Lady in the Tramp is a timeless classic for all ages. Kids will enjoy the songs, Lady as a cute little puppy in the beginning and the trouble making Siamese cats. Adults will appreciate the timeless story of class differences and the lovely details throughout the film. And any fans of Peggy Lee will be thrilled to know that she had a big hand in writing and performing most of the songs and many of the female voices in the film.
“We are Siamese if you please. We are Siamese if you don’t please.”