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A Second Look: Lady and the Tramp
In 1955, Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske released Lady and the Tramp, based off of Walt Disney giving a dog to his wife as a gift, storyboard artist Joe Grant’s English Springer Spaniel, named Lady herself, and the story of Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog by Ward Greene. Starring Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, Verna Felton, George Givot, Lee Millar, Peggy Lee, Stan Freberg, Alan Reed, Thurl Ravenscroft, Dallas McKennon, and The Mellomen, the film grossed $93.6 million at the box office. Nominated for the American Film Institute’s lists of top 100 films, top 100 songs, Greatest Movie Musicals and top 10 animated films as well as the Satellite Award for Best Youth DVD and the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film, the film was put at #95 for AFI’s top 100 romantic films and it won the David di Donatello Award for Best Foreign Producer.
When a husband brings a dog home for his wife, they name her Lady and center their home lives on her. However, change is coming that Lady has trouble understanding and a stray Casanova, known as the Tramp, works to convince her that she’s going to be set aside for a coming baby. As a result, Lady tries to avoid him and his beliefs that life in a collar is slavery, trying to remain loyal to her humans and home.
A good film put out by Disney in its earlier years, Lady and the Tramp has a simple, yet great story, presenting an interesting twist on the proper damsel falling in love with the wandering vagabond who’s romantically inclined. It’s quite entertaining to see all the trappings of a dramatic romance film as seen through the eyes of dogs rather than humans, such as the guy meeting the girl and trying to convince her that a life of adventure on the streets is better than living a cooped up life in a safe neighborhood, sneaking out to enjoy a night of romance and eventually going to prison in place of the vagabond only to learn about being the latest in a line of hookups. Even though these are the usual points a film like this would hit if done with humans, it manages to make it interesting by utilizing the fact that the main characters are dogs, such as having Lady muzzled and having to head to a zoo to break it off or being chained to the doghouse in the front yard. It also makes clever use of getting passed the Hays Code sensors by doing everything but outright stating that Lady’s night out with Tramp was where the litter of puppies at the end came from. The film also interestingly presents its humans with their faces very rarely being shown and only doing so when it’s absolutely necessary. This makes sense because the story isn’t about the humans. It’s about the dogs and the world from their perspective.
The film also presents great main characters, doing well in making foils out of Lady and Tramp. The former is incredibly naïve and really doesn’t know much past her front yard and the two dogs she interacts with most, Jock and Trusty. She’s also very polite, compassionate and, due to being given everything she ever wanted, is trustworthy to a fault, which is how Tramp is able to convince her to join him. She doesn’t have much in the way of character development out of growing in jealousy and discernment after her time at the pound, but she doesn’t really need it. At the same time, Tramp is a great character with his carefree attitude about life in general coupled with his general disdain of the domestic life. What’s really interesting about his character though is his development in actually finding real love in the way of Lady. It presents itself as true, seeing as he’s actually hurt when Lady snaps at him after coming back from the pound, yet springing into action in order to help Lady and save the baby from the rat during the climax of the film. Again, the film does well in getting past the Hays Code in its listing of all of Tramp’s flings, which he fully admits to, with it being permitted seeing as they were all dogs.
There isn’t a true villain either, with the dog catcher and Aunt Sarah merely being antagonists who believe they are doing the right thing based off information that they currently possess. Take the dog catcher. It’s just his job to find stray dogs and put them in the pound for people to pick up. While he may seem gleeful about being able to have Tramp in his clutches, it’s because he’s been after the dog for a long time and is happy to finally put the chase to rest. What’s more is he seems that he really loves dogs and hates having to cage them or put them to sleep. As for Aunt Sarah, she’s acting out of concern for her cats and the baby, both parties she believes have been put upon and harassed by Lady and later Tramp. Further, she only arranges for Tramp to be taken away because she mistakenly believes that the child’s life was in danger because of Tramp and not the rat because of what she immediately saw at the scene.
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