For his followup to the hit PETER PAN, Walt Disney once again went back to material that had been in the works for years. Aside from FANTASIA, LADY AND THE TRAMP was the first major Disney animated feature not to be based on a popular fairy tale or children's story but rather an original story, albeit one that had been tinkered with in dozens of ways since the 1930s. LADY AND THE TRAMP was also the first Disney film in widescreen. Because of the widescreen process, it was an expensive film, even more so when you realize Disney had to release two versions, one for movie houses not yet fitted with the larger screens. The resulting film turned out to be Disney's best animated film since BAMBI.
The simple story of a sophisticated cocker spaniel and an adventurous stray dog literally from the other side of the tracks, LADY AND THE TRAMP is also the most gorgeously detailed Disney film since PINOCCHIO. Rich, sumptuous backgrounds featuring muted but deep colors provide beautiful settings for the film's love story. The animation of the various dog characters is also as scientifically worked out as the animal movements in BAMBI. CINDERELLA, ALICE IN WONDERLAND and PETER PAN were all good looking films, but there had been nothing like LADY AND THE TRAMP since those golden days of the early 1940s. The story itself plays out at a medium pace, and the film may be criticized for being a touch too long and sometimes too talky, but those quibbles aside, LADY AND THE TRAMP is easily one of the most exquisite animated films ever. The voice work is uniformly excellent, with nearly every ethnic group aside from blacks being lovingly parodied in a way that should not offend, unlike the Indian sequences from PETER PAN. Major props go to great voice artist Bill Thompson who seems to play at least one third of all the dog characters, and to singer Peggy Lee, who not only plays "Darling", one of Lady's human owners, but also "Peg", a jailhouse dog with a shady past who sings the smoky and jazzy "He's a Tramp", one of the film's highlights.
The best song, however, is the classic "Bella Notte", which plays on the soundtrack as Lady and Tramp fall in love over a spaghetti dinner. LADY AND THE TRAMP has been called Disney's first adult film (again, FANTASIA excepted) in that, after the dinner, Lady and Tramp have an implied night of passion. This is underscored by a later scene in which Lady's two closest friend Jock and Trusty both propose marriage to her. Children are lead to believe that this is done to allow Lady to move into one of their homes and get away from her nasty Aunt Sarah and her two Siamese cats, but adults in the audience may come up with a different explanation, especially when the final scene of the film features Lady and Tramp with a whole litter of puppies.
If there is one thing
that LADY AND THE TRAMP lacks, it is a good villain. Tramp's fight with
a rat toward the end of the film, although well staged and terrifically
executed, lacks some drama because the rat has not been set up as a
villain beforehand. The film also has a tendency to pull its
punches. For a moment after the fight, it looks like Tramp
have hurt his leg, but nothing comes of this. Likewise, a
poignant, heroic death scene for one dog is undercut one scene
later when he returns wearing a cast on one of his legs but otherwise
none the worse for wear. Again, these may be minor quibbles,
they do keep LADY AND THE TRAMP from reaching the emotional highlights
Nevertheless, the film is surely a milestone in Disney
and it would be a long time - possibly not until THE LITTLE MERMAID -
before the Disney studio would once again create something this
universally appealing. ½ - JB
Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (DVD release)