Lady and the Tramp — released in 1955 — was Disney’s first widescreen “Cinemascope” animated feature. Featuring song collaborations and character voices by Peggy Lee, the story is set in the early 1900s, following two dogs from different sides of the tracks that somehow manage to fall in love.
Lady and the Tramp is the story of Lady — a petite cocker spaniel living an affluent life with her doting owners — and Tramp, the adventurous stray who lives on the streets and must continually stay one step ahead of the dog catchers. Lady has enjoyed a life of ease and constant attention from her owners; that is, until a baby arrives in their family. About this time she also meets Tramp, who also tells her that everything changes once a baby arrives, and that humans in general aren’t always as devoted to dogs as dogs might be to them. Lady begins to wonder about her place in the home, an insecurity that gets heightened when the parents go away on a trip and a relative with two mischievous cats come over to house-sit. Lady gets blamed for all of the cats’ ill behavior, and she soon finds herself on the street, where Tramp begins to show her a different side of life — one filled with both more adventure and more danger.
The film revolves around a very simple story: boy (dog) meets girl (dog), and somehow opposites attract. It certainly isn’t a novel idea, but the focus of the story from the dogs point of view has interest. It isn’t just about their relationship either, but also about how dogs view all of their surroundings: their life with humans, their relationships with other animals, and trying to maneuver in a confusing, complex world. The story rises and falls in terms of actual excitement because of this, since some of the things that dogs might view as ultimate harm (getting fitted with a walking muzzle) don’t propel motivation as much as they could.
However, the real drive of the film is given away almost as much in the setting as in the plot. The idyllic town, and certainly the neighborhood, that Lady grows up in are meant to hearken back to a very picturesque (and some might add unrealistic) view of small-town Americana from now a century past. It’s a film that constantly sits you in front of the fire with a warm cup of cocoa. The bonus material points out in a few places the connection between the location of this film and the nostalgia that is strived for with Main Street in both Disneyland and Disney World. It’s the kind of town we want to live in, and the kind of “problems” that we’d rather existed. Even if it all just rings a bit false, it’s a beautiful fantasy.
One of the pure delights with this film is to watch the attention the animators give to creating realistic dog movements, and not dogs with overly human-like gestures. Everything from Lady’s first whimpering night downstairs to Tramp’s morning stretch display a keen attention to making this world as dog-like as an animated film allows. The entire movie is this rich with details, and even when the story lulls a bit, the sheer craft of the animators immediately picks it back up again. It’s these touches that give Lady and the Tramp such repeat value all these years later.
Disney continues their wonderful trend of giving loving and immaculate restoration to their catalog. Lady and the Tramp is so cleanly animated that it’s hard to believe the film has passed its 55th Anniversary. There are only two fleeting scenes (one when we first see the black rat, as well as a closeup inside the house) where the picture becomes a bit fuzzy. They could be brief source glitches, or they could intentionally lack focus, but they’re so brief that you could blink and miss them. Other than that, image and stability are in peak form here, and the deep color palette of the movie makes it a joy to watch in high definition.
The Blu-ray also provides two excellent audio tracks to choose from. Both are DTS-HD Master Audio encodes, but you have your choice of the original 3.0 mix or a newly mixed 7.1 track. It’s the best of both worlds, but the edge has to go to the newer 7.1 track. Although neither offer much immersion or surround utilization, the newer track does have more natural stereo separation and balance of ambient sound. But both tracks sound excellent.
For a single Blu-ray disc, the Diamond Edition of Lady and the Tramp is pretty much packed with bonus material. The movie can be played with or without an intro from Diane Disney Miller (HD, 1:21) where she briefly recounts memories of her father and how much he loved Lady and the Tramp. In addition there are a couple of playing options for the film itself. “Inside Walt’s Story Meeting” is a commentary track that works almost the opposite of what we’re used to. Instead of filmmakers looking back on their film, this one is a dramatic reenactment from the Disney “sweatbox” meetings where Walt and the other film creators would hash out ideas and refine the plot and characters of the movie. This track can be played alone or in conjunction with Disney’s Second Screen app (available on computer or for the iPad) where you can see original sketch art and other behind-the-scenes items from the creation of the film, all synced with the movie and this commentary.
“Diane Disney Miller: Remembering Dad” (HD, 7:51) is a brief but nice remembrance of Walt and how the film was connected to the opening of Disneyland. The period similarities behind the film’s setting and the design for Main Street are discussed, as well as a look at Walt’s own private home on Main Street itself. There are three deleted scenes (HD, 19:11) in this section, two of which are overly long and take the story in a completely different direction. An unrecorded song, “I’m Free as the Breeze” (HD, 1:26) is obviously here now recorded, and shows that at one point Tramp was going to have a musical number for himself.
The rest of the supplemental items are ported over from prior DVD releases and are all presented in standard definition. “Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp” (52:35) is a seven-part look at the creation of the film, focusing on the animators and their inspiration, as well as the roundabout way that the story itself came to be. “Finding Lady: The Art of Storyboard” (13:02) is partly about the storyboard process for the film, but is actually more about Disney’s overall use of the tool and how that trickled out and influenced how others approach their films.
“The Original 1943 Storyboard” (11:52) has a couple of Disney animators acting out a very rough pass at the story using storyboard stills. “The Siamese Cat Song” (1:52) is almost exactly what you think it is. “Puppypedia” (9:21) is an odd short hosted by Fred Willard, where he talks to some dog owners about their dog breeds, and how some of those are portrayed in the movie. “Belle Notte Music Video” (2:55) is an unfortunate new recording with a rather schmaltzy lounge atmosphere. There are also more deleted scenes (12:52) here, as well as a few Disneyland TV Show excerpts (46:12) related to the film.
Lady and the Tramp simply looks and sounds fantastic, and the story line, even if a bit clunky at times, still holds up pretty well. But it’s the film’s top-notch animation that wins the day. With a generous helping of supplements, this is an easy recommendation for both Disney fans specifically, and animation fans in general.