Lady and the Tramp
d. Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson & Hamilton Luske / 1955 / USA / 75 mins
The first of Disney’s animated features to be intended for wide-sceen, Lady and the Tramp sports an interesting aesthetic with its homely fifties charm and super-wide aspect ratio. Although it’s universally well known, it has come to rest somewhere in the middle of Disney’s “classics”, not perhaps as revered as Bambi or Pinocchio, but certainly more so than the now forgotten run of package films that were produced throughout the forties (Saludas Amigos, The Three Caballeros etc.), excepting of course, Fantasia.
Lady and the Tramp still holds up reasonably well, and for reasons besides its wonderful, storybook visuals. The narrative is divided quite prominently between the action adventure sequences that see Lady and Tramp avoid dog-catchers, meet beavers and catch rats and the quietly domestic narrative that dominates most of the screen time. It’s for reasons such as this, that the most well recognised sequence is that of the two sharing a spaghetti dinner, a moment of courtship brilliantly captured through canine anthropomorphism.
It’s also surprising how much has transferred from the romantic comedies of the era into this story; Lady develops from a youngster who feels overshadowed by the presence of a baby to a matriarchal role-model and Tramp follows suit, leaving his bachelor days behind. The concerns of the characters feel well-thought-out and genuine, the only real hampering of this tenderness is the ever-so-casual racism that is forced upon the breeds of dogs and cats that act as the multi-ethnic background to Lady and Tramp’s eventual domestic (and all-American) bliss.
Along with a surprisingly eloquent story that owes much to the best Post-War American romantic comedies, Lady and the Tramp’s greatest pleasure can be found in the observational nuances and smoothness of movement that the animators managed to create. As incredible as CGI may be, the fluidity found in a painting in motion is something truly brilliant to behold.
The soundtrack too, is definitive of the era, performed and written by Peggy Lee (alongside Sonny Burke), best known on screen for her role in The Jazz Singer (1952). The music is put to great use in a sequence where the caged dogs show solidarity by mournfully howling through a musical interlude that (although bordering on sentimentality), emotes conceptions of civil rights yet to be attained and a fascist social hierarchy that underpins the entirety of the film.
The Lady and the Tramp is a solid, if unremarkable movie. What interests me most about it, is in many ways, the same thing that interests me about a film such as Planet of the Apes. However simplistically, transferring societal attitudes onto another species is always fascinating. I never thought that I would conclude this review with such an odd comparison, but exploring entrenched and ostracising American values and class boundaries through those of dog ownership, strays, mutts and pedigrees seems in many ways, strangely appropriate.