Ranking the Disney Canon – 19: Lady and the Tramp

“What a dog!” – Peg

We continue to knock out better and better films as we take a look at Walt Disney’s 1955 feature, Lady and the Tramp. Conceived in pieces starting in 1939, Lady and the Tramp can be considered one of the earliest original stories to come out of a Disney Full Length Animated Feature. Though there are a few short stories that Disney loosely took ideas from, Lady and the Tramp mostly was wholly original ideas from the Walt Disney Studios Staff. It was also the first Animated Disney film to be presented in the 2.66:! aspect ratio, known at the time as Cinemascope.

The story begins with Lady being presented as a Christmas Gift from Jim Dear to his wife Darling. Lady lives a pampered life with her new family until they begin acting strange and ignoring her normal calls for attention. While discussing this issue with her neighbors, Jock and Trusty, a stray dog known as The Tramp passes by and alerts Lady that her owners are having a baby, and she will soon be kicked to the curb. Over the next 9 months, Lady witnesses herself continually being ignored, just as The Tramp had predicted. After the baby is born, the family heads out-of-town for a few days, leaving Lady and the new baby boy in the care of Aunt Sarah. Aunt Sarah’s cats begin tearing the house apart, causing Aunt Sarah to blame Lady and put her in a muzzle. Lady runs away and runs into the Tramp. The two of them share the day together, leading to a romantic night. Lady feels she still must return home, where unbeknownst to her, a small, unexpected menace is looming.

STRENGTHS

Romance is the name of the game in Lady and the Tramp. Lady and the Tramp is one of those romances you think about when you consider the classic Disney romances. The film is named after the two, after all, so it is the main attraction, and it is a great main attraction. Lots of care and attention was put into making sure this romance is a classic, and it starts from the very beginning of the film, before the two main characters even meet for the very first time.

One of the best things this film does for the romance is to build up who these characters are fantastically before the romance is even in the minds of the characters or the audience. By starting at Lady’s arrival within the “Darling” family, we truly get a sense of who Lady is and where she is coming from. We are given a status quo for her character, which in turn gives us a great sense of her character and a reason to care for her character throughout the rest of the film. It also gives us a great sense of why the arrival of the baby is so confusing and devastating to her. The film also takes the time to introduce us to Tramp’s life before he first passes by Lady’s house, giving us a clear look at his worldview. By not rushing into the romance and allowing time to introduce the characters, it improves the characters, the romance, the story, and the film as a whole.

Let’s focus on the two as individuals. Lady’s first. (IT’S PUNTASTIC!) Lady is wonderfully elegant, matching the environment that she has grown up in. She feels exactly like your pet, and that’s what makes her so easily lovable. She loves her pampered life, yet never comes off as lazy or arrogant. The pampered life is the only life she has ever known, and thus the film makes it extremely easy to understand why Lady is confused about the changes in her lifestyle. It also makes it easy to understand why she is able to get into so much trouble. I love the fact that Lady keeps her worldview throughout the film, even after her wonderful time with Tramp. Lady is a beautiful character, and a wonderful protagonist for the film. And this elegance keeps consistent throughout the film, even when the story presents her with the toughest of obstacles, which makes her an even more wonderful character. She is the perfect counterpart to Tramp.

And of course, Tramp is the perfect counterpart to Lady. What I like most about Tramp is that he’s not necessarily angry at the world in the same way that Mittens from Bolt was. Sure, he knows about the dangers of living with humans, but the way he lives his life is more about the fact that he likes living “footloose and collar-free” as he puts it. He is clever and streetwise, but like Lady, never angry or arrogant about the way he lives his life. Tramp is certainly up there among the best “rebels” in Disney history. And like most of these rebels, he comes around.

And so Lady and the Tramp create a wonderful romance together. But how does this happen once they are together? Well, as mentioned above, the fact that they are great counterparts to one another means that they are perfect for one another. We’ll see this idea again done even better as we get farther into the list, but one aspect of the opposites attract idea that Lady is the perfect person to change the Tramp. It is said throughout the film that Tramp is always moving on to the next girlfriend when he gets bored. What’s great about this is that it makes Lady seem important and it makes her his soul mate. All of Tramps other lovers are strays just like him, but Lady has this elegance that makes Tramp care and come back for her. Lady and Tramp feel made for each other. When one of the results is the famous candlelight dinner scene, you know you have a great romance on your hands.

The name of the game may be romance, but the film does other things great as well. Like another dog related feature that is fast approaching in the countdown, Lady and the Tramp does a fantastic job at making the dogs feel like dogs. Lady acts exactly like the pet that you own, and she has all of these subtle scenes that drive home this point. The same goes for the rest of the dogs in the movie, including Tramp, Jock, and Trusty. It may seem like small potatoes, but it actually does a ton to add to the believability of the story. One of my personal favorite things that the fact that Jim Dear and Darling’s faces are barely shown at all, and that most of the time we only see their legs. It truly is a brilliant touch.

At this point, I should point out that Jim Dear and Darling are wonderful in this movie. Their voices are spot on, their script is amazing, and their role adds so much to the film. I love them as characters. They could have easily been throw away characters who were just means to an end, but they end up becoming a favorite part of the film for me.

Finally, let’s look at the villains. Aunt Sarah, her cats, and the rat all work great for the story. The “slice of real life” aspect of this story doesn’t allow for much wiggle room in the villain department, but these four characters work as antagonists. Aunt Sarah and her Cats fall into that “Love to Hate” category, and the rat from the film’s climax is brilliantly sinister and the realistic portrayal of it really adds tension to the final moments.

WEAKNESSES

I told you, this section will continually and continually get smaller! There’s not a ton wrong with all of the upcoming films (They are Top 20 material, after all). These weaknesses are all nitpicks in comparison to the film breaking weaknesses earlier films had on this list. Anyways, let’s get to a short weaknesses section.

There is a small glitch in quality right after one of the film’s highlights, the dinner sequence I mentioned earlier. The wake-up, the chicken chase, the pound, and the return of Lady to her home all are great in comparison to the classic quality of the rest of the film. The Pound sequence is one I’ve always had an issue with. The scene really needed to be Lady realizing Tramp’s life with women, and being embarrassed by the fact that a dog like herself ended up in the pound. And it does accomplish that in a sense. But it needed to be stronger. It needed to be more heartbreaking, more embarrassing. As it is, it is great, but still one of the film’s weaker sequences.

I also feel like the Soundtrack is great, but not classic. I don’t deny that “The Siamese Cat Song” and “He’s a Tramp” are great songs, but I don’t know if they are as strong as the songs from films around it. Truly, only “Bella Notte” is a song that makes me go “Wow” whenever I see it or listen to it. The other two songs just don’t fall into the category of songs I want to listen to over and over again. It is a great Disney soundtrack, no doubt, but it falls just short of classic. You might say I feel this soundtrack is a bit overrated. But that’s just me. But this is my list after all.

There’s also a sense that I wanted a bit more from the ending. I wanted to see Tramp make the decision to stay with the family as well as Jim Dear and Darling accepting him into the family. It really would have been the icing on the cake for a great character arc. I also wanted to see that moment where Lady has puppies to parallel the baby storyline from the beginning of the film. It still is a great ending to a classic film, but it really could have been more.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

(Told you the Weaknesses were few and far between!)

For the first time in the countdown, the best scene and best song are one and the same! Both the Best Scene and Best Song come in the famous Dinner sequence, with the famous spaghetti kiss. “Bella Notte” adds a great Love song to one of the all time great Disney Romance Scenes.

CLOSING COMMENTS

In the end, Lady and the Tramp is a classic. Sure, it has some small issues that at this point are just enough to knock it down the ladder, but it remains a classic of animation and one of the greatest romances in the history of Disney. The two leads really do a lot to make it a memorable work of art, and it has an iconic moment that is as recognizable as any other moment in Disney history. And even if this isn’t the best dog themed film in Disney history (We’re not out of the doghouse just yet!) It is still one of the classics, and it stands at 19.

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3 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 19: Lady and the Tramp

  1. I’ve seen plenty of Disney Romance movies to last me a lifetime and while I may not be much of a dog person, a film like ‘Lady & the Tramp’ finds a warm place in my heart. Though it shows the standard story of two characters from opposite backgrounds, meeting for the first time & eventually growing to a loving couple, it proves that the film doesn’t have to go straight into the romance departure. Right off the back, it’s not love at first sight but a chance for the Tramp to offer a painful truth of what Lady can expect when the newborn joins the family. While she doesn’t come off as self-centered, the feeling that she won’t feel as loved as much as the baby will be does add to a realistic tension that siblings can relate to when they expect a new brother or sister. But when we do get into the romance part, the spaghetti sequence is definitely a memorable moment that makes the cover on any release (And not just because spaghetti is my favorite meal of all time).

    Though it is a fifties movie and the songs are dated at times, each of them are enjoyable to listen to especially ‘Bella Notte’. It’s that one Disney movie that doesn’t have to rely too much on an already established story for entertainment and as an original story it truly works. I hope there are more original tales like this in the near future, but for now Disney is back to adapting well known stories with some of their more recent releases (Although I’m certain there are a few exceptions).

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