Director: Clyde Geromino, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske
Cast: Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom
Plot: When Lady (Luddy), a pampered Cocker-Spaniel, is pushed out of the family after the arrival of a newborn baby, she finds solace in the fun-loving Tramp (Roberts).
As someone whose first Disney movie was Aristocats, it is a little disheartening to realise that it is pretty much a carbon copy of the much earlier (and in all honesty, much better), Lady and the Tramp. Switch the lead animal to dogs and the plot hits almost every narrative point on the head. We are introduced to the adorable Lady, a spoilt Cocker Spaniel. Right from the off, she is a loveable lead, first shown to the audience as a puppy determined to give her owners a restless night, a knowing scene for anyone who has ever owned an over-excited puppy. However, growing up used to the rich life, she is thrown into a scary new world when a newborn baby arrives. Encouraged by the scruffy yet charming stray, known only as Tramp, she decides to try a night on the streets, only to end up in a world of trouble.
This is a film for the dog-lovers. The animators relish the chance to puts as many dogs on the screen as possible, coming in a whole range of forms, from a Basset Hound who lost his sense of smell to the bulldog jailbird. Lady is an instant hit, from the moment you soak in her beautiful, brown eyes, ironically probably the easiest Disney heroine to love we have seen so far. I appreciated the fact that her owner is called Darling, but the audience is never sure if this is her real name or just what the husband refers to his wife as, which Lady picked up on. Tramp also has his charms, especially with his carefree attitude. There is fun to be had, as soon as you see his morning breakfast routine, selecting which restaurant to beg from like a cuisine expert. However, the great thing about the central couple is that they have their handful of flaws too. Lady, while acting like the wounded heroine for most of the movie, actually kicks off her own spiral of descent by refusing to accept the change of a new-born baby. In her impatience, she overreacts, Disney’s obligatory moral coming through: perhaps the audience can read into her plight as their own struggles as the older sibling in their own family. Tramp, however, has his downsides. For one, he manipulates Lady’s perception of her situation to convince her to abandon her home-life, planting the seed of doubt. He does it out of his natural cheekiness, not really realising the extent of his actions. These character flaws make our heroes all the more interesting, but still gives us the chance to revel in the more romantic moments. And what can be more romantic than the iconic spaghetti and meatballs meal in the alleyway? It is movie magic and a scene still referenced to this day. This is a great example of the true power of Disney’s reach.
At times, Lady and the Tramp doesn’t quite realise how much movie magic they actually have. There are a lot of jokes crammed into this Disney film, but only a few are done justice. For example, I found the evil Siamese cats delightful fun. Their brief appearance in the film is amazingly humorous, perhaps the cat lover in me, appreciating the feline side of the story. Their cameo feels like a set-up for a late act villain, but they never reappear. It makes that scene fun, but unnecessary. However, there are more than enough moments to make up for these shortcomings. There is a gripping action set-piece with a rat that goes after the baby (the most evil-looking rat in cinematic history, no doubt). The finale involves stopping a dog pound cart that climaxes with a shocking punchline. The twist is reversed in the next scene, but it still hits you for a brief moment in time. Oh, the dog pound… The dog pound is one of those moments that Disney comes alive. We are trapped in this sweet, charming film, right up until we see the prison life of the dogs no one wanted. It is a heart-wrenching scene, as we see several dogs lost in their own thoughts, tears dripping from their eyes. And then there is the door at the end of the corridor, which is clearly meant for the dogs there is no space for anymore. While the beginnings of an escape tunnel adds just enough comfort to keep the tone light, the real horror comes in the lack of conclusion to the majority of the dogs kept there. It is one of those tiny Disney capsules that you dig up after all of this time and realise that even all those years ago, Walt Disney still was at the top of his game as a storyteller.
Final Verdict: The adorable dogs provide the aesthetics, while a strong story with powerful cult moments brings the heart.