Despite the silly, saccharine and inconsequential nature of its story, Disney’s Lady and the Tramp still stands as one of the great achievements in the history of the Mouse Factory’s animated features. Even if the movie had no story it all, that wouldn’t change the fact that it is one of the most gorgeously illustrated of the Disney animated films. There isn’t a frame of this film that I wouldn’t be happy to have framed and hanging on my wall. The animation of the canine characters fluidly blends realism and anthropomorphic fantasy. The filmmakers also make superb use of the movie’s 2.55:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio, a rarity among animated films of any kind.
The film is also unique in that it was also filmed simultaneously in the 4:3 Academy ratio. However, the “Full Screen” version on the new DVD is not this version, but a pan and scan of the CinemaScope film. That doesn’t matter, since here we watch only the widescreen version if we can, but it’s still sad that one of the original versions of this classic is not available.
Don’t get me wrong about the story, either. It’s one of the better examples of storytelling from the long line of Disney’s animated classics. Unlike their adaptations of popular fairy tales, like Cinderella, this mostly original story doesn’t need wacky side stories to flesh it out to feature length. This tale of a sheltered cocker spaniel introduced to life on the other side of the tracks by a roguish mutt is hard not to like and perfectly suited for the film’s target audience. The various canines transition seamlessly between their silent role in the human world and their very talkative private lives.
This story works so well enough it was even passable when Disney ported it over to the feline side of the fence and remade it as The Aristocats. Both Tramp and O’Malley have the same rakish Sinatra-esque personality.
If there’s anything to quibble about, it’s probably comes from the use of ethnic stereotypes for some of the animal characters. Each dog and cat breed is given an accent and other attributes consistent with their country of origin, so the Scotty dog is Scottish, the Irish wolfhound is an Irishman and the Chihuahua speaks with a Mexican accent that, if it appeared in a modern Disney film, you’d have to take a number and wait in line to protest outside their studio building. The two Siamese cats, Si and Am, are also stereotypical Asian characters that also wouldn’t be tolerated in today’s politically correct climate.
I guess it’s a good thing this movie was made in 1955, then, so we can enjoy what it does have to offer, which is a lot, and write off these minor elements as a product of their time. Works for me.