Though it's certainly not a film I'd pop in when "the guys" are around, it's hard not to love Walt Disney's Lady and the Tramp (1955), either as an underrated landmark in Disney's classic catalogue of animation…or simply as a great movie. As an admitted dog lover, it's hard not to be won over by the film's unabashed cuteness, but Lady and the Tramp certainly isn't a film that relies on it to tug at the ol' heartstrings. It's a movie about culture clash, jealousy, friendship, spaghetti and meatballs, and its simplicity is what makes it so effective.
Released right between Peter Pan (1953) and Sleeping Beauty (1959), Lady and the Tramp is about as economical as major-studio animated features get. In context, it's easy to see why the film remains on the underrated side: it's not based on a fairy tale like most others in the Disney catalogue, favoring character interaction over elegant dresses and swordfights. Rest assured, though, there's plenty to like about the "production design": the artwork is excellent and the music by vocalist/actress Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke sets the tone nicely.
In the story department, Lady and the Tramp is just as tight: the "culture clash" between the rough-and-tumble mutt and the upper-crust cocker spaniel unfolds at a brisk but believable pace, while the supporting characters are as likeable as ever…unless you're a cat lover, of course. The animal-centric perspective of the story (employed earlier in films like Dumbo and Bambi) is in full form here; even though "Jim Dear" and "Darling" do their part to move the story along, they're essentially minor players in a film told strictly from a "dog's-eye view". This, again, is part of the film's successful formula, helping elevate it from a standard-issue romantic drama to a genuine animated classic.
Based loosely on Ward Green's "Happy Dan, the Cynical Dog"---a short story published in Cosmopolitan magazine well over a decade before the film was completed---Lady and the Tramp underwent plenty of changes from its original form, though the end product is one of Disney's purest animated efforts of the era…and that's something that a half-hearted sequel like Scamp's Adventure (2001) can't dilute. Lady and the Tramp may or may not be a film that's gotten significantly better with age---quite possibly the only disadvantage to not being based on a fairly tale---but it certainly hasn't tarnished. The deceptively simple story and memorable characters still hold their own, over 50 years later.
While its golden anniversary has already come and gone, Lady and the Tramp has arrived in grand fashion as part of Disney's line of Platinum Series DVDs. The original release (a "Limited Issue" disc) wasn't a bad movie-only DVD, but this double-disc affair really raises the stakes. The technical presentation is excellent and the bonus features are as informative as they are entertaining---so above all else, this is a well-rounded package that the whole family will enjoy from top to bottom. As my grandpappy, Ol' Reliable, used to say: "Let's take a closer look, shall we?"
As the first Disney animated film presented in CinemaScope, Lady and the Tramp's extra-wide 2.55:1 anamorphic transfer looks excellent, but not quite perfect. Also available on the disc is a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan transfer---which, for those keeping score at home, is not the "re-composed" effort as seen in certain theatrical prints and earlier VHS and laserdisc releases. Of course, we at DVD Talk strongly endorse OAR (original aspect ratio), and Lady and the Tramp is no exception: the widescreen compositions are framed perfectly and look fantastic from start to finish. The colors are rich and bold, though they're a bit oversaturated in certain areas, while the image looks a bit softer than I'd like (strangely enough, the pan-and-scan transfer may actually be a bit sharper!). Digital problems like edge enhancement aren't an issue here, though it's no surprise given Disney's excellent track record on DVD.
The audio department is equally impressive, as Lady and the Tramp is presented in your choice of a new 5.1 Enhanced Home Theater mix or the film's original 3.0 track (left/right/center). The 5.1 mix is a tastefully done remix that fans of the original should be pleased with---but the 3.0 presentation does a fine job of holding its own, boasting clear music and dialogue throughout while ensuring that audio purists will be pleased either way. Also on board for the main feature are optional French and Spanish 2.0 tracks, as well as English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Things really improve with "Lady's Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp" (7 chapters, 52:07, below left), a fantastic documentary detailing the music, voice acting, and art of the film---it's loaded with history and is one of this release's best features. Next up is a Storyboarding Featurette (13:02)---it's less about the film and more about the practice in general, but still worth a look---as well as a selection of actual Storyboards from the film (11:52), which also includes a terrific audio "story pitch" that plays right along with the artwork.
Also on board are three excerpts from original "Disneyland" TV Shows (with optional introduction, 45:16 total), including a pair of live performances by Peggy Lee and Sonny Burke ("The Siamese Cat Song" and "He's a Tramp", above right)---and trust me, there's comedy gold to be found here. Also of note are a trio of Theatrical Trailers, including the original and a pair of re-release clips, along with an interesting series of Still Galleries (presented in either still frame or slideshow format) which showcase character sketches, background design, production photos and more. There are also a few Games and Activities for the kids, but I'm convinced at this point that they're nothing more than virtual babysitters. Either way, you really can't co wrong with the terrific bonus features on board here---they're sure to appease ardent animation aficionados and aspiring artists alike (whew!).
Disney has established a great reputation with their ongoing series of Platinum Series DVDs, so it's great to know that the underrated Lady and the Tramp carries the torch proudly. The technical presentation is near-perfect, while the bonus features are quality efforts that should please the entire family (though the lack of an audio commentary is a mild disappointment). For die-hard Disney collectors and classic animation fans alike, this is simply one DVD package you can't afford to pass up. Very, very Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an art instructor and office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.