[29 February 2012]
As luck would have it, Lady and the Tramp screened recently at my daughter’s school as part of their regular Friday movie nights. Would the film still hold the attention of today’s jaded grade school kids weaned on a steady diet of Disney Channel and videogames? Happily, I can say yes, just like the grade school kids of my childhood were weaned on Atari and MTV and yet could still appreciate animated classics.
The film may seem quaint now in its storytelling and cultural stereotypes, but it still holds up as a basic tale of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins the girl back by saving a baby from a nasty rat.” In some ways, Lady and the Tramp is a more sophisticated version of a Warner Bros. cartoon, particularly when the Siamese cats show up and begin wreaking havoc that’s blamed on Lady.
As far as Disney films go, this one lacks the fairy-tale-with-polish veneer of something like Cinderella, and it falls short of the deep pathos found in the likes of Pinocchio and Bambi, but it still displays the storytelling chops that Walt’s original crew was capable of. The story is fairly basic: Lady is a cocker spaniel who’s the center of her owners’ lives until the couple is expecting a baby, at which point she takes a back seat. Tramp is a charismatic stray who’s used to living by his wits on the streets.
The two meet and Lady finds herself attracted to Tramp’s devil-may-care lifestyle, given the mistreatment she receives at home when a relative of her owners shows up to watch the baby for a weekend and brings a pair of fiendish Siamese cats with her. The dogcatcher almost manages to bring major misfortune into their lives, and Lady eventually decides that Tramp’s life isn’t for her. Tramp, though, proves he’s worthy of living in her world when he saves the baby during the climax of the story.
Disney is notorious for putting its films through umpteen home video editions (“last chance to own before it goes back in the vault” is particularly obnoxious), so this Diamond Edition is likely not the last we’ve seen of Lady and the Tramp on physical media. This one is a combo pack with a Blu-ray and a standard-def DVD; both contain the film, but the regular DVD only has a pair of bonus features: Diane Disney Miller’s remembrance of her father and PuppyPedia: Going to the Dogs, a Fred Willard-hosted piece that I assume played on Disney Channel at some point. PuppyPedia is cute, with its overview of the various types of dogs and Willard’s goofy banter, but even my four-year-old grew bored with it quickly.
I should digress to note that there’s also a Diamond Edition that has the Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy of the film, so you can watch it on a computer without a disc or transfer it to a mobile device. The Blu-ray has both of those pieces and a whole lot more, much of which was ported over from an earlier DVD release, so if you still have that, you may not find this worth the upgrade. (The improved picture quality in a Blu-ray is really only noticeable on larger HDTVs, unless you’re standing right next to the screen and want to nitpick every little thing.) The old stuff includes a batch of deleted scenes, a music video, 45 minutes worth of Disneyland TV excerpts that pertain to the film, and some making-of materials.
The centerpiece of the making-of features is Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of Lady and the Tramp, which runs almost an hour and looks at the creation of the film from start to finish. It’s worthwhile watching for any Disney enthusiast. Finding Lady: The Art of Storyboard looks specifically at the way storyboards were used to build the film’s story, and how that method later influenced other filmmakers. And once you’ve watched that, you’ll enjoy the original 1943 storyboard that runs almost 12 minutes and has some Disney animators doing the voices for a rough pass on the story.
The bonus features that are new to this release include three never-before-seen deleted scenes (there’s a surprising amount of deleted scenes for an animated film, which I suppose shows the growing pains this movie went through during development) and a song that was discarded early and wasn’t performed for a permanent recording until now. There’s also an audio commentary you can access while watching the movie; it features voice actors recreating the film’s development meetings, using the transcripts from them. (Like George Lucas, Walt Disney was obviously a pack rat.)
I should note that the Diane Disney Miller’s remembrance of her father is new to this release, too. She not only talks about her father, but also delves into the opening of Disneyland at the time the movie premiered. It’s a nice trip down memory lane. I wonder what Walt would think of the media empire that bears his name today.