Thursday, January 28, 2010

#15: Lady and the Tramp (1955)

I was wondering at what point we'd get to this: 'Lady and the Tramp' is the first Disney film NOT based off a pre-existing story... pretty much. Story artist Joe Grant submitted storyboard drawings to Walt of his cocker spaniel Lady in action back in the 30s, but Walt apparently wasn't won over. The art stayed behind when he left the studio, and eventually a story was written around them, and 'Lady and the Tramp' was born. Walt actually had Ward Green, novelist whose short story reignited the project, write a novelization of the film two years prior to its realize, as he always wanted audiences to be familiar with the story beforehand. The result may not be one of the studio's most ambitious films, but it's one of their most wonderfully structured and beautifully told.
So what happens when two worlds collide, eh? Privileged cocker Spaniel Lady has lived with her masters (brilliantly referred to, by her respective, 'Jim Dear' and 'Darling') for years, but begins to get a bit neglected once the lady of the house becomes expecting. When the two go off for a few days, they leave the house to Aunt Sarah, whose Siamese cats reign havoc, but of course Lady is blamed. She eventually turns loose and ends up under the tutelage of the scrappy mutt Tramp, who lives life by his own rules, free of leeches or human companionship. And wouldn't you know it, these opposites attract! Can you believe it?
It seems like the Disney artists just get stronger and stronger; this is one of their best looking films ever. The backgrounds are so rich, the designs so strong, everything just looks so beautiful, even a place that's supposed to look shitty like the dog pound is gorgeous to look at. The animation is superb too; they really focused on making these animals move like dogs, while still taking liberties while they could, and the results are right there and they're astounding. There's also some really fantastic voice acting here, particularly Lady (Barbara Leddy), who gives an air of sophistication to the character, but still remains sweet and a bit naive. Same with the Tramp (Larry Roberts), who manages to balance smarmy vagrant and scrappy hero. Side-characters like the Scottish terrier and the bloodhound are great too. In fact, they all sound great. Idn't that great?
As for the story, it's a rather straight narrative, and a worn one too (opposites attract... and how!), but nothing about it really feels formulaic. Everything just plays out smoothly and it's all quite a treat to watch unfold. From the beginning with Lady as a puppy (with cuteness quotients reaching Bambi levels) to the two neighbor dogs acting like mentors of the world to Lady, to Tramps's scampering about town, to him showing Lady a night ON the town. I'm literally running short on words here, because I'm basically just going to keep going on about how great the movie was. I mean, everything worked phenomenally: the story, the character animation, the style, the music, the voices, the art design, and the heart; this film may not be one of Disney's epics, but it's a down-to-earth tour-de-force.
I guess I'll end with a few random points. Now like the unfortunate portrayal of Indians in 'Peter Pan,' here we get unfortunate portrayals of Asians in Aunt Sarah's Siamese cats. They look and talk Asian (at least like stereotypes, anyway), and they wreck up the house to let Lady take the fall. Originally when this was being drafted during the war, the cats were a larger villain, okay at the time I suppose since we were fighting them, but afterward I guess they got reduced to a smaller role. Thankfully. They might be the one thing about the movie I wasn't thrilled by. They serve their purpose, but they were kind of annoying. Then you have your famous scene outside Tony's, the spaghetti scene. A truly great scene of course, with two great characters in the Italian chefs who do their little serenade, but man, how slow must their night be that they can cater like this to two stray dogs? It's nice and all, but I hope they have enough paying customers to stay afloat. I love those guys...

Verdict? The first Disney movie that I can say I was truly enchanted by. Sometimes the best stories are the old favorites that are just told in a new, fresh variation, and this may be the best example of that. As I said before, the film comes through on all fronts, and is just a great piece of work from the studio. You may not remember a lot from it if you saw it a long time ago, so I heartily recommend you see it again. It will not disappoint.

...oh yeah! This was the first Disney film to be shot in Cinemascope widescreen, leaving the artists having to reinvent how they framed and animated scenes. From what I've seen, they seem to have done a great job, but unfortunately I got stuck with a fullscreen copy. Fullscreen is TERRIBLE, I HATE IT! HATE IT.

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