One of Disney's most endearing and timeless animated features, Lady and the Tramp has over the years became one of those illustrious movies that is as famous and renowned for it's iconic status as it is for the film itself. The scene where the two canines enjoy a romantic bowl of spaghetti under candlelight is an image ingrained in cinematic history. In many respects it's a potent symbol of what the entire film as a whole represents: innocence, simplicity, and romance all epitomised in one famous shot. I'm fairly sure it's not just the cranky vestiges of adulthood that makes me think that they just don't make children's films like this anymore. Going back to Lady and the Tramp for the first time since childhood, I was reminded of what used to make Disney so great, and how much they could do with a sprinkle of the magic old Walt used to put into his films back in the good old days. The first key ingredient to the films enduring legacy is the sheer simplicity of its story. Cocker Spaniel Lady (Barbara Luddy) finds herself no longer the centre of attention from her upper-class family after the arrival of a newborn baby. Lady meets up with stray wanderer the Tramp (Larry Roberts), who romances her and shows her life on the road away from the confines of her owner's home. It's a classic romance in structure, the rich and privileged girl romanced by the boy from (in this case literally) the wrong side of the tracks, who encourages her to look outside the boundaries and prejudices of her class structure and see the world in a new light. This classical fable is then woven within the tight structure of the classical Hollywood narrative. The end result is that it's all killer and no filler, a great little story with a refreshing brevity and succinctness that never has us glancing at our wristwatch or fighting the desire to slip out and put the kettle on. In the days of Pokemon and its ilk, all crazy editing, shouting, and plots indecipherable to anyone over double figures in age, how great it is to sit back and watch a good old well constructed story. Disney's finest works succeed because, although they are designed for children, they work as feature films in their own right, not just as marketing tools to entice your brats to spend your hard earned cash on comics and Happy Meals. It's perhaps increasingly difficult to appreciate this almost naive lack of attention to scalping the kids in today's day and age, especially when you see a balloon headed Mickey Mouse costume bouncing along on ice skates, or a new incarnation of A.A. Milne's' Winnie the Pooh with yet more new additions to Hundred Acre Wood. This attention to detail actually means we have some well rounded characters in Lady and Tramp, and some nice supporting roles for Lady's pals Trusty and Jock, who provide engaging and humorous co-stars. In fact the script is so nicely written it's easy to forgive Bill Thompson's terrible attempt at a Scottish accent as Jock, which makes him sound less Shaun Connery and more Russ Abbott. I have to say I was never the most avid fan of Disney in my youth. I enjoyed them certainly, but they were never essential viewing for me as I found 'harder-edged' animations like Watership Down or Lord of the Rings more fulfilling. Lady and the Tramp is very much Disney at its softest, in that there's no real animosity or evil characters here (aside from the wonderfully malelovant and underused Siamese cats). Even the dog catchers go about their business with a spring in their step and a tune in their heart. This kind of unremitting cheerfulness may be too much for some, certainly in these new more cynical times, but for me it proved a breath of fresh air. Only the initial stages of the film which charts Lady's first steps with her new owners and the arrival of their baby, feels somewhat overly drenched in nostalgic fifties saccharine values. After that the film just stays the right side of syrupy, and instead works its magic on you, creating one of those quintessential comforting Disney moments in time, where you're safe in the knowledge that nothing bad is really going to happen to the pooches. This is helped no end by some wonderfully warm and evocative animation, which proves that no amount of cutting edge technology can come close to replacing the good old fashioned humanity of the drawn image. Of course the films ethical standpoint seems all over the place, and ultimately reverts to standard. Even though Tramp shows Lady the wonders of the free world and never once seems down on his luck, he is ultimately tamed by the steadfast notion of the American values of family, and ends up her soul mate in the privileged suburbs, the kind of outcome his character denounces for the entire movie. Is this reverting to convention or a ahead-of-the-times display of feminist female power over males? Either way it, I'm not suggesting for a minute its confused politics gets in the way of the quality of the film, and hey, it's for the kids so I'll cut it some slack. I'm sure there's very little I can tell you about this movie that you don't already know. There's good reason why Lady and the Tramp still stands today as one of the figureheads of the Disney empire, and why, fifty years on, it's still one of the most highly regarded films the company has made. The answer lies in the animation, the story, the characters, but most importantly of all, in the good natured innocence of the film. I wasn't expecting now, as somewhat of a world weary and sceptical adult to be as entertained as I ended up being by this movie. Lady and the Tramp charmed me, and won me over as if I was a kid again, and for that alone I can't recommend it highly enough.
Our Review Ethos