Based in part on the short story, “Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog” by Ward Greene, “Lady and the Tramp” is a charming romantic comedy all told from the perspective of two dogs. One is a well taken care of cocker spaniel named Lady (Barbara Luddy), and the other, a stray mutt named Tramp (Larry Roberts) from the other side of the tracks (literally). It was the first of the Disney animated features to be given the widescreen treatment and was filmed using the Cinemascope process. This already makes it a drastic shift from the usual 4:3 aspect ratio of the previous films, and adds a great deal of visual detail to all the backgrounds.
The story is fairly simple, following the antics of Lady from puppy to six months, in which she meets Tramp after discovering her owners are expecting a baby. Though her friends Trusty and Jock assure her otherwise, Tramp tells her that a baby means the dog gets neglected and eventually forced out of the home. This conflict eventually leads her to running away from home, where she spends a romantic night out with Tramp.
It’s fairly difficult describing the plot since there’s not much to it other than Lady and Tramp falling in love. The rest of it plays out as an interconnected series of events, some focused around the baby, others around class conflict between the rich and poor (there’s a particularly funny scene in which Jock and Trusty propose to Lady to save her reputation). There are also a lot of humorous sequences in which we get to see the eccentricities of humans from the point of view of a dog. Nearly everything is shown from that lower, outside perspective and that includes Lady’s owners (whose faces are often out of frame).
The characters are all a lot of fun and full of personality, especially the dogs. While Lady is proper and innocent, Tramp is a fun loving (womanizing) American stray. There’s also Trusty and Jock (Bill Baucom and Bill Thompson), Lady’s friends who are also well bred and from the wealthy part of town. It’s an interesting contrast compared to the dogs of the pound, which are a collection of racial caricatures and a washed-up lounge singer named Peg (Peggy Lee).
The animation is very beautiful and highly detailed, adding a lot to the setting of a city in the early twentieth century. Even though there’s a lot of harmless ethnic stereotypes and caricatures (maybe aside from the Siamese cats, Si and Am), it’s interesting to see them as such a large presence. They make up the majority of the characters Lady encounters, and it goes along with the time period which dealt with a lot of immigrants coming to the states.
The backgrounds for the cels are incredible and among the most meticulous yet shown in a Disney movie. The streets are cobblestone and full of puddles, holes, and other debris, while the upper side of town is gated off and very clean. You can pick out posters and designs that add to the authenticity of the locations, making for a very seemingly realistic world for the characters to inhabit. The widescreen backdrops call for a lot of attention and had to be massive to create some of the long panning shots, such as the park or some of the running sequences. It’s impressive and looks great, holding up exceptionally well after all these years.
That also goes for the music, since this is a musical. There’s less emphasis on the musical numbers overall compared to some of the previous films, but a few still stand out. One is “He’s a Tramp”, the catchy song about the dog’s womanizing as sung by Peggy Lee, and “Bella Notte”, the song from the iconic spaghetti sequence that is so apart of pop culture history it’s been parodied and tributes countless times.
“Lady and the Tramp” is a classic musical that’s endearingly sweet. It’s full of memorable and lovable characters, fantastic set pieces and musical numbers, but best of all, it makes a romance between two dogs as developed and compelling as nearly any you’d find between human characters in live action, and maybe more so than some.