Sunday, December 23, 2012

Disney Canon: Lady and the Tramp

I think there are only two words you could use to describe Lady and the Tramp and they are "cute" and "sweet".

No matter how you look at it, cuteness is at the heart of this movie. It is there from frae one until the last shot. Its very premise (romeo and juliet with dogs) is inherently cute, not to mention the many details that make it even cuter. It all starts when we meet Lady, a dog living a comfortable live with a loving family in the suburbs of early XX century America. We see the world through her point of view. That is in and on itself cute enough, but she also refers to her owners, a sweet young couple, as "Jim Dear" and "Darling", because that's what they call each other. 

The film actually starts pretty slow as it devotes a lot of time to show us what a great life Lady has. Jim Dear and Darling love her very much, that is until they suddenly stop paying attention to her. They are going to have a baby! But don't worry, once the baby is born, wanting to know what the fuzz is all about Lady meets the little boy while he is sleeping in his crib. You don't get much cuter than that now, do you? The first half hour of the film is so full of "aaaw" moments that the film gets to the brink of a cuteness overload. Thankfully (for the film's sake, that is), whenever there's too much sweetness in a Disney film, something bad's bound to happen. 

Jim Dear and Darling must go on a trip of some sort, and so, coming in to take care of the baby is Aunt Sarah and her pet siamese cats. Now it's time to make an aside and acknowledge Disney's tendency to indulge in racial and cultural stereotypes. Since dogs breeds come from different countries, we have many thick-accented supporting characters. From the pretty benigne Scottish Terrier Jock going to a mexican Chihuahua called Pedro, a southern Bloodhound Trusty (whose grandfather, in one of the film's funniest jokes, was called 'Old Reliable') and the pretty offensive asian stereotyping present in Aunt Sarah's cats. 

Coming back to the story, the siamese cats pretend to have been hurt by Lady, and so, Aunt Sarah takes her to a pet shop to get her a muzzle. Lady manages to escape and that's when the Tramp enters the picture. Actually, we had already been introduced to the Tramp in a scene depicting his carefree lifestyle as well as his ability to beat the law at its own game by freeing a couple dogs from a dog pound wagon. Later he had stopped by Lady's lawn to tell her how Jim Dear and Darling's baby would be her doom. Anyway, the Tramp seems to be pretty kin of Lady, as he takes her to the zoo so a beaver can bite off her muzzle and later taking her to a romantic dinner at  his good pal's Tony. 

As you could easily get from the world-famous sequence embed in the video above, sparks fly when these two dogs meet. However, the Tramp's adventurous and law-free attitude clashes with Lady's rather settled-down lifestyle. He encourages her to go chasing chickens, but she is captured and put in the dog pound. She will get off easily as she has a collar and a plaque, but in true Disney fashion, the pound is a horrible place where dogs cry thinking about their fate and the possibility of being put down. It's also the place where Lady learns about the Tramp's reputation as a lady-killer thanks to Peggy Lee-voiced Peg. 

That's the point in which the dogs' relationship turns sour until an event involving a horrible rat and the little baby brings the two of them together. 

Now, at this point I've basically just made a recap of the movie and that is because there's few things that I could say about it. Like I said, the film is cute, it has a delightfully romantic scene in the "bella notte" sequence and some pretty nice songs. It's a low-stakes story told in a pretty cool way, with some very beautiful animation. The dogs are all very beautifully animated and the backgrounds are among the best in Disney's filmography. There's few exceptional things about the film, but it is nice, enjoyable and plays well with children. It's a minor success, but a success after all. 

So nothing special about that, right? Well, Lady and the Tramp is much more impressive when you look at the history of its production. After the War, Disney spent a lot of time developing projects such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and even Sleeping Beauty. Disney's release deal with RKO Pictures had expired as he started releasing his films with the newly formed and Disney-owned Buena Vista. What's more, in 1952 Disney announced the opening of "Disneyland", one of Walt's most ambitious projects, which would revolutionize theme parks like no other before it. And that's not all. In order to build up to the opening of "Disneyland", Disney also created the television show of the same name. So when he was strongly focused on his park and the tv show that came with it, not to mention that production had already started on Sleeping Beauty, Disney decided to put Lady and the Tramp into production. 

The animators not only had to finish a film in two years (as a comparison, Sleeping Beauty starting storyboarding in 1951 and wasn't finished until seven years later), but they were also to make it using a new technique called CinemaScope which made Lady and the Tramp Disney's first widescreen animated feature. That the film is actually any good is a little surprising, but that it became Disney's highest grossing release since Snow White is almost unbelievable.

Next Week: We are introduced to the third ever Disney Princess in Sleeping Beauty.  

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