Lady and the Tramp (50th Anniversary Edition)

Sometimes movies you see as a kid look better through the light of nostalgia. Goonies for instance loses almost all of its luster should you have the misfortune to re-watch it as an adult. It’s better off as a fond memory, than a recent trauma. But that’s almost never true of those great Disney classics like Lady and the Tramp, or any of the other great live action and animated films in Disney’s undeniably classic library. They hold up, every one of them. That’s not something easily claimed by anyone or anything else. I’m not going to waste a lot of time talking about this story. Lady and the Tramp is by now an ingrained part of our cultural consciousness. An uptown dog named Lady meets a rascally stray named Tramp. Sparks fly, magic happens and there’s the cartoon doggy equivalent of love. The film is of course defined by that now iconic spaghetti scene, in which the pair share a noodle and what is the closest thing you’ll find to a romantic doggy kiss. Few humans have dates as good as that, let alone pets.

Lady and the Tramp was unique for Disney because it’s one of their few, original animated films. Almost all of their other work is based on something else, whether it be a fairy tale, a book, a legend, or a story slyly stolen from an unknown Japanese movie. But Lady in the Tramp was an original… though Disney wasn’t always ready to admit that fact. The story was originally created by uncredited Disney employed idea man Joe Grant, and then tweaked over several decades until it became what it was when it ended up on screen.

It’s also unique because it’s the first of their early movies to truly tackle real world, adult themes like romantic love, dating, and even in an indirect way sex, in a children’s movie setting. The story’s simple, a lot less epic than most of Disney’s other work of that era, but full of more nuance than some of their other more straightforward films like Bambi or Snow White. Sure it’s about talking dogs, but unlike say Oliver and Company, they aren’t funny or wacky. The movie plays it straight and any humor that results comes from the natural behavior of dogs just being dogs.

What’s really interesting about it is their willingness to tackle hard truths. There is a scene in the dog pound, where one of the dogs is marched off to his death. Lady and the Tramp could have sidestepped around it, but instead it addresses it, by showing one of the dogs hauled off to a room from where no one returns. But the genius guys at Disney mute it just enough, by showing the dog being dragged away only in shadow, while the other animals howl around him.

If there’s one tiny flaw though in Lady and the Tramp it’s in its insistence on going for a happy ending. Though earlier in the film the movie is willing to face up to doggie death, they weren’t willing to end on that sort of note. In an attempt to rescue Tramp, Old Trusty is apparently killed under the wheels of a wagon. In one of the most gut wrenching animated moments ever on screen, Trusty lies very still in the mud, while his friend Jock howls in misery over his friend’s demise. Flash forward a few months later, and Disney throws the poignancy of that moment right out the window. Here comes Trusty in a cast, hobbling happy up the path. It minimizes Trusty’s sacrifice and hacks off at the knees what would have been an otherwise beautifully bittersweet animated moment.

Still, you can’t fault the movie too much for keeping kids from crying. The super-happy ending works well enough, it’s just the other one, at least in my opinion, would have worked better. It’s a tiny thing in what is yet another of Disney’s great animated masterpieces. It’s a classic, and a must have in any film lover’s collection. Lady and the Tramp has been on DVD before, but as usual Disney played their silly little limited release game with it and only made it available for sixty days. That version hit shelves briefly in 2000 as a “Limited Edition”. This is a 2-Disc Special Edition, and you’ll have more than sixty days to purchase it. You should, because though it recycles some material from the “Limited Edition” it’s by far the best version of the film available.

The really glorious thing about all of these classic Disney animated movies on DVD is that they’ve been restored to their original glory. The movie hasn’t looked this good since it’s first theater run back in the fifties, which means almost none of us have ever seen the film look this great. My memories of it as a kid were of a grainy picture and darker, more muted colors. The touched up version is bright, crystal clear, and stunningly beautiful. It’s a dramatic difference.

Another nice thing they’ve done with the movie for this release is eliminate the need for separate widescreen and full screen versions of the DVD. Since it’s a two-disc release, and they have the room to do it, the first disc contains both the full screen and widescreen versions of Lady and the Tramp. Parents sometimes inexplicably prefer the full screen version for their kids, so there it is, have at it. It’s not a flipper, both versions can be access on the same side of the disc from the menu screen.

As for features, this is another job well done by Disney. Like all of their recent classic animated film re-releases this one is loaded with documentaries and making of footage that’ll make any fan of Walt want to dance a jig. What’s here is perhaps not quite as good as some of the more innovative ideas used on say, their Bambi re-release. But with fifty-two minutes of making of footage loaded on to disc two, there’s no cause for complaint.

Along with the more relevant and interesting extras included, Lady and the Tramp SE is bogged down with the usual assortment of useless junk. They’ve included two deleted scenes, but they’re not very good and it’s all storyboards. Storyboard deleted scenes are a beating, and as a general rule and I rather not see them if I have to see them in that format. There’s also a music video, and a strange personality profile by bark that no one is likely to care about. Worse are the silly DVD games. Has anyone in the history of DVD watching ever enjoyed playing them? Maybe your kids do, I wouldn’t know. None of this really detracts from the release, it’s standard stuff which Disney is almost required to include. Just skip over it and get to the documentaries.

Lady and the Tramp is another wonderful Special Edition release from Disney’s collection. It’s not quite as innovative as some of their others like Bambi, but then I’m not sure this is a movie that necessarily warrants that kind of DVD creativity. It’s a great release, and a must-have for any Disney loyalist’s collection.