Taken from a concept that had been shelved for over a decade, Lady and the Tramp premiered in Cinemascope during the middle of the 1950s, well into the predictable complacency of a post-Cinderella Disney renaissance. Befitting its middle-ish chronological position, it’s not surprising that the serviceably cute but mundane Lady—a turn-of-the-century ditty about two love struck dogs from opposite sides of the gated community—might be the most ignorable, least assertive production of their golden era. Which is shocking considering the directorial team of Geronimi, Jackson, and Luske would only six years later inject an angular, brashly jazzy sensibility into Disney’s staling empire with another canine romp: 101 Dalmations. With apologies to Dumbo and two or three of the segments from Fantasia, Dalmations is maybe the one immortal masterpiece of Walt Disney’s entire feature filmography, or at any rate the only one that wouldn’t melt off the wick under a hot lamp like the rest of the studio’s waxworks. It’s a vivacious, fizzy, low-stakes fable in which the only discernible lesson being taught is that, given the chance, the high-cheekboned wealthy would buy your surrogate children’s skin right off their backs. And that you’ll still love them provided they’re simply fabulous about the transaction.
Lady, on the other hand, continues in the vein of Bambi‘s neutered guide to sex non-education, an illustrated manual on twitterpat in which students are expected not to break off into small groups after the film and not to discuss any topics therein with their peers. After all, won’t the title refrain of the central ballad “Bella Notte” translate to most kids ears as “Better Not-ee”? (Unless of course they hear “Better Naughty.”) But, at least this time around (and unlike in Bambi), we’re actually shown a hint as to how little goombas come to be. Apparently it involves the male pushing a meatball across the plate so that the woman can eat it and, upon reaching her stomach, convert the protein RNA polynucleotides into an amino acid that will then reorganize into chromosomal alleles. The alleles are later belched into the air where they bond with the chemical compounds found in air, forming X and Y chromosomes that pair off and transcribe, resulting in the double helix structure of DNA. The vaporized diploid cells go off into a corner and gestate, emerging nine months later as fully formed baby animals with flaxen, fluffy hair. Monozygotic triplets like Lady’s three Springer Spanielettes seen in the film’s final tableaux are a result of a surplus remainder of oregano ribosome proteins within the original meatball’s breading. This is why Tramp leads Lady down the alley of Tony’s Italian eatery. He wants a large family and knows Tony’s fertile recipe.
So, as a primer, Lady carries the baggage of scads of footnotes. Parents used to having their kids explain films to them will have their hands full on this one. But, getting onto a completely aesthetic tangent, comparing Lady against Dalmations calls to direct attention why the former pales. It lacks a bitch. Though it’s not for lack of aim. There’s a dried up old poon-granny: the celery-voiced Aunt Sarah, whose attempt to put a muzzle on Lady’s maw constitutes this film’s approximation of a chastity belt. There’s a used, played-out, triflin’ ho-bag: the Mae West-impersonating pooch Peg, whose torch for Tramp’s tricks burns nearly as out of control as her case of doggy venereal disease. And, most spectacularly, there’s a stereophonic serenade of hissing pussy: the Siamese twin cats Si and Am, whose flactured Engrrish diction and syntax enliven Lady’s prissy existence for three verses (and would later spring back from the subconscious of 1969’s draftees while navigating the fine art of negotiating with Vietnamese sookie-sookie girls). But a bitch there’s not. Cruella De Vil wouldn’t make a pelt of this film’s pitiful litter even for a line of knock-off couture destined to line racks at Montgomery Ward’s. The color bland will never be the new black.
My reservations about the color restoration process on Disney DVDs remains as it was when I reviewed Cinderella's disc, comparing the Photoshop-like boosts to cosmetic dentistry. There isn't an organic-looking brushstroke in the entire film, which (come to think of it) is probably a fairly complimentary video representation. If this wonton powdered-sugar sandblast doesn't bother you in the slightest, you'll probably be apt to call this the finest transfer ever, because there isn't a flaw to be found throughout. The anamorphic widescreen transfer should look even more fantastic on 16:9 television sets. In fact, your kids will probably want to take a pair of construction paper scissors to the screen. There are three 5.1 remixed options for you to test-drive Si and Am's broken Far Eastern dialect with: English, Espanich, and Frohnsay. Surprisingly, racism translates perfectly.
It's not like there's much husk to shuck from this meager corncob. But, while it's a significant falloff from the bursting two-disc sets for Bambi and Cinderella, Lady and the Tramp still comes with more than its fair share of cholesterol-loaded supplemental features. There are really only two major features worth saving, though. The first is an extensive storyboard montage showcasing both the original 1943 conception of the film, voiced by a pair of Disney employees and aspiring community theatre bit players. The second is a 50-minute documentary on the making of the film, from the conception of the project way back in the 1930s (when dogs still reproduced via cellular mitosis) up through its legacy as the studio's most self-loved dog feature, if only because Oliver & Company is still living down those Billy Joel rockers. Lest you think that the documentary is serious critical-historical fodder, I dare you to try taking a head count on how many crew members' children and grandchildren are recruited to provide careful, unbiased consideration. At the very least, I've discovered how all the laid-off Disney animators who showed up on Bambi's extra features have bounced back: they were apparently all re-hired as Disney PR representatives, serving as anamatronic spokesmen spinning the Disney brand name on DVD supplements and theme park studio tours. Given the artistic quality of the last few decades' Disney features, I'd wager their new line of work is more creatively fulfilling. Fred Willard shows up to cash a check, vaguely reprising his blowhard dog expert role from Best in Show and showing off the seven major groups of AKC-registered breeds. None of them are shown pushing a meatball up Willard's leg. There are a few trivia games and personality profiles (I'm a bulldog), and a CD-ROM feature that allows you to create your own puppy Tamagotchi. There are five breeds to choose from and each is infuriatingly, retardedly slow. They must be the ones responsible for calling this release the "50th Anniversary Edition".51 years after the film's release.
Walt Doggy Dogg's canine love story came to the movie screens (and now your home theater) fixed, although you'll probably still get heartworm.