Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Disney's Lady and the Tramp

Now here's a movie for all you dog lovers out there. If you hate dogs, you may still like this movie. No promises though. The idea for Lady and the Tramp came from a combination of Joe Grant's sketches of his Springer Spaniel, Lady, and a short story by Ward Greene entitled, Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog. In 1937, Grant had shown Walt Disney sketches of Lady, which Disney enjoyed, so he asked Grant to make up a storyboard. Grant came back with a storyboard, but it didn't meet Disney's approval. The story was shelved. Later in 1943, Disney found a short story in Cosmopolitan named, Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog, and he quickly bought the rights to the story. By 1949, Grant had left the studio, though his original drawings were continually being pulled out and retooled for use in a film. By 1953, a solid story had been made, based on Grant's storyboards and Greene's short story. Greene later wrote a novelization for the movie so that audiences would be familiar with the story before it came out in theaters two years later. Grant unfortunately didn't receive any credit for his storyboards. Though based on Greene's short story, we can all be thankful that they didn't keep the original name.

The story of Lady and the Tramp that we know is a little different from the original script. For one, Lady was meant to have one neighbor dog, a Ralph Bellamy-type dog named Hubert. Hubert was later replaced by Jock and Trusty. A scene that was like Dumbo's "Pink Elephants on Parade" was also deleted from the film, in which Lady's fears of the new baby bring about a baby bootie related nightmare. In earlier versions, the Tramp actually had a name. He went from Homer to Rags to Bozo, then finally to just the Tramp. I'm sure they didn't like the sound of "Lady and Bozo." Tramp barely made it as the name since it was the 50's and it didn't seem acceptable. Disney apparently didn't care and approved it anyway. Aunt Sarah in the film was supposed to be much more overbearing and much meaner. They toned her down to just being a well-meaning busybody. Si and Am, the Siamese cats, were going to be named Nip and Tuck at one time. Jim Dear and Darling originally had normal names, Jim Brown and Elizabeth, respectively. Disney decided to change them to Jim Dear and Darling as to keep the movie in the perspective of Lady. In keeping with this theme, Jim Dear and Darling's faces are rarely shown throughout the movie, and most of the shots are at a low perspective to give the viewer more of a dog's view of things. This alone makes me want to watch this movie again. Even the Rat, whom functions as the villain in the movie, was different in earlier drafts. Instead of being a malicious character, the Rat was first imagined to be a more comical character. This all changed when Disney realized that the film lacked real dramatic tension. The Rat changed to being the thing of my nightmares. Seriously though, who wasn't afraid of that rat when they were a kid?

I have been informed by my writing partner Anne, that I seem to ramble in these posts, and half the time I'm simply telling you the story you already know because most of you have seen these movies. I could not agree more. While it's fun to poke fun at some of the story plots in Disney movies, you have all seen them before and don't need a boring recap from me. So, from now on I will be just giving the unknown background of the film and some other fun facts. This will make the posts more fun to read for you, and more fun for me to write.

Getting back to the movie, you may have noticed that there is a distant cousin of Gopher in Winnie the Pooh present. The Beaver not only sounds a bit like Gopher, but has the same whistling "S" sound when he talks. Stan Freberg provided the voice of the Beaver, and resorted to using an actual whistle to make the funny noise when it proved to hard to make it naturally. The Beaver sequence is the one I remember the most from my childhood, mostly for the silly sounding character.

On the technical side, this was the first Disney movie to be filmed in CinemaScope (Example at left. A preview of the movie, The Robe, with CinemaScope. The dotted square is supposed to represent the size of a normal movie screen). It's like the Imax of the 50's. CinemaScope made the picture wider, therefore making it harder for the animators to have one character dominate the screen. More background was added to shots just so the area wouldn't look sparse. Longer takes were deemed necessary as constant jump-cutting would seem too busy or annoying. Since this was a newer way to portray animated films, the animators didn't quite get the hang of it in Lady and the Tramp, and some character development was lost, as there was more realism but fewer closeups, therefore less involvement with the audience. Another problem was that not all movie theaters had the capabilities to play CinemaScope and so Walt had to issue two versions of the film, one in widescreen and another in the academy ratio. This involved gathering the layout artists to restructure key scenes when characters were on the outside area of the screen. Come on! Having characters fully in the shot is overrated! I'm sure it would have turned out fine. CinemaScope didn't stay around for long though, as by the early 1960's, most movies didn't use it. It turned out that it was expensive to produce the film and sound recording for CinemaScope, so studios eventually stopped using it.

In the end, Lady and the Tramp is about class structure. It's a familiar tale that we've all heard. A scruff or peasant male falls in love with a rich and proper female, or vice versa. On paper it's not supposed to work, but in the end, opposites attract and the two fall in love anyway. Another theme that is apparent in all these sorts of movies is the misunderstanding of other classes. A prime example is the movie/book The Outsiders. The Greasers and Socials, both completely different, hate each other for reasons no one is completely sure about. As the movie/book progresses, both groups start to realize that all their conceptions about the other group are not as true as they thought. The same goes for Lady and the Tramp in a way. Lady and her friends are judgmental of the Tramp and his rough and tumble friends. The Tramp and his friends on the other hand, consider the other dogs pompous and naive. Only through shared experiences do they learn that they are not that different from each other.

The movie also deals with abandonment and replacement. The same anxiety and confusion that a child feels when they are about to get a new little sibling is the same feelings that Lady has. Like a child that has received all the attention of their parents up till the birth of another baby, Lady is frightened by the thought of not being loved anymore, of being cast off and forgotten due to this screaming baby. Any older sibling can relate to this feeling. That's why being the youngest child is the best!

I do have to bring up the issues of race in this movie. While the movie is very good in my opinion, it does have a very shameless representation of Asians, personified by the siamese cats, Si and Am. Get it? Siam?.....Never mind. The cat's first drawings and conception came in 1943, right in the middle of World War II and the fear of the Yellow Peril. The Yellow Peril was the evil Asian forces that were out to destroy the American way, namely the Japanese. That didn't mean that Americans and others wouldn't stereotype all Asians however. Si and Am became the bane of Lady's existence. The stereotypical looks, manner and accent tip off any older viewer, though things like this bounced right off me as a child. I was too busy freaking out about the talking animals.

Lady and the Tramp is best known for it's spaghetti dinner scene. Lady and the Tramp are sitting down to a spaghetti dinner brought to them by two outrageously Italian men (that's a spicy meat-a-ball!) and they eat until they sip on the same noodle and lock lips. Awwwwww! This has been parodied more times than I can count. It's a beautiful scene with great music and it has become a classic Disney moment. Warning! I would not try this move on the first date! Though if your first date happens to be in the back alley of a Italian restaurant, then I think it's meant to be.

One last note about the movie. Singer Peggy Lee, who voiced Peg in the movie, ended up suing Disney for breach of contract. Why? Because she couldn't make any money from the sale of Lady and the Tramp video tapes. Remember that Peg had her own song in the movie, along with Si, Am, and Darling whom she also voiced. She ended up winning $2.3 million dollars in 1991 from Disney studios. Thanks to her, everybody now puts it in their contract that they want to retain the rights to their songs on "formats not yet invented."

Now for the sad part of the post, and I'm not talking about Trusty getting run over by the dogcatcher carriage. Lady and the Tramp, while making a lot of money at the box office, was critically panned by many critics when it came out in 1955. Most criticism was lobbed at the art design, as one critic called the "artist's work, below par," and another complained that the dogs had "the dimensions of hippos." What does that even mean? They look nothing like hippos! Of course, like most Disney films, it is now regarded as a classic, with no one claiming any characters looked like hippos.....except the hippo in the zoo. It has even been listed as one of the greatest love stories of all time by AFI, coming in at number 95 out of 100.

Again, if you like dogs, then this is probably one of your favorite Disney movies. Well....there are a lot of Disney movies with dogs in them, so you have your pick. Lady and the Tramp isn't one of my favorites honestly. Of course it's a good story, but it lacks the adventure feel that other Disney films have in spades. I think it's because this film lacks a great villain. All you have in this is an uptight woman and a rat. Not exactly up there with Gaston, Maleficent or Captain Hook.

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