The most pleasant surprise of this exquisite, high-definition print is that “Lady and the Tramp” represents Disney’s first feature in CinemaScope — in glorious, luscious, 2.55 : 1 widescreen. Like a perfectly wrapped present, the gorgeous color palette spreads across the screen with Walt Disney’s familiar logo, and then opens to reveal the contents within: a thoroughly charming and winning story that also begins with the opening of a present.
The gift given to “Darling” by “Jim Dear,” one wintry Christmas morning in 1909, is Lady, a Cocker Spaniel puppy who immediately becomes the center of the only world she knows, a small, cozy, and comfortable one that rarely extends beyond the front lawn. After some time passes and Lady is full grown, Darling and Jim Dear have a baby and this newborn nudges Lady into the margins of her masters’ affections, which both hurts and confuses her.
Eventually, Lady takes a shine to the infant, and just when it seems as though she’s found a comfortable place in the new arrangement, Darling and Jim Dear decide to take a vacation. Aunt Sarah comes to dog and babysit, and brings with her two menacing Siamese cats. In an unforgettable sequence, Si and Am cause all kinds of mayhem for which Lady shoulders the blame. As a result, Aunt Sarah takes Lady out to get her muzzled. Confused and scared, Lady escapes into the big bad world and eventually meets up with Tramp, a devil-may-care stray who’s pretty sure he’s got it all figured out.
Romance soon blossoms and, from there, the plot effortlessly marches towards an extremely satisfying climax and conclusion.
Like all of Walt Disney’s early animated features, “Lady and the Tramp” is pure artistry in every sense of the word. Most important — and this was something Disney himself understood better than anyone — the story is flawless. In the special features included with the Blu-ray, you’ll find a number of superb “making of” documentaries, and it’s here that you learn what made this masterpiece a masterpiece: a development process that took place over two decades. Walt wanted the story perfect before he would even consider taking another step, and his patience paid off.
On top of that, you have a host of unforgettable characters backed up by a number of musical moments that are seamlessly integrated into the story. The music either enhances or moves the story. Unlike so many ‘toon musicals, the songs never kills the momentum of the narrative.
But it’s the look and feel of the story that lingers long after the final fade. Not only did the artists perfectly capture how dogs move and act (it’s truly uncanny), but you can practically inhale the atmosphere of the overall production. Whether you’re in Darling and Jim Dear’s warm and inviting home, a muddy street in the middle of an exciting chase, or a dog kennel where death looms over everything — everything feels so real and alive that you forget it’s animation.
Theme was another important factor in Walt’s work and “Lady” is no exception. Disney has a lot to say about family and class distinctions and middle class life — all of it unifying, conservative, traditional, and very American.
Like the music of Beethoven and Bach, Walt Disney’s animated films will live on forever, and how lucky we are to finally have this gem available to us in perfect picture and sound.
“Lady and the Tramp” is available at Amazon.com.