Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 16 min.
Release Date: June 22nd, 1955 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske Actors: Peggy Lee, Larry Roberts, Barbara Luddy, Verna Felton, Bill Baucom, Lee Millar, Bill Thompson
or Christmas, the happy wife (affectionately only referred to as “darling,” perhaps suggesting the point of view of pets) of a charming couple receives a puppy. Named Lady, the curious little creature is given her own bed in her own room – but of course she prefers to scamper after her new owners, whimpering until the humans come downstairs to retrieve her. Sure enough, after a brief bit of pitiful howling and determined pushing against the door (somewhat cruelly fortified by a propped up chair), Lady makes her way back into the couple’s bed.
About six months pass, with Lady growing into a larger yet equally energetic and attention-seeking pet. Her life is that of a typical Cocker Spaniel, up at the crack of dawn to frolic in the garden, chase away mischievous rodents, and fetch the newspaper. Though she doesn’t initially speak, after the introduction of neighbor Jock, a Scottish Terrier, the film transitions to the perspective of the dogs and their world, which involves regular conversations and the woes and responsibilities of aging pups. Every so often, when the human characters return to the frame, the canines again grow silent, their voices only discernible when no other species is around. But they’re mostly aware of what the people are talking about – perhaps understanding their tone and demeanor more than the actual words (though they can read when it’s convenient).
“What a day!” At the opposite end of the dog spectrum is a tramp – or the Tramp, or Butch as the Italian restauranteurs call him – an unlicensed mutt who fends for himself when it comes to sustenance. And he must also continually combat the dogcatcher, who polices the various neighborhoods for strays. Tramp is content with his life, though it’s one of homelessness and poverty compared to the affluence of Lady’s marble-columned, palisade-adorned suburb and her meticulously cared-for property.
“They’re only humans, after all.” Lady’s carefree days are about to change, however, when her owners prepare for the birth of a baby boy. The setup is fairly routine, combining cute imagery with light slapstick and comic relief supporting roles. And about half-an-hour in, a few verses of songs are sung (by Peggy Lee, who additionally lends her voice to a singing pound dog). Conflict also arrives in the form of Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton), who brings her troublemaking Siamese cats (just one of many average stereotypes) with her when she babysits for a spell – resulting in a frame-job that finds Lady muzzled and fleeing from her tormenters.
Expectedly, Tramp returns as her savior – not only from her facial restraint but also from vicious alley dogs. During their misadventures in the wild, a love story unfolds as well – one full of humor and sentiment. When the twosome journey to Tony’s, the most iconic scene transpires: a shared spaghetti and meatballs dinner, complemented by accordion music and romantic crooning. Sadly, it never gets better than this moment, even though the pervasive theme of reckless freedom versus family commitment makes a poignant turn when Tramp’s daredevilry gets Lady tossed in the pound – the scariest, most horrible place for cartoon dogs. In the end, the film might not be Disney’s most impressive work (the animation is top-notch as always), but it’s still expertly designed, quite satisfying, and highly memorable for its key romantic sequences.
– Mike Massie