No list of classic films would be complete without a Disney animated film, but with so many brilliant films to choose from, where do you start? Do you start at the beginning with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs? Do you pick the lone best picture Oscar nominee with Beauty and the Beast? How about Fantasia, Pinocchio or The Lion King? It’s a tough decision, but I decided to go with my personal favorite, the 1955 love story Lady and the Tramp.
Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy) is a cocker spaniel that has just found a new home with “Jim Dear” and “Darling”. The fact that Lady knows her two masters by their pet names is one of the film’s in-jokes. Lady has a special place in the hearts of Jim Dear and Darling, but when it comes time for them to have a baby, Lady must move over and free up some extra space. Problems arise when Jim Dear and Darling go on vacation and Aunt Sara arrives to watch over the baby with her two troublemaking felines. When she is restricted with a muzzle, she runs away and is rescued by a free-spirited doggie named Tramp (Larry Roberts). Together they share a romantic evening filled with music, candlelight and plenty of spaghetti with Meatballs.
I know a lot of people would agree with me that Lady and the Tramp is a classic film, but they might balk at my putting it on my list of classic films before the likes of Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz or even some of the other Disney films. I strongly believe that it does belong there (although keep in mind that just because I add it to the list first, doesn’t necessarily mean I think it is a better movie) and I will give you four reasons.
First of all, the movie features some wonderful musical numbers, something that used to be a must for Disney films before the days of Treasure Planet and Atlantis. You would not be able to compile a list of great Disney songs without including the screechingly enjoyable “We are Siamese”, the jazzy “He’s a Tramp” and of course, the marvelously romantic “Bella Notte.” Most of the songs were co-written by Peggy Lee, who also provided the voice for Darling, Peg and both of the cats, Si and Am.
Second of all is the beautiful animation. Long before Disney animators went to the plains of Africa to analyze the movements of lions and other wild animals for The Lion King, they studied the movements of dogs to create a realistic looking bunch of canines. Of course, they had to exaggerate some of the movements for comic (or romantic) effect, but generally all the dogs in the film move exactly how you would see a real dog move; from the playfulness to the curiousness. You even get the feeling that if a couple of real dogs shared a plate of spaghetti, that is exactly how they would do it. It also helps that the film is animated strictly from a dog’s point of view. For the most part, all of the human characters are seen only from waste down. This allows us to become a part of the canine world, making it easier for us to identify with the characters.
Thirdly, the film is loaded wall to wall with fun supporting characters. Most prominent are the Scottish terrier Jock (“aboot”) and my personal favorite, the veteran huntin’ dog Trusty. Trusty is also one of the most sympathetic characters in the film. We feel sorry that he has lost his sense of smell, and cheer for him when he proves everyone wrong and tracks down the Pound’s paddy wagon and we rejoice when we see he escaped from the incident with merely a broken leg. He also provides one of the film’s best running gags (“Don’t recollect if I ever mentioned Old Reliable before”) and the payoff at the film’s finale is terrific. There are also the various Rascals at the pound, all of whom seemingly come have different ethnic background. When we are first introduced to these mutts as they croon through a doggy rendition of “There’s no place like home”, we can’t help but want to take one of them home.
Finally, and most importantly, is the love story. Personally I would rank Lady and the Tramp as one of the most romantic films of all time, right up there with Casablanca, City Lights and A Place in the Sun. Much of this is due to the Spaghetti scene (of which I have a movie still framed on my wall) in which the two love birds follow a single strand of spaghetti to a fateful kiss. The animation of Lady in the scene is brilliant. Somehow the animators are able to convey a sense of love in her facial expressions that is equal if not superior to any performance delivered by a live actress. It also helps that it is accompanied by the incredibly romantic song, “Bella Notte.”
So is it a classic? Absolutely. Does it deserve a place with the greatest films of all-time? Of course. Don’t believe me? Try watching it again. I’m sure you will agree with me then. It gets an A+.