Let me just start by saying I absolutely adore this week’s movie. Part of the three-way tie for my affections, there is just something about this story that has always struck a chord with me (maybe it’s the spaghetti), but I remember wearing out a copy of the VHS as a kid.
Lady and the Tramp debuted in 1955 and was the first animated film to be done in Cinemascope. However, because not all the theaters were set up for the new format, the film was also done in the original aspect ratio so that it could still have the wide release.
The story opens at Christmas with Jim Dear giving his wife, Darling, a beautiful cocker spaniel puppy named Lady. The film progresses through the first two years of Lady’s life as she learns about babies and meets and falls in love with Tramp, the stray mutt who literally just wanders into her life one day. Based on a story that was created for Disney by Ward Greene, with the original idea coming from Joe Grant, this classic is probably best known for the contributions by Peggy Lee, the Siamese cats, and the iconic spaghetti dinner.
As with any Disney film, music is a key ingredient to becoming a beloved classic and for that, this film owes a great debt to Peggy Lee. She co-wrote the music with Sonny Burke and sang several songs on the soundtrack including probably the second best-known song from the movie, “He’s a Tramp.” She also lent her voice to Darling, the Siamese Cats, and of course, Peg (the role that everyone associates with her and was created for her).
At the time this film was created, Lee was a well-known singer and actress. Because she was one of the first superstars to lend her singing and voice talents to an animated film, she did several promotional segments for Disney demonstrating some of the music-writing process and performing songs from the film like “He’s a Tramp” and the “Siamese Cat Song.”
I like Lady and Tramp both a lot, but for me, this movie belongs to the supporting cast. One of my favorite parts in the movie is at the beginning where we are introduced to Lady’s friends, Jock and Trusty. Jock is first seen humming/singing (a song that will randomly pop in my head at the most random times) as he goes to bury his new bone in his favorite spot in the backyard, while our first glimpse of Trusty is while he sleepwalks on the porch tracking a caterpillar.
Both of these scenes are very characteristic about both of these dogs–especially Trusty–and I love it. I also love the scene where they come to “propose” to Lady after she is brought home from the pound; they are so protective that you can see the affection they feel for Lady even as they are confirmed bachelors and will gladly kick Tramp’s butt if asked (BTW I somehow missed over the years that them coming to offer her a new home was to save face because she might be having puppies. I always thought that they were trying to give her a different option where she won’t be mistreated by Aunt Sarah. Ah, the ignorance of youth). On a side note, toward the end where it looks like Trusty dies after the accident with the dog catcher’s wagon, it looks that way because that was the way it was originally supposed to go, but after a screening, Walt decided that it was too sad for the audience. So they decided to add him to the Christmas scene at the end so the audience would know that he was OK.
Probably two of the most meddlesome and nasty critters ever to grace a Disney picture are the Siamese cats: Si and Am. These two cats (both voiced by Peggy Lee) come with Aunt Sarah when she arrives for her visit and promptly decide that they now rule everything despite the fact they are the guests and that there is a dog already in residence. They proceed to try to eat the canary and goldfish upon arrival and just make trouble because they can. The fact they get Lady kicked out of the house is a bonus because now they have absolute free reign of the house (not that Aunt Sarah would dream of her angels causing any trouble).
Speaking of Aunt Sarah, one of the things I love about Disney films (well, movies in general) is the variety of roles that a single voice actor might play over the course of a career.
Verna Felton, who provides the voice for Aunt Sarah, also was the voice for the Fairy Godmother, the Queen of Hearts, Mrs. Jumbo, and Flora. All of these roles are quite different so it can be a little weird hearing a favorite character’s voice come out of a completely different kind of character’s mouth. I had that experience when I watched Lady and the Tramp after watching Cinderella not long before and heard a lot the Fairy Godmother in Aunt Sarah.
But after it’s all said and done, the part everyone remembers is the spaghetti dinner date at Tony’s.
This where we get our first inkling that Tramp is a bit of a ladies’ man (no pun intended), and it features probably my favorite Disney love song ever, “Bella Notte,” which lends its opening lyrics as the title of today’s post. This scene has been referenced and spoofed a million different ways by everyone–including my favorite one, which is in 102 Dalmatians (the sequel to the live-action remake of the animated film) where Kevin and Chloe (the humans) go to Tony’s and share spaghetti while the dogs are at home watching Lady and the Tramp.
If you haven’t seen this film in a while, I encourage you to make a pot of spaghetti and curl up with the family to watch this classic today.