HOLLYWOOD'S TOP ROMANTIC COMEDY @ 16 February 2012 09:07 PM
If it weren't an animated feature, and was a contemporary live action romantic comedy/drama, Lady and the Tramp could very well star, for instance, Jake Gyllenhaal or Ryan Reynolds with Reese Witherspoon or Jennifer Aniston.

"She's a well-bred, meticulous looker but a little naive and a bit of a control freak! He's a sloppy, jaunty hunk who lives on a lots of friends' couches and has trouble committing to one person! Over the course of the movie, she learns to lighten up and he learns the value of a responsible relationship! A popular song plays as they head back to the city from Central Park or hop on the cable car with the Golden Gate bridge in the distance! Or any number of variations on the same story!"

Even though it was released over 50 years ago and occasionally betrays its era (the baby bottles in the window, stereotyped incidental characters that were "safer" in their day than now), Lady and the Tramp is, in many ways, more sophisticated, witty and -- dare I say -- sexier than some of today's wafer-thin incarnations.

Come on, that spaghetti scene. It predates the eating scene in Tom Jones by several years. Lady and Tramp awake in the morning after a night out, followed by a scene in which her neighbor dogs Jock and Trusty propose marriage to her. Sure, it's so she has a roof over her head (the annoying Aunt Sarah has put her outside) but it suggests they're trying to make her an honest woman.

I thought I was really stretching things by suggesting that last assumption, so you can imagine my surprise when several Disney artists and historians say just about the same thing on one of the bonus features! Movies were changing in 1955, and Walt might not have made Lady and the Tramp in quite the same way had the war not prevented it from going into production a decade or so sooner.

All underlying meanings aside, Lady and the Tramp is one of Disney's biggest consistent crowd pleasers, as is evidenced by the fact that this supposedly "old" movie is neck in neck with the latest Twilight movie for the number one sales spot (as if this writing the Blu-ray has edged out its rival). The story is brisk, relatable (the idea of being "replaced" in someone's heart worked so well for Toy Story, too) and it is visually stunning. Everything has a handsome sheen on it, capturing a Main Street, U.S.A. idyll that Walt was simultaneously creating for his Disneyland Park.



On the new diamond edition Blu-ray, this detail and color are nothing short of breathtaking -- even in seemingly simple scenes like one in which Lady walks upstairs and various carpet and wallpaper patterns go off in maddening directions, yet perfectly in perspective. It's the Alice in Wonderland look, but sane.

Perhaps no other Disney animated film features a larger cast of iconic voice talents who had shone in radio and were moving into television, including Grammy winning comedy giant Stan Freberg as the Beaver (Freberg shows us how he does the whistle voice in a bonus feature).

Alan Reed, soon to become immortalized as the original Fred Flintstone, is Boris the Russian wolfhound. Verna Felton, who would grace many a Disney feature, moving effortlessly from villainy to benevolence, would soon be Fred's mother-in-law. Dal McKennon (Gumby, The Archie Show, Epcot's American Adventure) plays several roles, one that sounds much like his Mr. Weatherbee at Riverdale High.

And doing the most voices of all, almost heard in every scene, is the underrated Bill Thompson, whose most famous voice embodied the White Rabbit and Jock for Disney, as well as Droopy for MGM and Touché Turtle for Hanna-Barbera.

This is also the first Disney animated feature with a starring lead. Before Billy Joel, Elton John or Phil Collins became part of Disney projects, pop goddess Peggy Lee was allowed to add a creative imprint unlike anything Walt had ever so graciously welcomed.

Even though Lady and the Tramp isn't a musical in the traditional sense, Lee's presence is felt throughout, either through songs she wrote with Sonny Burke or any of her four voices (the breakout being the torchy Peg, who's a cross between Mae West and Jimmy Cagney.

As per the usual custom, most of the classic DVD features from the 2006 Platinum Edition DVD have been moved to the Blu-ray. The Blu-ray now has an Audio Commentary (thank you!) and the nifty "second screen" feature that allows you to gather further behind the scenes treasures from your laptop while the disc plays on your player. There's also a deleted song that Tramp was going to sing called "Free as the Breeze."

By the way, if you're interested in such wonderful songs that were deleted from Disney classics, you'll want to check out Russell Schroeder's superb, illustrated Disney's Lost Chords, Volume One and Volume Two.


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