The Disney studios have always been masters of marketing strategy. From their very first animated films they have been re-releasing things to theaters, tape, and disc every five-to-ten years for the benefit of new generations of youngsters. Additionally, in the video age it became their practice to make video sequels of their most-popular animated releases. "Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure" is a double whammy: It's a five-year reissue of a 2001 direct-to-video sequel, decked out with several new and old bonus items, plus a limited-time distribution.
"Lady and the Tramp II" is a continuation of the original story, taking up where the first movie left off. You'll remember that the refined Lady had brought the street dog Tramp home, Jim Dear and Darling had welcomed him to their family, and Lady and Tramp had had a family of their own. The present story opens in early July, just after the turn of the twentieth century, in the same idealized little New England town as before.
Lady and Tramp have four young offspring, three of whom take after and look just like their mother, with the fourth, Scamp, taking after and looking exactly like his father. Scamp has no idea about his father's reckless past, assuming dad to have always been a house dog, and Scamp longs for adventure outside the home. He wants to get away and become a "junkyard dog," to live on the wild side and run free. What can you do with a rebellious child? Scamp is a clichéd character, to be sure, with whom a young audience is expected to identify.
Naturally, Scamp does just that: He runs away, meets new friends, gets into a series of adventures where he has to prove his worth, and learns in the long run that there's no place like home. I mean, what else did you figure on?
Like most sequels, this one doesn't live up to the original. Its main problem is that the plot is overly familiar, following the same basic pattern of its predecessor; the songs by Melissa Manchester and Norman Gimbel are generally bland, sometimes syrupy; the voice characterizations are somewhat humdrum; and the action is confined chiefly to running, chasing, and fighting.
There isn't much we don't expect to happen in this sequel, directed by stalwart Disney sequel filmmakers Darrell Rooney ("The Lion King II," "Mulan II") and Jeanne Roussell (producer of "Aladdin and the King of Thieves," Pocahontas II, and "The Lion King II"). The twist is that whereas in the original we had a tough street dog meeting up with a respectable house dog, in "Lady and the Tramp II" we get a pampered house dog, Scamp, who wants to be a street dog, meeting up with a streetwise dog, Angel, who longs to be a house dog and have a real family around her. It's a cute turn of events, but it leads only to the inevitable conclusions we might easily anticipate, with Angel having to teach Scamp the tricks of survival in the outside world. And we meet most of the old characters, like Jim Dear (Nick Jameson) and Darling (Barbara Goodson), the dogs' masters; Tony (Jim Cummings) and Joe (Michael Gough), the stereotyped Italian restaurateurs; even the Siamese cats from the original movie, although they play an inconsequential part in this new one.
The music I can hardly remember except one tune, "The Junkyard Society Rag," which has a zip and zest to it that most of the other numbers lack. This is a shame because music plays so important a part in any Disney musical animation. I guess children won't mind, though; they're generally a little less discriminating about music than most adults; but, again, in the best of Disney's animated films, all of elements work well for children as well as adults.
Of all the voices in the film, I liked Jeff Bennett's vocal characterizations best. He does a respectable job imitating the familiar voices of characters like Tramp, Josh, and Trusty, and he adds the voice of a dogcatcher that sounds very much like Don Knotts. I don't know why they didn't get the real Don Knotts to do it (he continued doing cartoon voices right up until his death in 2006), but Bennett is close enough. Among the others, Scott Wolf as Scamp and Alyssa Milano as Angel are fine if somewhat undistinguished; and tough-guy movie actor Chazz Palmenteri as tough-guy junkyard dog Buster is appropriately menacing. The credits list Mickey Rooney as the voice of Sparky, but I hardly noticed.
What I did like, at least in part, was the animation. The film looks quite handsome, the art work sparkling and clean, reminiscent of the original. As usual, most of the backgrounds are vivid and detailed in a most satisfying and realistic manner. However, the degree of detailing in the art work does seem to come and go, with some scenes more immaculately executed than others. In the main, though, the film is a pleasant treat for the eyes.
Anyway, "Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure" is a totally innocuous piece of Disney hokum, routine and predictable in every way but well animated and fairly briskly directed. There isn't much of the spark of the original movie in this new one, nor the vitality or warmth; but the movie does provide a sweet moral ending with well-meaning sentiment, and that may mean a lot to kids and their parents.
The aspect ratio stated on the box is 1.66:1, but enhanced for 16x9 televisions the picture nicely fills out a 1.78:1 widescreen television. The high bit-rate anamorphic transfer provides a clear, crisp image, but the colors are purposely less vivid and bright than on some animated films. Still, the colors are quite pleasing on the eye with their softer, pastel look. The screen is also remarkably clean, without a trace of added grain or artifact.
The Disney audio engineers offer up the sound in English, French, and Spanish in Dolby Digital 5.1 and in English only in DTS 5.1. The DD 5.1 that I listened to was very smooth and fairly well spread out across the front speakers, but it did not include too much rear-channel surround activity nor a very wide frequency or dynamic range. In fact, like the movie itself, the audio is competent but ordinary.
For this "Lady and the Tramp II" Limited Edition, the Disney folks have provided several more extras than before. First up are five all-new Disney song selections, excerpts from the movie with words on the screen to "Welcome Home," "A World Without Fences," "Junkyard Society Rag," "I Didn't Know I could Feel This Way," and "Always There." And there is a three-in-one junkyard game that kids might enjoy.
Among the returning items is an audio commentary with director Darrell Rooney, animation director Steve Trenbirth, and producer and co-director Jeanne Roussell. The filmmakers are quite informative and straightforward, but I'm still not sure for whom these commentaries are meant on children's films. Surely, they would bore younger kids, and teens wouldn't go near them; so that leaves adults, and I am not convinced that most adults would want to listen to it for seventy minutes. It almost seems like the DVD producers include audio commentaries, be they on films for kids or films for adults, either as conventional necessities or as vanity pieces. I'm not sure which.
Also included are "Tramp's Hide-and-Seek" game; a sixteen-minute "Making of Lady and the Tramp II: From Tramp to Scamp" featurette that includes comments from the present filmmakers and from several animators of the original 1955 movie; and three vintage, 1940s' "Pluto" shorts: "Pluto Junior," "Pluto's Bone Trouble," and "Pluto's Kid Brother." The extras conclude with twenty-four scene selections; a chapter insert; Sneak Peeks at ten other Disney titles; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English captions for the hearing impaired; and a colorfully illustrated slipcover for the keep case.
One minor detail about the keep cases that the Disney studios and others have been using lately: The center spindle presses so tightly against the inside of the disc hole that it is hard to remove the disc. I thought several times I was going to break the DVD trying to force it up and out of the case because I had to press down so hard on the center button. I guarantee very few children would be able to do it without inflicting serious damage on the plastic disc. Handle with care.
I can't say I was entirely delighted by "Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure," but, then, the picture wasn't made for me; it was made for youngsters. If they're young enough, the movie will probably work for them. Nevertheless, as I've said before, the best children's films can work equally well for adults, just as the original "Lady and the Tramp" did. So take this one for what it is: a harmless but inferior sequel.