LADY AND THE TRAMP (Diamond Edition) – Blu-ray review

This is the night,  it’s a beautiful night, and we call it bella notte . . . .

It turns out that one of the greatest animated love stories of all time was a December/May romance. In one of the bonus features ported over from the DVD, we learn that Lady was voiced by the near-50 Barbara Luddy, while Tramp was a mere sprout by comparison, brought to life by 20-something Larry Roberts. But that’s just the tip of the informational iceberg. Fans of this dog-meets-dog feature from Disney’s Golden Age will appreciate not just the previous DVD features and three new ones, but also the stunning HD transfer that makes “Lady and the Tramp” a must-upgrade.

“Lady and the Tramp” was a milestone in many ways. It was the first animated film from Disney that wasn’t based on an existing story, and it was the first feature animated for CinemaScope, stretched across the wide screen in order to celebrate the lush and lavish backgrounds of a Victorian-era Midwestern town. But it also marked the end of an era. It was the last feature directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske, the trio that gave us “Cinderella” (1950), “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), and “Peter Pan” (1953). Watching it again in HD, you can really appreciate a level of detail in the backgrounds and locomotion that animation fans wouldn’t see again from Disney until the studio’s Silver Age began in 1989 with “The Little Mermaid.”

The bonus features ported over from the DVD are crammed full of extended vintage clips and behind-the-scenes shots, with Disney historians careful to give credit where credit is due. Joe Grant is lauded for the initial idea and storyboarding of “Lady” back in the Thirties, which Walt Disney eventually put on hold because there was no contrast. Enter Homer (a.k.a. Bozo), a mongrel who was based on a Cosmopolitan story, “Happy Dan, The Cynical Dog,” then combine the two under Disney’s watchful eye, and you have a classic tale of a “Park Avenue” rich girl who’s drawn to a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks—a free spirit who takes her out on the town, spends the night with her (ahem), and inadvertently gets her “arrested” after a bout of chicken-chasing.  Throw in a side plot about the family’s new baby that puts Lady in the doghouse, a menacing rat intent on harming the baby, a dog-hating aunt, her malicious Siamese cats, and the usual odd mix of helpful Disney dogs, and you’ve got a wonderful blend of timeless romance, wholesome adventure, and breathtaking animation. This one is rated “G” for just plain “great.”

There’s just one disclaimer, and it addresses the same concern some viewers now have with “Peter Pan.” Except for African-Americans, which are conspicuously absent, there are more ethnic stereotypes in this film than in any other cartoon I can think of. Lady’s best dog friends are a Scottish terrier named Jock, who speaks with a highland accent, and Trusty, a bloodhound whose southern drawl is as drawn out as the folds of his skin. There’s also a Russian wolfhound, a Mexican Chihuahua, an English bulldog, two Italian restaurateurs, an Irish cop, and, of course, those Siamese cats. The latter will probably seem most objectionable, because they reflect Hollywood’s post-WWII portrayal of Asians as being either crafty or subservient. But as plenty of the talking heads on the extras are quick to remind, the characters are lovingly drawn, and their dialects celebrate a nostalgic time when America was more conscious of itself as the great Melting Pot than a hypersensitive nation where objections from a few can send waves of political correctness crashing against the sensibilities of the many.

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth the upgrade to Blu-ray, the answer is an emphatic YES. From the opening title cards throughout every familiar sequence of this timeless film, I found myself marveling at the detail of the Victorian-era “sets” and the trademark Disney animation that captured both the anthropomorphized personalities of the animals and the characteristics and movement of their breed. “Lady and the Tramp” is one of the classics from Disney’s Golden Age, and this Blu-ray really allows you to appreciate that.

“Lady and the Tramp” is rated G, but there are a few moments of peril, as when Tramp rescues Lady from a pack of snarling dogs, or when Lady and Tramp take on a rat that threatens to attack the baby. And there’s a moment when one of the minor characters is thought dead. But hey, that’s life. As far as I’m concerned, the only flaw is an abrupt ending, which kicks in after the climax—as if the writers said, “Okay, our work is done here.” Still, that’s a minor concern, and “Lady and the Tramp” remains one of the all-time classic animated feature films.

Wow. I was blown away by the detail, the colors, the pristine transfer to a 50-GB disc. The AVC/MPEG-4 transfer really brings this movie to HD life, with no visible artifacts and a pleasingly saturated color palette that brings all the backgrounds of this idealized Victorian world to life. The film is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1, whereas certain previous releases were in 2.35:1.

Disney has been upping their game when it comes to sound, releasing titles in an immersive English DTS-HD MA 7.1 audio that never skimps on ambient sounds and always seems conscious of sound traveling naturally across the sound field. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (DEHT), with subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.

How good are the bonus features? Awfully good. Three extras are new to this edition: “Diane Disney Miller: Remembering Dad,” an eight-minute walk down memory lane, along with three “deleted scenes” that are actually storyboards of early versions and a never-recorded song, “I’m Free as the Breeze,” with Tramp doing the singing. Thankfully, the filmmakers decided that Tramp shouldn’t sing. But the bulk of the features are ported over from the DVD, and they’re quite good. One includes footage of Disney with his sleeves rolled up, in the thick of things. Ironically, we learn, animator Frank Thomas had to convince the boss that the now-iconic spaghetti love scene could work, because Disney wanted it cut. There are two storyboarded deleted scenes that are interesting to watch because one of them seems so out-of-place you wonder why it was ever considered. Singer Peggy Lee|, who gives voice to Darling, the two cats, and the Mae West-like dog Peg, is shown in one fun extra with co-composer Sonny Burke. But the best of the DVD extras are a 52-minute making-of feature, a 1943 storyboard of the film, and vintage clips in color from the “Disneyland” TV show. And kids will enjoy “Puppypedia,” a primer on categories of dogs that’s hosted by comic actor Fred Willard.

Bottom line:
Like “Bambi,” “Lady and the Tramp” features incredibly realistic-looking animal movement, but like “Dumbo” it zeroes in on an emotion and situation that humans can identify with. In HD, “Lady and the Tramp” looks every bit the classic that it is.