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Theeeese eees-a thaaa niiiiight.... and we caaaalll it....

Lady and the Tramp (1955)

Soundtrack/Score/Music: 6.5

Story/Screenplay/Narrative: 8.5

Characters/Characterization + Voice Acting: 8

Art Direction/Design: 8

Themes, Archetypes, and Artistic Interpretation: 5.5

From Special Guest Cherubino/Carmen:

Thees-a evening-a, I find myself quite heppy to have chosen to rescue Lady and the Tramp from the Pound-like pile of vintage cassettes in Wiry's own little corner of his own little living room. As I gingerly shoved the meatloaf-sized VHS into its playing machine, I surmised that perhaps the film would dredge up all sorts of memories of being 8 that I had let fall by the wayside by this, the eve of my 24th birthday. Well, as the end credits warbled away from the screen a mere 70 minutes after the opening credits had warbled onto it, I am sorry to report that I did not want to eat blue-raspberry flavored food, nor did I have the urge to play spit with my stuffed dog in the back of a minivan. So that rules out nostalgia for my obviously charming 8th year.

But what I will say is this: I ruv Rady and the Tlamp if you prease, and I will do the same damn thing if you don't prease, if you don't mind. Lately I have been bemoaning the loss of the auteur film director and the subsequent transition of cinema to simple filmed script. Cinema is supposed to be a magical art form about which I know next to nothing. It is supposed to use its medium to visualize emotions and stakes in a way unimaginable to a mere theatre peon like me. Therefore, it burns my ovenmit when "movies" like Margot at the Wedding, Lars and the Real Girl and other "indie gems" of the form just basically take a script and sit there with it. Come on, even Anchorman did something with it, and that's why it took me to Pleasuretown. But I digress. L&tT did something which, in 1955, I'm willing to bet was relatively revolutionary, especially for children's cinema. From its first moments, I was taken in by its excellent use of Point of View directing. Not only is it a great lens through which to tell a story, but it's also a non-condescending way to relate to the film's largely juvenile audience. This is the first and most noteworthy way in which L&tT uses its form.

Furthermore, though the proprietors of this blog and I did quibble a fair bit over our decided score for the film's musical elements, I am, always have been, and will always be, a little too obsessed with a good film score for my own good. This was a damn good score. It reflected each moment's emotionality perfectly, and unlike most Disney movies of its time, it truly had a life of its own. Its main themes were not built off some singable number. Most importantly, L&tT is not about small lives in magic, but small magic in lives. Therefore, I absolutely found the lack of the "big numbers" appropriate and quite bearable.

A little sociologist has been growing inside of me. It was bound to happen sooner or later, when one discusses deviance at the dinner table for 15 years. And although I've been trying not to eat for her, I have been forced to feed her dorky desires, lest she rise up, eat, and stratify me (Sounds hot, right? Well, it ain't). Obviously, L&tT poses a few questions of the racial/ethnic variety that must be addressed by anyone who does not still sport an overbite. Are the overly ethnic stereotype peripheral characters a lazy excuse for a supporting cast? I'll leave Wiry to address that one. What I will say is this: Yes, the movie is racist. I don't think it's appropriate to say that it is not racist because the stereotypes are "positive" (no such thing). The ethnic groups are still pigeonholed, normalized and comfortzoned so that no child might stop to consider the person's true identity behind the anglo-imposed ethnic stereotype. And, after all, if the point was to bring out the best in every ethnic stereotype, that would explain why Walt just couldn't find it in him to plop a Jewish dog up on that screen (unless it were dead by the side of the road).

Anyway. The racism's almost Christ-like redeemer comes in the way the dogs relate to one each other. Not consistently, but ... the credo that the dogs' dealings ultimately promotes. They approach each other, for the most part, without prejudice, embracing the more common bond of doghood over country-of-origin. No, that does not excuse the Siamese cats, except to say that they are cats -- a totally new sight to Lady and therefore "foreign", which, in 1955 was best expressed with blatant orientalism. It also saddens me to realize that, like American prisoners, the dogs who Lady encounters during her brief stay at the pound are largely forgotten by the end of the film. In a series of happy-ending one/two punches, viewers are certainly forgiven for not caring whether they lived or died. However, in the simple world of the film, metaphors aside, those dogs are there because they have the bad luck of having no owners, not because their race or creed made them genetically lazy, dirty or inferior.

All in all, a delightfully compact and bucolic romp through one year in the life of a gorgeous dog with a very-end message to which I can still relate. Yes, a lot can happen in a year. Like the year it took me to write this.

From RM:

Phew. If you want to step out for a second and get a glass of water after our guest panelist's critique, please be my guest.

*Taps fingers on the table*

You back? Good.

So, Lady and the Tramp is the story of one year in the life of Lady, a dog living in the upper-middle class of the All-American suburbs of 1904 (this date is a guess, the actual year of the film is never specified). It tracks her from her first night in her new home with owners Jim Dear and Darling when she was given as a gift from one to the other, to the birth of a baby in the home, to her encounters and infatuations with that lovable, titular Tramp, and their triumph over the rodent problem of the turn of the century, all the way to the next Christmas, where domestic bliss is prevalent in both human and canine families within the Jim Dear household.

The movie has some very timeless tunes, as well as the iconic dinner scene to "Bella Notte," and deserves credit for doing its best to take as many characters as they can and develop them into interesting, active characters, as well as broad ethnic stereotypes played up for laughs. I also can't tell you how refreshing it is to see a Disney Movie with two well-crafted, thought out and intricate leads. That is rarer than you might think.

The real charm of this movie, as our guest said, is the concept of "small magic in lives". The stakes are nowhere near as high as saving kingdoms and slaying dragons. It's mostly about understanding our roles in our loved ones lives and killing a rodent. The real charm of this movie is spinning an engaging narrative out of comparatively little plot, that is real and charming and caring.

From Wiry:

So, I was sort of the odd dog out on this one. I definitely have very distinct memories of that damn cat song, and my beloved sister singing it to me for the sheer purpose of (Chinese) torture. That said, though, with the exception of the infamous meatball, I came to this film pretty cold, with little to no memories other than a vague plot outline.

I can't really say I was utterly wowed, nor was I really disappointed. There's a reason this film has several iconic moments, and it must of course be acknowledged that this is really Disney's first Love story (as in, it traces the relationship of two actual characters, something that can't really be said for Cinderella or Snow White). It's a simple plot, and one we all know, but it takes its time (in a good way) to relish little moments with each character. The story pleasantly meanders about as it follows Lady from stereotype to stereotype, of both the human and canine variety. RM made the valid point, as I was arguing that the extensive use of broad ethnic types constitutes lazy shorthand in characterization, that (with the exception of some of the pound denizens) many of the characters go deeper than one would expect. In other words, Jock isn't a one-note Scottish joke, though he certainly is a Scottish type. Still, though, there is a difference between making, say, an owner of a restaurant who is clearly Italian, and making an owner of a restaurant who (though very nice) is rooted in caricature.

Still, the dogs do all get along with one another. And there's a very blatant "morning after" scene too. Really, what's not to like about the film? Mostly, it comes down to me as lack of stakes. Yes, we all know things tend to turn out pretty well at the end of Disney movies, but this film had built-in tension-releasers and not much in the way of real menace. The rat's scary, yeah, but it's no Ratigan. What's it gonna do, nibble the baby's rattle?

I don't have much else to say... apologies for the lack of enthusiasm on my part. The film's straightfoward and solid but not mind-blowing, so it's hard for me to get worked up either in ecstasy or indignation. It's beautiful in its way, in its crafted and Pixar-esque focus... but... would some more (and better) songs have hurt? Just sayin'...

Final Grade: B

Final Rankings:
1.) The Lion King
2.) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
3.) Lady and the Tramp
4.) The Jungle Book
5.) Fun and Fancy Free


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August 13, 2008 at 11:18 PM  

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