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Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD Review

Lady and the Tramp (1955) movie poster Lady and the Tramp

Theatrical Release: June 22, 1955 / Running Time: 76 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske / Writers: Ward Greene (the story); Erdman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Ralph Wright, Don DaGradi (story); Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Louis Pollock (uncredited)

Voice Cast: Peggy Lee (Darling, Si, Am, Peg), Barbara Luddy (Lady), Larry Roberts (Tramp), Bill Thompson (Jock, Bulldog, Policeman, Dachshie, Joe), Bill Baucom (Trusty), Stan Freberg (Beaver), Verna Felton (Aunt Sarah), Alan Reed (Boris), George Givot (Tony), Dallas McKennon (Toughy, Pedro), Lee Millar (Jim Dear), The Mellomen - Bill Lee, Thurl Ravenscroft, Max Smith, Bob Stevens (Dog Chorus)

Songs: "Bella Notte", "Peace on Earth", "What Is a Baby?", "La La Lu", "Siamese Cat Song", "He's a Tramp"

Buy Lady and the Tramp from Amazon.com:
New: Blu-ray + DVD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy BD + DVD in DVD Case
Previous: 2-Disc Platinum Edition DVD Limited Issue DVD

Most of the earliest animated features by Walt Disney's studio were adapted from old European fairy tales or books that enough time had passed to establish as classics. Others drew their inspiration from different places. Dumbo sprung from a story penned for a reading toy prototype.
Lady and the Tramp, the 1955 film that numbers 15th in the studio's canon, was born out of an uncredited original idea by Walt's trusted story man Joe Grant and "Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog", a short story by Ward Greene that appeared in a 1943 issue of Cosmopolitan, a literary magazine in between its family and women's phases.

Lady opens at Christmas, with a husband giving his wife what appears to be a hat. Inside the box, however, is one puppy, a cocker spaniel they name Lady. This is a pampered pooch, who despite plans to the contrary, spends every night in bed with her owners, "Jim Dear" and "Darling." Lady's comfortable existence is threatened when her owners begin expecting a baby. Tramp, a street-smart stray mongrel, warns Lady that humans put their babies before their pets and though she doubts it, she soon finds herself lacking attention and resigned to a doghouse.

Lady winds up seeing what life is like for unlicensed dogs, as Tramp saves her from trouble and the two enjoy a romantic night on the town, complete with cinema's most famous serving of spaghetti and meatballs. The two are separated, however, when Lady gets picked up by the vigilant dog catcher. At the pound, she gets a disheartening explanation for Tramp's name, learning that she is just one in a long line of girlfriends.

Nonetheless, Tramp resurfaces to demonstrate that he feels more than just puppy love. In the process, both he and Lady prove heroic when a giant rat threatens Jim Dear and Darling's infant.

"Lady and the Tramp" opens with Lady as a puppy, given as a Christmas gift from Jim Dear to Darling.

Lady and the Tramp is one of Disney's least timeless animated classics. I don't mean that the film isn't as enjoyable now as ever and more enjoyable than the vast majority of 1950s cinema. It's just that, despite being set in the 1910s, the movie has a distinctly 1950s feel to it. The setting of small-town America was the most ordinary of any of the studio's animated features to date. Today, it conjures the feel of the first generation sitcoms for which the decade is remembered. There is the fact that the movie was created in CinemaScope, the wider aspect ratio with which film responded to television, a screen format briefly very popular, mostly in the middle of the 1950s.

In addition to that, Lady enlists a modern celebrity to a degree its full-length predecessors had not. Pop singer Peggy Lee wrote lyrics for all but one of the film's songs and voices four characters, one of them named Peg and modeled after her. Even the title carries 1950s connotations, as the familiar show tune "The Lady Is a Tramp" (written for the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical Babes in Arms) would famously be covered by both Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald in the '50s, not long after Lee had the biggest hit of her career in her cover of "Fever."

I would classify the film's 1950s Americana style as an asset, distinguishing Lady from the talking animal cartoons that would follow and giving it some edge and distance from the opulent fantasies on which narrow definitions of "Disney animation" focus.

Unlicensed, uncollared mongrel Tramp enjoys a fall walk.

Musically, Lady and the Tramp is not one of Disney's strongest films. It does have a couple of memorable tunes, the romantic ballad "Bella Notte" and Peg's "He's a Tramp", an obvious star showcase for Lee. Beyond those, there isn't much of note: the original Christmas tune "Peace on Earth", the somewhat spoken "What Is a Baby?". More catchy than those is "The Siamese Cat Song", an Asian-flavored number by antagonist cats Si and Am (also voiced by Lee) that's about as offensive as anything in Song of the South.

The film makes up for its modest musicality with strong characters. Though just two leads comprise the title, there are many personalities in play here and each makes his or her mark quickly and indelibly. Trusty is an aging bloodhound losing his sense of smell. Small but spunky Jock, a Scottish Terrier, speaks with a Scottish accent.
While humans are secondary and often obscured in the dog's point of view, they too are given presence, from Lady's comforting parents to Tony and Joe, the friendly Italian restaurateur and chef who feed the titular couple, to the unpleasant Aunt Sarah, who inadvertently creates much of the relatively minor conflict. Lady and Tramp are given the most personality of all and the contrasting lives they lead allow us to invest in them as more than just cute, energetic canines.

Whether you're judging it as just a 1950s romantic comedy or simply a Disney animated feature (the only of its kind released in between 1953 and 1959), Lady and the Tramp holds up nicely. This lean, funny adventure has broad appeal. It might even play better today to adults than to children, especially if the latter have been weaned on the irreverence and sarcasm of today's talking animal comedies like Beverly Hills Chihuahua and the Alvin and the Chipmunks movies. Lady is more sophisticated than such fare, its story surprisingly mature and its jokes fairly mild.

Whether you please or not, Si and Am are mischievous Siamese cats. In song, stray dog Peg reveals to Lady that Tramp's a tramp.

After being a part of Disney's ill-advised fall 1999 foray into Limited Issue DVDs, Lady and the Tramp was upgraded to a 2-disc Platinum Edition DVD in February 2006. This week, it becomes the studio's fifth Diamond Edition, receiving a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD combo pack in both Blu-ray and DVD packaging (as well as a 3-disc combo with a digital copy). Diehard Disney fans will notice that this set reaches stores a month earlier than Disney usually releases its "spring" A-list animated catalog title. That seems to be a sensible effort to capitalize on Valentine's Day retail traffic, with the movie's romantic reputation and all. A new 1-disc DVD-only "DVD Edition" had been scheduled for March 27th, delayed seven weeks to promote the combo pack behind which Disney puts its greatest promotional muscle. But that was cancelled, the message being if you're still not buying Blu-ray, Disney doesn't want or need your business. Whether you are or aren't buying Blu-ray, I encourage you to read on and find out all you get and don't get on this newest release.

Somewhat surprisingly, the film unobjectionably opens with the blue 1990s era Walt Disney Pictures logo before displaying the original Buena Vista distribution card.

Watch a clip from the "Bella Notte" sequence of Lady and the Tramp:

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Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition Blu-ray + DVD combo cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.55:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray only: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 3.0 DTS-HD MA (English)
DVD only: Dolby Digital 5.1 DEHT (English), Dolby Surround 3.0 DEHT (English)
Both: Dolby Digital 5.1 Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-Only: English
Extras Subtitled; DVD and Extras Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 7, 2012 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($44.99 SRP) and BD + DVD Combo in DVD Packaging ($39.99 SRP)
Previously released as 2-Disc Platinum Edition/50th Anniversary Edition DVD (2006) and Limited Issue DVD (1999)

 
VIDEO and AUDIO

Like only one other Disney animated classic (its successor, Sleeping Beauty), Lady and the Tramp appears in 2.55:1, one of the widest aspect ratios ever used. Given all the care the studio usually pours into its best-selling animated titles, the film looks excellent on Blu-ray. The handsome CinemaScope visuals are vibrant and pristine. If there's any complaint to be made, it might be that the movie looks too good for something made nearly sixty years ago. I don't know if I'd go that far. This looks like a brand-new computer file, and not 1950s film, but then who is to say what new films looked like in the 1950s?
(Not me and probably not in great detail anyone who worked on this restoration.) The only imperfection I found was that a few brief, rare shots were lacking the sharpness and focus that the majority of the film maintained. That's only noticeable because almost all the time, the 1080p picture quality is stunning to such an unbelievable degree.

This Blu-ray transfer boasted evident improvement over the Platinum Edition DVD, which itself seemed just about perfect six years ago.

The default soundtrack option is a 7.1 DTS-HD master audio mix. Active, engulfing, and crisp, it is a delight, though probably not terribly true to the film's original design. Purists may prefer to listen to the 3.0 DTS-HD MA track that is billed as "restored audio" and presumably closer to the film's original exhibitions, with its lesser channel separation and directionality. For French and Spanish speakers, there are Dolby Digital 5.1 "Disney Enhanced Home Theater" remixes as well as subtitles for everything on the set.

The new DVD does seem to take advantage of the latest restoration efforts, although the gains over the Platinum DVD aren't much too minor to matter to anyone who hasn't upgraded to Blu-ray by now. The new DVD offers a tiny bit more picture on all four sides and slightly darker, richer colors.

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Bonus Features, Menus, Packaging, and Closing Thoughts

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Reviewed February 6, 2012.