Lady & the Tramp (1955)
A movie about people who shouldn't own dogs
A That's Not Canon Productions podcast
Hi there and welcome back to Oof! Right in the Childhood, a podcast where we explore the history and social commentary of the Disney animated feature films. This week, I’m talking about 1955’s Lady and the Tramp, a movie about people who shouldn’t own dogs.
Sometime in the mid-1930s, Joe Grant, one of the original Disney animators welcomed his first daughter into the world. At that time, he had a brown and white English Springer Spaniel named Lady whom Walt Disney loved. In 1937, Joe realized that Lady had started to be pushed to the wayside after the birth of his daughter, and he began to draw storyboard sketches for shorts featuring Lady being, well, slighted by the baby. As Lady was relegated more and more to the backyard as his girls took up all of his wife’s responsibilities, Joe pitched the idea of a movie featuring Lady and the antics she got up to while being ignored by the family she loved. Walt didn’t like the storyline, feeling that Lady was too likeable, and that it simply lacked any form of conflict. The team even returned to the idea of shorts in the 40s, to include in a package film, but Walt turned them all down.
In the original special features for Lady & the Tramp, Joe’s daughter says that Walt Disney was especially close to this dog. He said he felt like her long fur looked like a dress, so the animal lover in me wants to believe he just didn’t like the idea of this family shoving a dog out because they had a couple of kids. But that’s pure conjecture on my part.
In 1945, Cosmopolitan published a short story by Ward Greene titled “Happy Dan, the Cynical Dog" which Disney read and loved. Now, I don’t know if Cosmo’s changed a ton over the years, but I’ll tell you I wasn’t expecting to find out that Walt Disney read it when I started on this research journey. Anyway, Walt really enjoyed the piece, but felt that the dog in this story was too, well, cynical. He had too much conflict, and came off as unlikeable.
So Walt Disney in all his wisdom thought, “What if this overly likeable dog with no conflicts fell in love with this unlikeable dog with many conflicts?” It’s kind of a Homer Simpson way of looking at it, really. “Why do I have 3 kids and no money instead of no kids and 3 money?”
Anyway, Walt thought that, if they averaged the two dogs together, they’d get 3 conflicts and 3 likeabilities and that would be just fine.
But Joe Grant wouldn’t finish the movie starring his little Lady. He left the studio in 1949, but he left his original drawings of Lady behind for reference. In 1953, they were confident enough with the storyline that they sent all of it over to Ward Greene, and he published a novelization of it that same year. See, Walt Disney wanted the American public to be familiar and invested in the story before the movie was released so they’d be more willing to go to the theatres for it.
That said, Joe Grant received absolutely no story credit when it was released.
Now that they had a story, they needed a setting. I don’t really know what was going on in Walt’s life right then, but it seems that the early 50s was marked by a dichotomous pull to return to his roots and simultaneously push forward. He’d started the plans for Disneyland which pushed the studio to a place no one had ever gone, but at the same time, most of his moves in this era are marked by wanting to revere the American Small Town. You can especially see that in Main Street, USA in Disneyland and in Lady and the Tramp.
Lady and the Tramp’s setting couldn’t be closer to Walt’s heart. See, he literally drew inspiration from his hometown. Walt and his family moved from Chicago to Marceline, Missouri in 1906, when Walt was five. They became farmers and Walt met wild animals and started to draw them for the first time. So Marceline was where Walt fell in love with art, and he wanted people to see that. I invite you to use Google Street View to walk around Marceline, Missouri. You can absolutely see the Plains architecture in the background of Lady & the Tramp that makes up the traditional small town that Walt idealized.
There’s a lot of Walt left in Marceline, including a Disney museum, but the most touching monument is that the current owners of the Disney farm built a replica of the Disney family barn whose walls are covered in thank you messages to Walt Disney from fans. It’s very touching.
Once the story was finalized, the animators then had to get to work. Mary Blair created a number of fantastic watercolours for the storyboards, but they really wanted to capture what the world looked like from a dog’s point of view. They built a scale model of Lady’s family’s house, and whenever they needed to see something from her perspective, they’d put a camera into the model. In a featurette called “Lady’s Pedigree,” one of the current animators points out that, if this were made today, they’d build the house inside a computer and use a camera inside the computer to get the points of views. So, in many ways, this shows how the Disney animators were really before their time.
They changed Lady into a Cocker Spaniel instead of a Springer Spaniel and wrestled with the male dog’s name. They thought of naming him Homer, Rags, and Bozo. They eventually just gave him the lascivious name “Tramp,” which in 1953 actually came with some concern about the censors.
There was also new technology on the horizon, which Walt could never really resist. A company named Cinemascope had developed a way to show movies at a 2.55:1 ratio rather than the 1.33:1 that had been used since the silent film days, also called the Academy ratio. This Cinemascope technology also came with automatic 3-channel stereo sound, building on the Fantasound technology from Disney.
Walt quickly decided that Lady and the Tramp would be the first Disney movie shot in Cinemascope. But he decided that after the movie had already started being drawn, so all the backgrounds were in the Academy ratio. The animators had to go back and extend the edges of the scenes so that they could catch up with the new technology. Again, the featurette I mentioned earlier, talks about the tricks they used to make this happen, like putting a tree over the seam. I’ll just link to the YouTube video in the show notes.
Anyway, as they were preparing for Cinemascope, they found that not all theatres were adopting the technology right away, so if they produced the film in only Cinemascope, it couldn’t be shown in typical theatres, and if they produced it in the old ratio, it wasn’t able to be shown in Cinemascope theatres. Much to Roy Disney’s chagrin, Walt decided to produce two versions of the movie, one in the widescreen format and one in the Academy ratio. That means they had to reanimate some of the scenes to get all the characters in their correct places.
In 1954, with the film well underway, the new television series, Walt Disney’s Disneyland walked viewers through the animation studios and showed animation in process. He talked about every aspect of making Lady & the Tramp, and even emphasized the importance of Peggy Lee, who was voicing four characters and co-wrote six of the songs for the movie.
It was during this presentation that Walt claimed the original story for Lady & the Tramp came from giving his wife Lillian a chow puppy in a hat box and that they’d collaborated with Ward Greene’s Cynical Dan from there. Joe Grant’s family was incensed with the implication that their Lady would get no credit.
The thing is, that story became the “official genesis” of the Lady & the Tramp movie, and no one’s ever been able to say if that’s actually how Walt gave Lillian their puppy or if he made that up so he could claim more ownership of the story. Either way, it’s a little meh.
The final film’s budget is, again, not confirmed. It seems that, in this era at least, the Disney Brothers were trying to keep their monetary information close to the chest. That said, IMDB estimates the product was about $4 million or $38.8 million when adjusted for inflation. When it was released, however, the reviews were — mixed. Both the New York Times and Time called it “gooey with sentiment,” but Variety and the Chicago Tribune both praised the film as delightful.
The box office didn’t lie, though. Box Office Mojo says the original release, remember every early Disney film was released more than once, brought in $36.4 million or $353.5 million today. It was also released in 1980 and 86 with box office earnings of $26.1 million and $31.1 million respectively. It’s also been rated one of the 100 greatest love stories of all time by the American Film institute, and eating their own words, Time rated it one of the 25 best animated movies of all time in 2011.
And after this short sponsor break, we’ll dive into the movie and my modern impressions of it.
I want to take a moment to thank my supporters on Patreon. Supporters on Patreon help me cover hosting fees and upgrade my equipment while being able to choose to promote small businesses. There are a few changes this month. As of now, all supporters, starting at the Whistle While I Work level, or $1 a month get an ad free version of every episode one day early. Fairy Godmothers like Jason and Mixie at the $5 level still get a bonus episode on the first of every month. This month, I explore Mary Poppins in depth. From Walt badgering a woman for the rights she didn’t want to give to possible rape culture moments, Mary Poppins is practically perfect in every way, so come over to hear everything you didn’t want to know about Mary Poppins. If you'd like to become a patron, you can search the show over at Patreon, or you can follow the link in the show notes or on my website.
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Okay, Peter Pan took me by surprise, but I feel prepared for sexism, racism, and animal abuse in this one. I think I've watched this more than Peter. In fact, it also has that neat little, “Yeah, this was bad,” acknowledgement at the beginning.
Right! This was the first movie released by Buena Vista Pictures, the distribution company Walt started with the money that Cinderella made. I’m not sure why he called it that.
“In the whole history of the world, there is but one thing that money can not buy… to wit — the wag of a dog’s tail.” — Josh Billings. I guess that’s kind of like “you can’t buy happiness”?
Disney invested 15 times more into the lead up to every story than the denouement. We open to a snowy scene panning around his artists’ rendition Marceline.
As a child, I was very annoyed that Darling called her husband “Jim Dear.” Apparently, in the first draft, the characters had names, but they thought that took too much out of the dog’s perspective. Kind of like a child knows their parents’ names are “Mom & Dad,” Lady knows her parents’ names are the pet names they call each other. Anyway, don’t give people pets for Christmas!
Now that we have a brand new puppy, let's abandon her in a dark kitchen. That'll work.
But oh this little cocker spaniel is so cute. Darling’s worried about her being warm enough, and that’s enough of a reason for them to not leave her in the kitchen, in my book. Well, she’s the cutest thing ever, that’s also a good enough reason for me.
“If we’re going to show her who’s master, we’ll need to be firm from the very beginning.” Like, Jim’s right here, but I still don’t like him. So he blocks the door with a chair? Jerk.
Stomping on the ceiling is not going to help, Jim Dear. Someone didn't do any research on owning a puppy. He yells at the infant dog for not wanting to be alone for the first time in her life. Great guy there.
She is a smart pupper, though. Manages to get the door open and up the giant staircase and into their bedroom. Someone on this team had to have a puppy that cried like this, hah.
"Okay one night," transition to grown doggo.
Jim is upset because Lady gets him up, even on Sundays. My husband has this problem with our cats. One or the other expects him up at work time on Saturdays and Sundays.
Lady’s not great at the paper thing. But Jim’s cool with the torn bit because it hides the terrible headline. It’s been 6 months since they brought her home. I like to do the math in these movies. So, dogs usually come home at 8 weeks nowadays, but she might have been as young as 6 weeks in the early 1900s when this takes place. We’ll say she’s 8 months old here.
They gave the dog saucer of coffee and a donut. That can’t be good for her.
"Hope it fits." It's an adjustable collar, Darling.
Jock is my favourite character, don't ya ken? I’ve started the new live action Lady & the Tramp as well, and I’m not at all bothered at all that they made Jock a Jaqueline. Lady needed more strong ladies to be around. I was going to use the technical term for lady dogs, but people tell me their kids listen to this podcast. Fill it in.
Jock is burying a bone in his cache of bones. So many bones.
He admires Lady’s collar with her before visiting Trusty. Gonna say, a bloodhound who's lost his sense of smell is the saddest thing. His grandfather’s name was Ol’ Reliable. I love it.
Again, Jim is giving her candy, I think?
"I don't imagine anything could take her place in our hearts." We call that foreshadowing, kids.
Tramp is waking up in the train yard to find some food. He looks at some cute lil’ puppies in the window then offers reviews of the different restaurants.
The nice Italian place calls him “Butch.” Note how every person in the film has a different name for Tramp.
There’s a notice that all unlicensed dogs will be sent to the pound immediately. Tramp can read English! I never noticed that. He frees a bulldog and someone named Peg — played by Peggy Lee.
Jock and Trusty find Lady in the backyard super sad. She says Jim and Darling are acting oddly. Jim’s been ignoring her and rushing around.
Jim called her, "That dog." The audacity.
Poor baby girl think she's at fault.
The way Jim’s acting, they must have just found out about the pregnancy, and in the 1900s, that would have been about 3 months or so. I'm guessing the doctor told her to never move again? So, if they had no suspicion when they got Lady her tag, let’s say she’s 9 months old. It should be Autumn. Also, this woman wears high heeled boots in the house, and that seems really uncomfortable.
"Dinnae worry about the way the humans ha' been mistreatin' ya. They're jus' havin' a bairn." Thanks, Jock. I'm really bad at my Scottish accent. I apologize.
Lady doesn’t know what a baby is. The dogs try to explain what they are. They’re little humans that walk on all fours, you’re not allowed to touch it, but they’re vereh vereh soft.
Tramp overhears this conversation and pops into the yard. I always feel so sad for Tramp and his story. He must have had humans before. They were the opposite of awesome.
The baby is due in April. So, working backward, it was conceived in July. And they found out in September or October. I’m mathing great!
They are talking about knowing the sex before knowing the sex was a thing. Jim’s hoping for a boy, we know, because he’s putting up Yale pennants, and though Yale did accept women starting in 1866 it wasn’t expected for a woman to do silly things like college. Darling’s writing out girl's names, though.
In January, Darling wants watermelon and chop suey. That sounds legit.
In February, there’s a baby shower. The men get a party too. It's them telling jokes in the kitchen, but that's nice.
It’s April and the baby's here. It's a boy. Jim is hilariously excited. I'm actually kind of touched by this. He leaves Aunt Sarah on the phone without hanging up.
The baby cries one spring morning, and Lady is trying to find out what a baby is. She’s decided that it must be amazing because they’re ignoring her completely. I’m thinking this must be day 1 of the baby. I feel like Lady would have seen him at least once.
Darling sings to the baby. Darling is also Peggy Lee. And yes, that baby boy’s crib is decorated with pink bows. Pink was considered a “boy’s” colour until the 1940s, y’know, because it’s the colour of washed out blood.
I never noticed how Lady flinches away from Jim when he reaches out to pick her up to see the baby. I feel like that is indicative of her treatment during the pregnancy. They’ve never shown her being struck, but dogs that have never been hit don’t act that way. Oof! Right in the childhood!
Lady’s happy to see the little sleepy baby. And she gets pets. Beautiful family.
Now they’re packing to go. Baby’s moved to a crib which means he’s probably at least 4 months old? She stops them on the stairs because she’s protective of her baby.
It's Aunt Sarah! The only human with a face! I remember she's the worst from when I was a kid. She was in Joe Grant’s original stories, but she was a mother-in-law in the originals. They didn't tell the aunt that there's a family dog that is welcome with the baby? Or she didn't care? Maybe both?
Oh yes, this song. I hate to admit it, but I absolutely loved "We Are Siamese" when I was a kid, and when I realized it was super racist, it made me really sad, because I love this scene. Why are all my childhood memories steeped in racism? Oh. Right.
Si and Am are the last two voices that Peggy Lee voiced. That’s right, she’s both of them on two tracks. Technology!
They’re going after an angelfish in a fishbowl. Someone get that sucker a saltwater aquarium. Then they’re going after the baby. Lady freaks out.
And of course Aunt Sarah is unaware that her "poor little angels" are terrors. I think this woman contributed to me not liking cats for like a long time in my life.
She. Got. The dog. A. Muzzle. Like that was that. The dog chased cats it had never seen, and bad-a-bing — Muzzle! I’d run away too! Poor baby girl.
Lady gets the leash caught on cans then gets chased by mean ol’ dogs. Tramp to the rescue! There’s this incredibly vicious dogfight in which, somehow, there’s no blood. They even knock over a barrel of cabbages.
It always bugged me that he calls her Pidge. Something about the nicknames in this movie really rubbed me the wrong way as a kid.
They go to the zoo, and Lady can read English too! Tramp tricks the cops into believing he belongs to a man who speaks several languages then sneaks into the zoo while they fight. They’re looking for an animal to get the muzzle off.
Tramp is so, so smart. "Apes wouldn't understand, too closely related to humans."
Alligators are a bad idea. Maybe he’s not so smart.
And now we go to the beaver. This is the first depiction of a beaver I remember seeing. I've still never seen a real live one. There's a colony that lives near us, but my husband won't take me to be their friend.
Incidentally, the Beaver’s whistle is an actual whistle being held on the bottom lip of the voice actor. Every time he was supposed to say an /s/ sound, he just blew lightly into the whistle
Tramp tricks the beaver into taking the muzzle off. Note how this beaver is felling trees across a fence. Not great. The log puller works swell, though! I can't do that whistle.
Tramp has a different family every day, he just doesn’t live with any of them. He knows what they cook for dinner each night, and he chooses a home based on that.
There was a time that people just fed dogs anything, huh? Now, we're checking our animal food labels as closely as our own. Better for them, though.
The most iconic scene is here! Walt hated the idea of the spaghetti scene. He thought dogs eating spaghetti wouldn’t play off as romantic. Frank Thomas persisted, doing a test animation to show what he was thinking. Eyvind Earle then painted about fifty 2-inch square storyboards to show all of the scenes that Lady & Tramp would see during Bella Notte.
So, this is one of those implied adult moments that Disney is really good at. In Lady’s Pedigree, the animators outright say that the doggos totally got it on during that night. And really, the math plays out at the end. We’ll get there.
Okay, Lady is the best. "Yep, that world looks amazing, but I have a baby to protect."
Tramp tries to entice her by teaching her to chase chickens. In this movie, I am Lady and my husband is Tramp. He’s always getting me to be a little less uptight and have some more fun.
“Fun” takes a turn real quick when the farmer has a shotgun. “This is living, Pidge!” “Is it?”
I feel you girl.
Lady gets caught by the dog catcher, though. Oh no! Off to the pound!
So the pound dogs are voiced by a group called the Mellomen who were really popular starting in the 40s. The dachshund is trying to dig them out. This is possibly the most depressing scene ever drawn, and I've seen Dumbo.
But now we have Peg. One of my favourite bits of the documentary I watched was that Eric Larson’s Mormon church found Peg way too sexy. They were very upset that he was part of this.
Ah yes, a child's first introduction to a kill shelter. Lovely.
Peg’s going to make us forget that they just sent a dog to his death by singing a happy song about how cool the Tramp is. Y’know, after they tell Lady how many other girls he’s been with. Poor Lady.
They discuss how Tramp loves ‘em and leaves ‘em, but when he finally falls in love, the cops will get him and toss him in the pound.
Lady’s left to think about this as they take her back home.
Jock and Trusty come to visit Lady who has been relegated to the doghouse, on a chain! Now, something I’d never noticed is that, as they walk up, Trusty says, “I’ve never even considered matrimony.”
Okay, so do these dogs know she’s pregnant and they’re about to do a “shotgun wedding” to take care of her puppies? Eesh!
Lady’s embarrassed about being in the pound. Oh, it seems that they’re going to marry her and take her away from here. Tramp brings her a bone to apologize. They won’t speak to him.
She confronts him about all his girlfriends then cries like every girl who’s ever broken up with a man who’s not good enough for her.
Big rat is back! As a kid, I didn't understand the significance of this rat, and I still am not 100% sure what we're afraid it's going to do to the baby. Just disease in general?
Lady goes after the rat in a terrifying scene. Aunt Sarah is pissed off that she’s barking as the rat goes into the nursery. She tells Tramp to go after the rat, and he does. There’s a really heart-pounding fight between Tramp and the rat. Lady breaks free of her chain and comes to help.
Okay, but seriously, was the rat going to eat the baby? The nursery is destroyed. Lady’s comforting the baby, and Aunt Sarah is still a terrible person. She locks Tramp in the closet and completely ignores Lady and locks her in the basement.
She calls the dog catcher, which are taking Tramp away as Jim and Darling arrive. They’re just prepared to kill Tramp right away. Winners, all of them.
Jim and Darling will listen to their Lady. They know that she wants to protect the baby.
So Jock and Trusty go after the carriage. Trusty’s gonna find this scent if it’s the last thing he smells. And they’re going to scare the carriage horses. This is a very bad idea. And the carriage ran over Trusty. So sad. Apparently, in the first draft, Trusty was supposed to die, but Peggy Lee wouldn’t allow them to kill him. She threatened to walk out on the project if they made children cry, and she wasn't an easy one to replace.
It’s Christmas! This is about 3 months after the carriage incident. You know how I know? Because dogs gestate for 63 days, and those puppies have their eyes open. Now Tramp has a collar.
Scotty in a tartan sweater! Jim talks to these doggos like they’re people. “Please step into the parlour while I see about refreshment.”
Trusty’s gonna brag about his sense of smell. Oh! He’s finally gonna get to tell the Old Reliable story! Nope, he forgot.
So to recap, this family got a puppy for Christmas. They stopped giving 2 craps about that dog when they were pregnant. They decided they loved her again when the baby showed up. They took a babymoon without telling their aunt that they loved and trusted the dog, but then the dog's friend killed a rat, and they decided to not only adopt that dog, but to have 4 puppies in addition. By the way, spaying your pets didn’t become available until the 1930s, so don’t have any ill will toward Jim Dear and Darling for not getting Lady fixed. It wasn’t their fault. But don’t feel like you can’t hold the rest of this against them.
Happily ever after?
I still want to know what was up with the rat panic.
Why don’t you tell me what you think? What was the rat panic all about? How do you remember Lady & the Tramp? My husband told me he completely blanked out the pound scene and was shocked by its darkness. Do you remember it? I want to hear your favourite scenes and the parts you forgot. You can find me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter under the username oofmychildhood.
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