A friend of mine likes to do outdoor film screenings in his backyard, and last night he had more of a family friendly night, and featured a screening of Wallace and Grommit “A Matter of Loaf and Death”, and then the main feature, “Lady and the Tramp”. “Loaf and Death” is probably the weakest of the Wallace and Grommit shorts. It does have a few good moments, but none of the great surprises and the emotional center that really held the other three shorts together. But really I’m here to talk about “Lady and the Tramp”, and in particular my favorite sequence in the film, “What is a baby?”.
I haven’t watched Lady and the Tramp in at least two years, but it is probably more of a favorite of mine now as an adult than it was when I was a kid. I enjoyed it as a kid of course and watched it regularly, but the themes of this film were definitely on a more mature level than most Disney features. Is it a perfect film? Well, I’d say almost. Looking at it now, I have a little ambivalence about the ending because Tramp ultimately decides to settle down when he seemed so much more passionate about being a free dog, and what that life offered him. He seems to go against his own principles in a way. The other issue I have is the fake out of Trusty’s death. Yes, I understand this is a movie with children in the audience. But it does bother me when filmmakers manipulate the audiences emotions this way, to present a sad moment only to take it back at the very end. This is a little different than a film like Snow White, where while her death was sad, it was already foreshadowed and we knew ahead of time that she could come back from it. But these issues aside, Lady and the Tramp is an absolutely wonderful film with an emotional heart.
“What is a Baby” is my favorite sequence in this film and probably one of my top favorite sequences in the history of film (I will write more of these in other posts). As a dog, up to this point, Lady has been asking questions about whats been going on with Jim Dear and Darling when they are expecting a child. She doesn’t really know what a baby is, but whatever it is, it sounds important to her masters…and possibly more important than her, and her fear that she won’t be as loved by them now that the baby has arrived. There are so many layers of depth and emotion as Lady goes to investigate this strange new presence.
First of all, the art direction and cinematography of this sequence is stunning. As it starts out with Lady walking through the darkness of the house, following the sound of the baby crying, with the darkness of the scene reflecting her own confusion as everyone else seems to know something she doesn’t. As it progresses though, she enters the baby’s room with this glowing warm light from the window, which backlights Darling as she sings a lullaby to the baby. It’s an absolutely beautiful shot. Then there’s the progression as Lady approaches the crib with caution, fearing a little she might be intruding and that she might not be welcome. But she is…as Jim Dear raises her up so she can see the baby. And in that moment she discovers that she is equally loved by Jim Dear and Darling as they are with the baby.
I have watched this sequence over and over again and it never fails to bring a tear to my eye. It’s a quiet moment, but I also think it’s one of the most beautiful sequences Walt Disney has ever produced. It helps that the rest of the film is just as terrific, and this moment wouldn’t shine as well if they hadn’t already done such a great job building the empathy for Lady’s character up to this point. The voice talent is exceptional. This sequence features Barbara Luddy as the voice of Lady. Some of you Disney fans will also know her as the voice of Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty. But she’s wonderful in this movie. And then there’s Peggy Lee, who is the voice of Darling, and she is also the voice of Peg, the female dog where Lady is taken to the pound. But her voice here singing the lullaby “La La Lu” is just so heartfelt. I can’t say again how much I love this scene.
There is real master filmmaking in this sequence. Sometimes I am put off by a lot of animated features today, where many times the “emotional moments” come off as too saccharine, or slam you over the head with a sledgehammer to call attention to themselves. But there is a truth and an honesty to this sequence that makes it so beautiful and work so well. I hope someday I get to have a moment in one of my films like this one. It’s not the one you’d first think of when watching Lady and The Tramp, most people think of the famous spaghetti eating sequence. But I’m presenting the video here so you can watch and decide for yourselves. This was Walt Disney at his finest.