Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (6th October 2012).
The Film

When it comes to iconic moments in movie history, the most memorable scene in “Lady and the Tramp” has to be somewhere near the top of the proverbial list. Often the stuff of parody and homage, the image of two dogs sharing a pasta noodle at a candle-lit red-and-white checkered-topped table, and their eventual awkward and accidental kiss, isn’t just one of the most well known in Disney, or even all animation, canon, but I’d venture cinema as a whole. It’s one of those iconic images ingrained in the memory of movie-fans everywhere—like Luke and Vader locked in a silhouetted lightsaber battle in “Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back” (1980)… except, actually… not like that at all, aside from the fact that both are unforgettable moments in their respective movies. But “Lady and the Tramp” is more than just that single image of unintentional noodle kisses.

Released in 1955, the same year Disneyland opened, and animated in the then-burgeoning Cinemascope format, “Lady and the Tramp” would be a facet of film history simply because it was the first animated feature exhibited in widescreen, produced during one of the most crucial creative periods for the Disney company. But the film is more than a pretty picture painted on a broad canvas. Although, yeah, it is crucial to the company history: it was a labor of love for studio boss Walt Disney, and one of the first films from the company to be based, not on a fairy tale or other famous work, but instead an original idea (or an almost original idea, anyway).

“Lady and the Tramp” tells the story of Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy), a spoiled cocker spaniel owned by an upper middle class couple called Jim Dear (Lee Millar) and Darling (Peggy Lee), who falls for a boy—er, dog—from the wrong side of the tracks, a mutt and lovable scamp named Tramp (voiced by Larry Roberts). Soon, Jim Dear and Darling are expecting a baby, and Tramp begins putting ideas in Lady’s head that she’ll be replaced the minute the baby is born. Lady voices her concern with her two friends, Jock the Scottish terrier (Bill Thompson) and an aged bloodhound named Trusty (Bill Baucom), and they both do their best to comfort her. But when the baby is born, Lady gets brushed aside, and when her owners leave Lady and the newborn in the hands of a spinster aunt (Verna Felton) who hates dogs—and loves her two Siamese cats—the spaniel has little choice but to believe that the Tramp is right, and follow him into the night.

Based on a short story by Joe Grant, “Lady and the Tramp” was originally in pre-production as early as 1937, although at the time it was an entirely different animal than what we know today. When Walt finally saw Grant’s complete storyboard for the film in the early 1940's, he was displeased, to say the least. It wasn’t what the company founder and original Imagineer himself had in mind at all. Walt shelved the film indefinitely, which was for the best. With the country—and world— at war, and Disney more concerned with smaller, mostly short subject, projects, and supplying a steady stream of animated propaganda for the U.S. War Department, including plenty of shorts featuring Donald Duck basically punching Hitler in his fuehrer face, the 40's probably weren’t the right time for Romeo and Juliet with dogs anyway. By the 1950's, things were different, and Walt, determined to return to his pre-War output, fast-tracked a number of stalled projects. One of these productions pulled from the mothballs was the discarded “Lady and the Tramp”, which was extensively re-written, using a short story by Ward Greene as a template, and went on to become Disney’s 15th “classic” animated feature.

“Lady and the Tramp” is a beautiful film in more ways than just its lush widescreen imagery. It is a film that has aged gracefully in the almost 60 years since it’s original release. Sure, the Siamese cats—and their “We are Siamese, if you please-a” song—grate, especially in our more politically correct times, as do a few of the other stereotypes that broach the border of uncomfortable racism. But, the 50's were a different time. And, honestly, I think it's important to leave these references intact, if for no other reason than historical record. As they say, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, or something like that. (And acknowledging the more unseemly aspects of Old Hollywood, and American culture in that era as a whole, opens up the avenue for a discussion worth having with those not in the know. You know, kids.) But, mild racism and all, most parts of the film have aged more than well. By setting the story in the past of the past—the Edwardian era of Disney’s own childhood—the film skirts most of the datedness that a 1950’s production might have. Now, from a modern context, “Lady” is simply a classic period piece. And there’s a sense of maturity to the production, particularly in how it handles Lady and Tramp’s relationship, and I’m not sure the subtle adult themes and subject matter would be present in any other era of Disney’s history.

Years before Pixar did the same thing, Walt knew that he had to cater to both the adults and the children in the audience, and that often he was selling and telling his story to the two mutually exclusive groups. In a masterful way, he was able to work subtext into some of his early pictures that wouldn’t even be remotely understood by the kids. This is especially true for “Lady and the Tramp”, which is so suited to a mature audience it, essentially, has a sex scene in it—a sex scene that’s implied but still important to the overall thematic and dramatic plot. One of the things that struck me many years ago, when first viewing the film as an adult, was the brilliantly subtle way the filmmakers approach the… consummation of the star-crossed pairs bonding. To put it frankly, Lady and Tramp have sex on their one wondrous night, with the meatballs and the pasta noodle, specifically between the fades of the two dogs under the tree and the stars, overlooking the town. But little kid me never knew that. I never even gave the little puppies at the end of the movie—more specifically, where they came from—a second thought. But that’s exactly where they came from, and why Lady freaks out and runs off in the scene immediately the “morning after”.

But mostly, “Lady and the Tramp” was the result of Walt’s love of dogs. The film is one of the many Disney creations that is, essentially, an ode to man’s best friend—the others running the gamut from some of his earliest characters, Goofy and Pluto, to whole films like the later, live action, “Old Yeller” (1957) and the animated “101 Dalmatians” (1961). And its sequence in the pound is frightening, disheartening and ultimately just super sad. The slow song that does appear in that sequence is the very essence, the sound, of sorrow, making you ache for these lonely animals.

Although light on song in but a few scenes, and even lighter on intense action—as it’s so nuanced, the film might seem a little slow for the more ADHD-addled youth of today, who’ll no doubt get a little itchy over the 76-minute runtime—the film does have a strong message. And, to an adult, the picture is a breeze: it’s so simple, and rather quick to a mind that’s clued in on the deeper subtext. Like many Disney films, the villain is rather ill defined. There’s an ugly rat, a dogcatcher, Aunt Sara and her cats… but perhaps the strongest, most formidable foe of all is social pressure. Like Juliet and her fair Romeo, Lady and her Tramp are constantly pushed apart by the pressures of society—namely, that the two are from two completely different worlds: world that seem at odd with each other (freedom, constraint; loneliness, love). And that’s something a little too deep, I think, for the really young ones to appreciate. “Lady and the Tramp” is one of the rare, but not unheard of, Disney pictures that actually improves as the audience ages.

Video

“Lady and the Tramp” was the first feature-length animated film produced in Cinemascope, the anamorphic mega-widescreen process patented by 20th Century Fox and first appearing in theaters in 1953 with the release of the biblical epic “The Robe” (1953). Following its debut, Fox’s Cinemascope was adopted by many other movie studios looking to expand their… well, their scope, in an attempt to combat the new gadget called the television. Walt Disney Productions was one of the earliest studios to adapt to the new format, releasing their first live action title in Cinemascope, Richard Fleisher’s sci-fi adaptation of Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1954) starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason, in 1954. Following the success of that picture, Walt decided to retrofit his next animated production—“Lady and the Tramp”—for exhibition in the hit anamorphic widescreen format, expanding the backgrounds and pushing his artists to make the film use the new shape more effectively. As the release date neared, Disney realized that not enough theaters were properly equipped for Cinemascope and ordered a second version of the film be completed in the classic Academy aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The tandem production of “Lady and the Tramp” in both widescreen and standard academy ratios was the first and only time that two completely different versions of a Disney film were animated for the two screen shapes (although certain later films were composed for both, and matted or unmatted accordingly).

“Lady and the Tramp” was released in its original 2.55:1 widescreen aspect ratio for the first time since the initial 1955 theatrical run in 2006, with the remastered “Platinum Edition” DVD. On U.S. shores the “Platinum Edition” also included a 1.37:1 full frame transfer, although it’s important to note that this square version was not a transfer from an actual Academy-ratio negative, but rather a poorly done pan-and-scan job of the remastered widescreen transfer. The Academy ratio film materials exist somewhere, presumably in the Disney vaults, but, to my knowledge, were never restored or remastered, unlike the Cinemascope version, which has had additional remastering work done—on top of the extensive 2006 remaster—in preparation of this new “Diamond Edition” Blu-ray.

To put it simply, “Lady and the Tramp” looks marvelous in high-def. The 2.55:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps high definition transfer is brilliant, with crisp line art and nicely saturated colors. The painterly backgrounds have immense depth, and rich texture. Detail is so strong on the new rendition that individual brushstrokes in the artwork are noticeable for the first time. As usual for Disney, the new presentation is more of a remastered reinterpretation rather than a proper restoration—they’ve tried to replicate the look of a painted film cell, not the printed 35mm celluloid. As a result, the image is free of film grain and doesn’t really reflect how “Tramp” likely looked in theaters. And, while this might cause some fuss for film purists—I have some reservations about the process myself, although I admit the results are often amazing—no doubt, most will love the lush and inviting qualities of the spotless and clear images present in the new HD transfer. Print damage has been eradicated by cleanup; careful recoloring has eliminated most instances of flicker. Noise reduction has been used sparingly, and there’s no trace of artificial shaping or noticeable haloing from overzealous edge enhancement anywhere to be seen. The AVC MPEG-4 encode is perfect: the short 76-minute film makes efficient use of the space afforded by the roomy the dual-layer BD-50 on which its been placed, and although the film itself doesn’t even bump into the second layer, it never spares any of those precious bits to its detriment. Artifacts, banding, moiré, aliasing and other anomalies are a non-issue. “Lady and the Tramp” is another excellent high definition transfer from Disney. One that probably won’t please every single soul invested in the Blu-ray experience, but it’s bound to impress most, and even those with reservations are sure to have their jaw drop in at least a few of the more detailed moments of gorgeous widescreen splendor.

Audio

Disney was always concerned with sound and became a pioneer in the field of multi-channel formats when he released “Fantasia” in 1940 in FantaSound, the world’s first stereophonic sound process put into theatrical exhibition. Expensive and ill-implemented, Walt’s experiments with multi-channel were cut short by the war and the cost cutting that came with it. It’s sort of fitting then that “Lady and the Tramp”, which also languished in internal development during those war years, would be the vehicle with which Disney would once again wander into the world beyond mono. One of the selling points of Cinemascope, on top of the vision-filling frame, was the sound. Released in magnetic 4-track, “Lady and the Tramp” was mixed for, rudimentary, surround sound at its inception—yes, in the fifties.

The Blu-ray edition includes two mixes of note: a new English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz/24-bit) track and what Disney is calling the “restored original” mix presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t actually the true original—which should actually be 4.0; left, center, right and a single rear surround channel—but a slightly bastardized split-stereo with a matrixed rear channel that largely stays silent. It’s odd then, but I find myself preferring the 7.1 remix, which actually approximates the original 4-track better than the other thing proclaiming to be the restored “original”. To be sure, both tracks have intelligible dialogue, and showcase the improved clarity afforded by lossless encoding. It's just, whereas the fidelity, depth and breadth of the 3.0 track seems somewhat limited, the 7.1 expands nicely, almost naturally, with an even greater, full-bodied, quality. The best aspect of the latter is that the music and score bleed appropriately to the rears, lightly, while the rest of the track retains its front-focused atmosphere. The 3.0 isn’t a bad choice, and I think some might prefer it, but to my ear, the 7.1 is the best of both worlds; it allows “Lady” to spread out into a more enveloping soundscape, but does so faithfully in keeping with the intent of the original 4-track mix. The disc also includes Disney Enhanced Theatre mixes in French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 and optional subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

Extras

Two discs, overstuffed with stuff. The extensive—or you could say exhaustive—supplemental package, spread over 2-discs, begins with, firstly and most fittingly, an introduction by Diane Disney Miller (1080p, 1 minute 21 seconds), in which she talks about this new “Diamond Edition” of one of her father’s favorite and most personal projects.

The first disc—a dual layered BD-50—also contains several Blu-ray exclusives like the "Second Screen" experience, an audio commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes, as well as all of the classic DVD features: a making-of documentary, storyboards, music videos, more deleted scenes, more featurettes, theatrical trailers, vintage TV excerpts and more. The second disc—a DVD-9—includes a standard definition transfer of the film and a considerably streamlined set of supplements.

The Blu-ray is authored with a resume playback function and is BD-Live enabled.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

“Disney Second Screen – Inside Walt’s Story Meetings” (1080p) experience: with an internet connected Blu-ray player and an iPad or computer, Disney takes “Lady and the Tramp” to the next level with concept art, sketches, image galleries, notes and correspondence, and even pages of the script, synced in time with the film. For best results, play Second Screen with the optional audio commentary, as it adds even greater depth to the story behind the making of the film. As always, Second Screen is a bittersweet special feature; the material is interesting, and surprisingly in tune with both the information divulged in the optional commentary and what’s happening in the film, but I’d much rather have the images presented in a Picture-in-Picture window on my TV screen and not my Macbook. There’s also the caveat that you have to have an Internet connected player for this to work; not a problem for me, but I don’t imagine everyone has a their home theater setup for wifi or hardwired Ethernet.

A short featurette appropriately called “What is Disney Second Screen?” (1080p, 45 seconds), gives a short overview of Disney’s frustrating but worthwhile “killer app”.

“Inside Walt’s Story Meetings” is the audio commentary that can sync with Second Screen. It’s also available as a standalone track, although, really, the full experience with the sketches is the way to go—if you’re set up for it. Walt’s secretary painstakingly transcribed all of his meetings, and here Disney has turned those notes into a script, read by actors, to give a unique commentary on the origins of the film. It’s really an unusual but very clever way to get inside the making of a film completed over half a century ago.

Moving on, a menu “Backstage Disney: Diamond Edition” includes a featurette and some newly discovered deleted scenes.

The featurette, titled “Diane Disney Miller: Remembering Dad” (1080p, 7 minutes 51 seconds), has Walt’s daughter talking about her father’s life and career during the production of “Lady and the Tramp”, which coincided with the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, California in 1955. Miller also talks about her father’s love of the Victorian period and how that influenced the design of “Tramp” as well as the décor of her father and mother’s secret apartment atop City Hall in “The Park”.

The three deleted scenes (1080p, 19 minutes 21 seconds, play all) where never animated—as is the nature of most forgotten and excised scenes in the canon of cartoon history—but they’ve been reconstructed exclusively for this Blu-ray, using the original sketches with a narrator reading from the original script. The scenes are:

- “Introduction of Boris”
- “Waiting for Baby”
- “Dog Show”

The heading “Music & More” includes a never recorded song. “I am Free As the Breeze” (1080p, 1 minute 26 seconds) original song, with lyrics by Ray Gilbert and music by Eliot Daniel, was originally written in 1946, during the long pre-production process on the film. It was intended to be sung by the Tramp, but was eventually dropped. Along the way to screen, it was decided that Tramp was not a “singing character” and most of this song, in which he expresses his philosophy on life, could be reworked into dialogue. Now, free from the vault for the first time, the song is presented alongside more original artwork.

A subheading titled “Classic DVD Bonus Features” houses all of the extra material from the previous “Platinum Edition” of the film.

“Lady’s Pedigree: The Making of “Lady and the Tramp’” (1.33:1 480p, 52 minutes 28 seconds, play all) is a 7-part retrospective documentary, directed by Mason Funk and produced in 2006, tracing the history of the film from its humble origins to the now classic status it has in Disney (and even cultural) canon. Animation and film historians, Disney animators, friends and family members of the original crew and many others discuss Walt Disney and what is, in many ways, his most personal film. This is a very well made documentary, nicely attuned for an older audience (sadly a rarity for special features on most animated releases). The individual chapters are:

- “Return to Marceline”
- “A Perfect Lady: the Story of Lady and the Tramp”
- “Ruff Animation”
- “Canine Chorus: the Music of ‘Lady and the Tramp’”
- “Teaching a Dog to Talk: the Voices of ‘Lady and the Tramp’”
- “Pretty as a Picture: Art and Design”
- “Epilogue: Return Home”

In “Finding Lady: The Art of the Storyboard” (1.33:1 480p, 13 minutes 2 seconds), a featurette with animator Eric Goldberg, those unfamiliar with the process of storyboarding learn what a storyboard actually is, it’s importance in the filmmaking process and how the rough rendering of a film can make or break a project, much as it did in “Lady and the Tramp”, which was shelved for more than a decade after Walt was displeased with the 1943 storyboard version by Joe Grant.

Next then is the “Original 1943 Storyboard Version of the Film” (1.33:1 480p, 11 minutes 52 seconds). This featurette takes viewers through the process of rediscovering the original storyboard version—of which eighty percent was recovered—and the reconstruction prepared for the DVD. After the short intro the full storyboard version is shown, with dialogue and narration provided by Eric Goldberg.

Films are artifacts of their time, and while the Siamese cat song in “Lady and the Tramp” is as uncomfortably racist as the crows in “Dumbo” (1941), Disney has left the sequence intact on every version of the film since release—just as they should (to erase the ignorance of the past as through it never happened is dangerous and equally ignorant). “The Siamese Cat Song: Finding a Voice for the Cats” (1.33:1 480p, 1 minute 51) is a look at an early storyboard of this, silly, song.

Fred Willard hosts “PuppyPedia: Going to the Dogs” (1.33:1 480i, 9 minutes 21 seconds), a short, kid-friendly featurette about the many breeds of pups seen in “Lady and the Tramp”.

A music video for “Bella Note” (1.33:1 480i, 2 minutes 55 seconds) performed by Steve Tyrell exclusively for the DVD release, is also included.

The disc also contains three theatrical trailers for “Lady and the Tramp”: the 1955 original (non-anamorphic 2.55:1 480p, 3 minutes 54 seconds), the 1972 re-issue (1.33:1 480i, 42 seconds) and the 1986 holiday re-release (1.33:1 480i, 1 minute 26 seconds).

One of the most interesting sections on the disc—at least for me, and I’m sure many other Disney fanatics—is called “Excerpts from ‘Disneyland’ TV Shows”.

Ever the pioneer, in 1954 Walt Disney began hosting a television series (really, a cleverly designed cross-promotional tool) called “Disneyland”, on which he would take viewers behind-the-scenes of his empire, offering a look at the soon-to-be-opening Disneyland theme park and the production of his many theatrical films. The series was broadcast in a 1-hour block back in the day when an episode really ran for almost that long (without near as many commercials as today). Interestingly, although “Disneyland” was first run in black-and-white—because Walt was a visionary who saw into the future—it was actually photographed in color, for possible redistribution when color TV technology became more widespread (NTSC color was in use by 1954, but costly).

Two vintage episodes of “Disneyland” focusing on, at least partly, the making of “Lady and the Tramp” were produced. The first, called “A Story of Dogs” was broadcast only once, on December 1, 1954, in black-and-white. The color negatives were thought lost, and were only partly rediscovered during preparation for the Platinum DVD release of “Lady and the Tramp”. The TV special was reconstructed in its entirety using various elements, including a tattered Workprint, and was seen in color for the first time outside of the Disney studio on the 2006 DVD.

The second vintage episode, titled “Cavalcade of Song” was first broadcast on February 16, 1955, in black and white and later rebroadcast in the original color during “Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” in 1962, when “Lady and the Tramp” was re-released to theaters for the first time.

The Blu-ray contains a number extras pertaining to these two TV specials, although unfortunately both “A Story of Dogs” and “Cavalcade of Song” are only presented in edited form (as was the case on the DVD; it would’ve been a nice bonus to see the entire special on Blu-ray, but I guess us diehard fans can’t have it all).

First up is a featurette, titled “Introduction” (1.33:1 480p, 4 minutes 1 second), in which Eric Goldberg discloses the history of the “Disneyland” series and the two “Lady and the Tramp”-centric episodes.

“The Story of Dogs [Excerpt]” (1.33:1 480p, 17 minutes 31 seconds) is an edited version of the TV special, focusing only on the making of “Lady and the Tramp”. The longer episode would also have included material on Disney’s other famous dog of the day—Pluto—and a look at the Disney Imagineers at work on the then-new theme park, its attractions and even other films. Alas, this truncated take will have to suffice.

Also included is a short trailer, featuring Walt Disney in which he promotes “next weeks episode of ‘Disneyland, Fantasyland’”, which is presented in black and white, called “Promo trailer for ‘The Story of Dogs’” (1.33:1 480p, 3 minutes 1 second).

Because “Cavalcade of Song [Excerpt]” (1.33:1 480p, 21 minutes 40 seconds) was rebroadcast in color, the elements weren’t in as rough shape, so it looks much better—with far less damage, dirt and debris—than the earlier special, which was reconstructed nearly 50 years after the fact. Sadly, it too is an edited version of a longer vintage episode, which would’ve focused on many of the songs featured in Disney films of the era. Here, the piece is only with “Lady and the Tramp”. Still, as a piece of history, “Cavalcade of Song” is well worth watching, and a truly wonderful relic of television and cinematic history.

Eric Goldberg returns to introduce and provide voice-over for two deleted scenes (1.33:1 480p, 12 minutes 52 seconds, play all) prepared for the 2006 DVD, presented in reconstructed rough storyboard-and-sketch form. Unlike the new scenes prepared exclusively for Blu-ray, these two DVD-era deletions feature rare temp dialogue from the original actors. These scenes are broken into four chapters:

- "Turning the Tables: Introduction"
- "Turning the Tables"
- "The Arrival of Baby: Introduction"
- "The Arrival of Baby"

The disc also features the following pre-menu bonus trailers for:

- "Disney All Access" (1080p, 55 seconds) promo.
- “Cinderella: Diamond Edition” (1.33:1 1080p, 1 minute 12 seconds) on blu-ray and DVD.
- “Brave” (1080p, 1 minute 10 seconds).
- “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3” (1080p, 45 seconds) on Blu-ray and DVD.
- “Discover Disney Blu-ray 3D with Timon and Pumbaa” (1080p, 4 minutes 23 seconds) promo.
- “Learn how to Take Your Favorite Movies on the Go with DisneyFile Digital Copy” (1080p, 1 minute 3 seconds) promo.

DISC TWO: DVD

The second disc is a full-retail DVD-9, with the film and a smaller collection of special features presented in standard definition. This version of “Lady and the Tramp” features a 2.55:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with Disney Home Theatre mixes in English, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and the original restored audio, with optional English, Spanish and French subtitles. The “Diane Disney Miller: Remembering Dad” and “PuppyPedia: Going to the Dogs” featurettes from the Blu-ray are also included on this disc.

Packaging

Never one to shy away from stocking store shelves (electronic and otherwise) with multiple SKU's, Disney has packaged up its prized puppy in not one, or even two, but three different options and leaves the choice to the customer and where their preferences lie. All three editions of “Lady and the Tramp” contain the same first two discs—a dual layered, region free, BD-50 and a Region 1-locked DVD-9. The standard version, herein reviewed, comes housed in a 2-disc eco-Vortex case (a “good” eco-thing, without the stupid holes) with an embossed, blue-bordered, cardboard slipcover in first pressings. A DVD-sized package, with a gray-bordered slipcover is available for those who like their Blu-rays to come in too-tall cases. Lastly, a gold-bordered 3-disc “Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy” edition adds a DisneyFile digital copy—compatible with iPad, iPod, iPhone and Apple TV—and an extra $5 to the pricetag.

Overall

So iconic you could boil it down to a single still image and it would still maintain most of its charm and beauty, “Lady and the Tramp” is one of the best Disney features produced while Walt was still alive. The company that bears Walt Disney’s name has treated one of the founder’s favorite and most personal films with great care over the years, and this "Diamond Edition" Blu-ray bests even the truly special 2006 “Platinum” DVD. Image and sound are superb and the disc is overflowing with excellent extra features. A must own if there ever was one.

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


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