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Lady and the Tramp: Diamond Edition (Blu-ray Review)

13 Feb, 2012 By: Mike Clark

Blu-ray available now; Standalone DVD Streets 3/27/12
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray/DVD, $44.99 BD combo pack with digital copy
Rated ‘G.’
Voices of Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Peggy Lee, Bill Thompson, Bill Baucom, Stan Freberg, Lee Millar.

Lady was Disney’s first widescreen feature cartoon (2.55, baby!), and with the arguable exception of 1953’s Peter Pan, which came very early in the baby boomer generation’s formative years, I think it was the animated achievement that most hit that demographic where it lived at the time of release. In the era’s full Disney canon (i.e. counting live features, too), I think only 1954’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and 1955’s Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier can make a claim for similar contention — though it must be noted that the boomer re-issues of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (February, 1952) and Pinocchio (February, 1954) were pop-cultural behemoths as well. By the way, I saw all of these theatrically at a very young age at these times, as well as 1953’s Oscar-winning documentary The Living Desert. So for whatever it’s worth, I’m speaking from experience.

What gave Leagues-Davy-Lady special want-to-see clout was the degree to which Uncle Walt promoted them on his launched-in-1954 “Disneyland” show on ABC, which was the classiest of all kids’ offerings if not necessarily the one most beloved by elementary school rebels (I myself preferred watching Froggy the Gremlin pour molasses and the like over humiliated old crones on “Andy’s Gang” Saturday mornings). In fact, Davy and its prequel (Davy Crockett and the River Pirates) originated on TV and then were released theatrically in a kind of license to print money. Disney teased viewers with black-and-white/full-screen Lady clips, but any movie-savvy kid already knew by ’55 that CinemaScope was pretty special. For one thing, the animated Grand Canyon (or Donald Duck Goes Anamorphic) had already played on the national bill with Leagues.

Seeing Lady on Blu-ray delivers on the expected treat, and I dug the 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio enhanced soundtrack (there’s a super rendering of the original 3.0 as well), even if doing so probably fails to qualify me as a purist. A lot of extras, including a nice “making-of” featurette, are carried over from earlier DVDs. And there’s a newly added feature involving apps (a word I wish would never be used in the same sentence as “movies,” but that’s just me) for those who like to put matter over mind — “mind” being defined as simply enjoying a movie that features two appealing canine leads; Peggy Lee tunes that enabled her to win a lawsuit against Disney many years later over residuals; the movies’ best spaghetti dinner (though I love Jack Lemmon’s jiffy improv in The Apartment); and loving compositions on a wider-screen canvas than Disney had employed in a feature up till then. The last are never in-your-face (this is a picture low on bombast), and the Blu-ray presentation really brings back what seeing Lady was like in ’55, when I went downtown to see it for my cousin Phil’s birthday in an almost 3000-seater aptly called the Palace.

Here is some perspective on the picture’s standout impact in my own city. Lady ran four weeks first-run (a very unusual feat in those days), playing over this span opposite The 7 Year Itch and Marilyn’s wind-enhanced thighs; Interrupted Melody (which I then wouldn’t go near on a bet at the time); Not as a Stranger (or Betty Ford Clinic med school with Mitchum, Sinatra and Lee Marvin); a twisted VistaVision/Technicolor double bill of Bob Hope’s The Seven Little Foys and Phil Karlson’s Hell’s Island (slattern Mary Murphy in a noir negligee, yowza!); Ray Harryhausen’s It Came from Beneath the Sea with its budget-mandated 6-tentacled giant octopus; the ace Martin & Lewis comedy You’re Never Too Young, Vincente Minnelli’s still neurotic The Cobweb; Mister Roberts (after which I read Thomas Heggen’s play about ten times before entering fourth grade); and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (a twilight cheapie I actually paid to see twice, which is perhaps why it became a bigger hit than Universal-International anticipated). Running solo despite its 76-minute running time, Lady outlasted almost all of them. Only Itch and Mister Roberts also managed 4-week runs (the latter with five), and those two were presold as plays — the latter an institution, in fact. You do, however, have to surmise that Lady’s fourth week box office was on the rocky side. Why else replace it on the fifth with Virginia Mayo in Pearl of the South Pacific, one of those movies that forced dying RKO to call the paramedics?

The culmination of Disney’s perennial is a brood spawned by Tramp (you know right away he’s not the type to use protection) and Lady, which led to a spin-off puppy who, as Scamp, eventually rated his own comic strip and, in 2001, a direct-to-video sequel. My own personal culmination is that Scamp’s celebrity inspired my parents to buy me a wired hair terrier who looked so much like him that we purloined the name. I did not ask for or want a dog (it messed up my movie scheduling), and he did not like me — repeatedly growling and sinking his teeth into my Keds during my disgruntled accompaniments to drop his Tootsie Roll stools back in the days when you just left the remains in a neighbor’s yard instead of scooping. My parents gave up, and we soon gave Scamp away, though all was not lost. I have a stuffed Lady from some age old Disney promotion, perched atop a bookshelf and guarding my complete set of the Library of America. I love her, and she knows her defanged place.

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