‘Lady and the Tramp’ turns 60!

Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival - 24th March 2015 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

Today in 1955, Walt Disney Pictures released ” Lady and the Tramp”.  The animated romantic musical comedy film was produced by Walt Disney and was released to theaters by Buena Vista Distribution to world wide acclaim.

The movie was the 15th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classic series and followed in the steps of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi and many others but it was actually the first animated feature filmed in the CinemaScope widescreen film process. The film was actually based on Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog by Ward Greene, and Lady and the Tramp tells the story of a female American Cocker Spaniel named Lady who lives with a refined, upper-middle-class family, and a male stray mutt named Tramp. When the two dogs meet, they embark on many romantic adventures together including the unforgettable and much loved spaghetti eating scene.

The film came about back in 1937 as Disney story man, Joe Grant, came up with an idea inspired by the antics of his own English Springer Spaniel called “Lady.” He approached Walt Disney with sketches of Lady and Disney so enjoyed the sketches that he commissioned Grant to start story development on a new animated feature that was originally titled “Lady.” Through the late 1930s and early 1940s, Joe Grant and other artists worked on the story, taking a variety of approaches, but Disney wasn’t pleased with any of them, primarily because he thought Lady was too sweet, and there wasn’t enough action.

Then in the early 1940s, Walt read the short story written by Ward Greene, “Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog” in Cosmopolitan magazine.  Walt immediately thought Grant’s story would be improved if Lady fell in love with a cynical dog character like the one in Greene’s story and bought the rights to it. The cynical dog had various names during development, including Homer, Rags, and Bozo, before “Tramp” was chosen. It was first thought “Tramp” wouldn’t be acceptable because of the sexual connotation associated with the word (“The Lady is a Tramp”), but Walt Disney eventually approved it and considered it safe.

Lady & The Tramp

The finished film is slightly different from what was originally planned. Lady was to have only one next-door neighbor, a Ralph Bellamy type canine named Hubert. Hubert was later replaced by Jock and Trusty while the villainous Aunt Sarah was the traditional overbearing mother-in-law. In the final film, she’s softened to a busybody who is well-meaning and the film’s main antagonist. Aunt Sarah’s Nip and Tuck were later renamed Si and Am. Originally, Lady’s owners were called Jim Brown and Elizabeth. These were changed to highlight Lady’s point of view. They were briefly referred to as “Mister” and “Missis” before settling on the names “Jim Dear” and “Darling”. To maintain a dog’s perspective, Darling and Jim’s faces are rarely shown. The rat, that is featured, was a somewhat comic character in early sketches, but became a great deal more frightening, due to the need to raise dramatic tension.

A scene created but then deleted, was one in which after Trusty says “Everybody knows, a dog’s best friend is his human”. This leads to Tramp describing a world where the roles of both dogs and humans are switched; the dogs are the masters and vice versa. There was also a love triangle among Lady, Tramp, and a Russian wolfhound named Boris, who appears in the dog pound in the final version.

By June 1943, a treatment had been completed, but the artists were not allowed to go any further, as the studio was producing mostly instructional and propaganda films for World War II. Story development continued after the war but in 1949, Grant left the studio, leaving Disney story men to pull Grant’s original drawings and story off the shelf to retool. A solid story then began taking shape in 1953, based on Grant’s storyboards and Greene’s short story. Greene later wrote a novelization of the film that was released two years before the film itself, at Walt Disney’s insistence, so that audiences would be familiar with the story.

Lady Tramp Spaghetti

Animators studied many dogs of different breeds to capture the movement and personality of dogs but what isn’t commonly known is that the spaghetti eating sequence might not have made the final cut. Walt Disney was prepared to cut it, thinking that it would not be romantic and that dogs eating spaghetti would simply look silly. However, animator Frank Thomas wasn’t in agreement with Walt and animated the entire scene himself without any lay-outs. Walt was impressed by Thomas’s work and how he romanticized the scene and kept what would become the favorite scene of the movie in place.

The film was originally released in theaters on 22 June 1955. At the time, the film took in a higher figure than any other Disney animated feature since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs earning an estimated $7.5 million at the North American box office. It was a remarkable number since not all theaters had the capability to show CinemaScope at that time. In attending to the problem Disney decided to make two versions of the film: one in widescreen, and another in Academy ratio in order to help box office takings.

The film received 38 critical reviews, from which 34 voted for “Fresh” meaning good and 4 were labelled as Rotten, giving it a positive total rating of 89% and an average rating of 7.6 out of 10.

Lady and the Tramp was named number 95 out of the “100 Greatest Love Stories of All Time” by the American Film Institute, as one of only two animated films to appear on the list, along with Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” which ranked 34th.

Today, millions of people have seen the movie and enjoyed the simple carefree delight of a Disney movie. It’s testament to the work done by Walt Disney and his team that some 60 years later we are able to celebrate the movie as one of the all time greats.

If you are visiting Orlando, you can spot Lady and Tramp at Disney’s Pop Century Resort in the 1950s section as well as at the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.

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