This past spring, when I was shopping around for ideas for a new project, I studied musicals. I knew I loved them, that they were of great importance to me. I always like to have music in my books in some way. I am the type of person who is often humming or dancing or even singing a song out in the world. (My current obsession is Elton John's “Elderberry Wine.”) So I watched a bunch of old favorites from my childhood, and primarily as a lark, I added Lady and the Tramp to the mix. I remembered bits of songs from it. I wanted to see the spaghetti scene and the Siamese cats once again. I had no idea whether it would hold up. I thought at best I would view it as an entertaining piece of fluff. To my surprise, when I finished the movie, I immediately grabbed my notebook. I wanted to write down the story because I thought I could learn things from it. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Lady and the Tramp.
The story begins with Lady, a Cocker spaniel, entering a new world, the household of Jim Dear and his wife, Darling. (These are the names Lady hears, so in this story, these are their names.) Lady is a gift from Jim Dear to Darling, and it becomes quickly clear what Lady's goal is in this story: She wants to be loved and to be seen as a member of the family.
Right away, Lady begins to work on her dream. She successfully lobbies to sleep on the bed at night instead of being shut off in a separate room. She chases off a rat in the backyard in order to protect her family. She is rewarded for her efforts—she proudly shows off her license, proof that she belongs, to her neighborhood friends, Jock, a Scottish terrier, and Trusty, a bloodhound who tells the same stories over and over again, a dog who may have lost his sense of smell.
Then the story shifts to another world. We meet Tramp, a mutt from the other side of the tracks, who prides himself in being footloose and fancy free. The film shows why he loves his life. He successfully save his friends from the pound wagon. He has friends all over the neighborhood and eats at different establishments each night.
When Tramp wanders into Lady's neighborhood, he warns her of the danger of a domesticated life. Soon, he says, she will be thrown out of her cozy home and sleeping in the doghouse. Lady's friends dismiss Tramp's predictions, but Lady now has information that she can choose to worry about.
At this point, Lady's household does go through a change. Darling is pregnant. Both Darling and Jim Dear now act differently towards Lady. They are not as focused on her. They are not as easily charmed. They are preoccupied. Lady is upset. She doesn't understand. Her friends have to explain it to her. However, when the baby is born, life goes back to normal. Lady is reassured. She loves the baby and her life with Jim Dear and Darling.
But when Jim Dear and Darling go away for a romantic weekend, Aunt Sarah comes to look after the baby. She also brings her two Siamese cats. The cats create havoc, and Aunt Sarah blames Lady. She is afraid that Lady will hurt the baby, and she takes her to the vet and has her fitted with a muzzle. The horror!
Lady runs away. Tramp rescues her from a pack of wild dogs. He takes her to an alligator and a beaver to saw off the muzzle. They have a romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant. She spends the night with him (!). The following morning, Tramp asks her to stay in his life. She says, “But who would take care of the baby?” They are from opposite worlds. It's time for Tramp to take Lady home.
But, on the way,Tramp is distracted by chickens. He suggests that they just have a little more fun, that they spend just a moment or two chasing chickens. During this game, Tramp leave her behind. Lady is picked up by the authorities and taken to the pound. There she meets his friends. She learns that Tramp has a reputation as a ladies' man. Because of her collar, the pound contacts Aunt Sarah who brings her home, but she is left chained outside to the doghouse, fulfilling Tramp's predictions. Jock and Trusty come over and offer marriage proposals so Lady could live with them and leave the doghouse behind. Lady graciously declines. Tramp also visits her. She tells him that she now knows all about him. She tells him to go away.
It is an “all is lost moment,” a dark and stormy night. While she is chained to the dog house, Lady sees that rat again, but this time, she is powerless to stop him from entering the house. Tramp returns, and she instructs him on how to get in the house and save the baby from the rat. She finally is able to break her chain and join him.
When Aunt Sarah discovers them in the house, she immediately thinks the worst. She calls the pound for Tramp. They tell her that he's been wanted for a long time. They will put him to death immediately. Lady is once again chained to the doghouse.
Trusty and Jock hear the story and now know that they have misjudged Tramp. It is up to Trusty to find the pound wagon and rescue Tramp. The entire situation is reliant upon Trusty to be able to find the scent and track down that wagon.
In the meantime, Jim Dear and Darling come home. They find the house in shambles. When they enter the baby's room, they find a dead rat near their child.They figure out that Lady and the Tramp have saved their baby.
Out on the streets, Trusty and Jock are racing after the pound wagon. After several miscues, Trusty does find the scent, and they catch up to the wagon. The final shot of this scene is Trusty charging the horses to make them stop so Tramp and Jock can rescue Tramp. In this heroic action, you see Trusty run over by one of the wagon wheels. It seems dire. The scene fades away—
To Christmastime at the Darling household. We see the baby. We discover puppies that look like Lady and the Tramp. And there's Tramp looking so proud in his collar. Lady looks like a happy wife and mother. Aunt Sarah has sent the dogs a box of biscuits for the holidays. And then Jock arrives, followed by Trusty, with a bandaged-up leg, telling all the puppies the story of how he was a hero. It's quite clear that this has been told many times, but no one minds. It's a solid happy ending.
In addition, there's terrific songs, cowritten by Peggy Lee, whose voice is something to hear, whose Peg is a wonder to behold. This movie is going into our regular Christmas rotation. It inspires and delights me.