This film opens with a kindly dedication to all dogs, be they "ladies" (trained, housebroken dogs) or "tramps" (strays). It suggests that money cannot buy the wag of a dog's tail, and anyone who has ever owned and loved a dog really knows this to be true. To me, the beginning of the film is actually perhaps the most charming part of it, as it speaks a truth all dog-owners understand to be true. But for as promising as this sounds, there's a lot of stuff about the film that I'm not too fond of, and it's another title in the Disney collection I could totally take or leave.
This one also opens on Christmas, at a household where a man named Jim Dear (Lee Millar) gives a gift to his wife, Darling (Peggy Lee); a cute little cocker spaniel with a bow she calls "Lady". The first night is actually pretty adorable, as Lady gets lonely and tries so desperately hard to join her family in their bed. She manages, but they lay down the law that it's JUST for that first night. Naturally, however, the trend lasts much longer, which was something I found they got pretty spot-on for dog-lovers, or even pet-owners in general. In this house, we let both dogs and cats up on the bed, as we appreciate the company, and I know many who do the same.
At around six months, they get Lady (now voiced by Barbara Luddy) a dog license, and she shows it off to her friends, a Scottish Terrier (Bill Thompson) named Jock and a Bloodhound named Trusty (Bill Baucom), who has no sense of smell. We get the sense that Lady lives a very happy, comfortable, perhaps even spoiled life with her owners (by the way, do not feed your dog coffee and donuts like they do here!). Lady's owners are very fond of her, she's got them wrapped around her little paw, and life is good.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to "Tramp" (Larry Roberts), a stray mutt who sleeps at a construction sight, eats the scraps from a friendly Italian restaurant (probably at least better for dogs that coffee and donuts - seriously, don't do that). He lives his life day by day, outrunning dog catchers and socializing with the local strays. One day Tramp comes across Lady having a conversation with Jock and Trusty about the baby Jim and Darling are about to have. Tramp warns her about what's going to happen, but his opinion is at first tossed aside.
Some time after the baby is born, however, Jim and Darling go on vacation, leaving the baby with Aunt Sarah (Verna Felton) who, along with her racially insensitive siamese cats, treat Lady like some sort of unwanted mongrel. This leads Lady out onto the streets, taking her chances with Tramp, who seems to have been right in his opinion about humans the whole time. But will she be able to adjust to the Tramp's lifestyle? Or is she too adapted to her home life?
Much like with 'Cinderella', this is one of those Disney animated films that isn't entirely up my alley, but that doesn't mean it's bad. If you take away some of the racial controversy, the story is actually pretty charming - that is, if you can make it past some of the dog noises that are way too overexaggerated here. The dog pound scene, for example, is pretty brutal - like watching one of those SPCA commercials but instead of being heartbreakingly sad, it's this odd combination of annoying, sad and even kind of scary. If you really love dogs, this movie might hit you harder than most.
In many ways, the film brings back fond memories of the dogs I had in my life, who I developed very strong and close relationships with. A lot of the charm of the movie does appeal to dog lovers, but a lot of the darker moments here are actually kind of upsetting. I really wasn't a fan of the "taking the long walk" scene, where a very upbeat dog at the pound gets put down behind closed doors. It's a bit much, and doesn't really need to be there other than to pull at heartstrings. In fact, the film does a lot of that, some of it feeling quite forced.
Other than a few things that haven't aged very well since 1955, this isn't a bad movie for the right audience. This will appeal to dog lovers easily enough, and has its charm despite not quite being everything I look for in a Disney animated film. It might make for a pretty good date movie, but I otherwise prefer something a little more upbeat because for as charming as this can be, it can get just as dark, and moments of sadness are really crowbarred in. It's made for that soft spot a lot of us have within us for dogs, but it's bound to work better for some than others.