Not Another Disney Critique – a 1950s Review

Mariah Bailey

Lady and the Tramp – 1955

3 Comments

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Lady and the Tramp is your classic love story, told through the use of animal protagonists. I would image as a child watching this film you would not see much past the true love and happy ending that encompasses the plot. However, watching this again with a critical eye, it is most definitely a construction and perhaps critique of the social hierarchies within society today. By using stereotypical identities and portrayals of the different dogs, a system of “rich dog” versus “poor dog”, I noticed, began to develop. I first caught glimpse of this binary when hearing the dogs stress the importance of the symbolic collar. Stray dogs, such as Tramp, do not have a collar and therefore are automatically segmented into the lower class of the dog world. The collar suggests something of the aristocratic environment – where people are well off and supported in unity with one another. Tramp doesn’t have a family – which is why the ending is so emotionally impacting. He gains not only the love of Lady but a family as well. This is one why I think the film is successful (aside from the complete overuse of identity stereotypes).

I want to elaborate on the use of stereotypes for a minute but especially in regards to the scene of the dogs in the pound. This struck me as an odd scene. Not only were the dogs literally weeping for a good two minutes while sad, depressing music was playing and a thunderstorm was brewing outside, but the dogs looked (as the modern day adolescent would say) … rather “ratchet”. They looked like the criminals of the dog world. There was a seemingly Mexican dog with a moustache, a female dog with a notable Jersey accent, droopy eyes and exaggerated “trashy” eye makeup, and a russian dog. Really Disney?

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What had me the most puzzled, was the exclusion of dog owners John Deer and Darling’s faces throughout 99 percent of the film. Why? Perhaps it was simply to direct the focus off of the human characters and onto the animals. But my guess is there was something much more to it that I haven’t quite put my finger on yet. Without the inclusion of their faces, it makes it hard as a viewer to identify with these characters. I almost see them as the villains of the film because of this (even though they do not act very villain-ish). I find it odd that the end scene focusses on Lady’s reconnection with her owners, their family, and her new family with Tramp – but I find it struggling to believe the unity between Lady/Tramp and the house owners simply because the humans are not imaged in the end shot. It makes me question, is this image of the perfect household really all it lets on to be?

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I would lastly like to briefly comment on the way in which Tramp calls Lady “Pidge” – now to put it bluntly, that sounds a awful lot like ‘bitch’ to me – the term used to describe a female dog. Hmm . . . I am getting the sense that Tramp is called “tramp” for a reason. Now as informal as that idea was, it’s definitely something to muse upon. Especially when you take into account the scene where Lady is lecturing/questioning Tramp about all of the other female dogs he is talking to.

All in all, I found that aside from the great love story that it seemingly is, it raises a lot of important questions about identity, the home and the power constructs of society. And for that reason I deem it successful.

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3 thoughts on “Lady and the Tramp – 1955

  1. I happened to watch Lady and the Tramp a couple of months ago, so I’m glad to say that I can discuss some ideas with a fresher memory. Very good points brought up in this post! I especially agree on what you’ve said about the stereotypes. The further you go back in Disney history, the stronger and more obvious they get. I would say this film has toned it down but refused to let it go completely. Personally, I think that cinema at the time referred personification of racial and social stereotypes in animals as an effective way to quickly establish the personality of a character; the personality our society expects a person of that descent to have. Another movie that Disney used this is Oliver & Company, with accents and mannerisms of the animals also suggesting races and cultures. Back to Lady and the Tramp, I’d say that the main stereotypes of this film go beyond the dog pound, especially when you consider the Scottish Terrier. Even though one could argue that this decision was not hateful or harmful, it’s definitely something people shouldn’t take seriously and apply to real life. Given that a Disney movie is only an hour or so by standard, the producers will cut a few corners, even if it makes accuracy suffer (then again, there’s nothing accurate about animals talking to begin with, but we can still try to be reasonable).
    On an unrelated note, I think the name “Pidge” is short for “pigeon”, and I think I’ve heard that as an endearing nickname somewhere before. Interesting speculation though!

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  2. It is interesting that you would analyze the movie Lady and the Tramp this way because ever since I was a child, I have always imagined what the movie would look like if the dogs actually represented humans! A point that you raise that really interests me is your point about about Jim Dear and Darling, because not only do you rarely see their faces (and never clearly) but they are known to Lady by the pet names they have given each other, not their actual legal names. Both these elements, the lack of a recognizable face and no actual name lend credence to an idea I have had since reading your blog. If the dogs in this movie are representatives of the human classes, could Jim Dear and Darling be representatives of authority figures? Could the movie demonstrate the struggles that those who are not in a position of power have to face with authority figures? Lady has a wonderful loving relationship with Jim Dear and Darling based on trust, and while the relationship gets rocky when the baby arrives (or when changes occur) you can always trust them to get back on track and restore the equilibrium in the household. If however the power was to move into the hands of someone else (such as aunt Sarah), chaos would ensue and those even in the upper classes would suffer, only the return of the original owners (or authority figure) could help to rectify the situation. Therefore it is dangerous to disrupt the status quo. To add another layer onto it, even those of the lower classes can earn the respect and love of the owners if they can prove their worth.

    Either way, this is one of my favorite movies and I now have a reason to watch it again but with a more critical eye!

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  3. Oh Disney and its OVERT racism, ageism, sexism and class-ism!!! The Siamese cats with their exaggerated slant and buck teeth are depicted as destructive and evil. I sense some type of anti- Japanese sentiment with this one. It also found it rather troubling that Butch and Lady’s puppies are only distinguishable as one pure breed of dog instead of a combination of two. Age and attraction are also portrayed in rather nefarious ways. Aunt Sarah is old and mean even though her actions were done with the sole purpose of protecting the baby. Butch and Lady are attractive looking dogs (not to sound weird) and so they deserved to be loved as opposed to the hound dogs who are as you pointed out “ratchet” and therefore deserve to be in the hound where they will eventually be put down. Butch is by no means a well off dog but his appearance makes him acceptable. Also the sexist language is almost unbearable. As you pointed out he refers to Lady as Pidge, a short form of pigeon in other words he is calling her a bird. He even calls her a trick in one scene.

    Lady and the Tramp is one of the very few Disney movies that I never got the chance to watch as a kid. I do wonder what a little 7 year old me would have made of this movie!!

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