Lady and the Tramp is an original Disney-Studios story and is every bit a “classic” animated feature. The story is satisfying to child and adult audiences alike and the feature makes use of a variety of themes and devices to condense a film that is successful at many different levels.
From a technical standpoint, (it could be argued that…) Lady and the Tramp is indicative of Disney animation at its most evolved: the animation team had refined their craftsmanship, the artists were able to work within the panorama of a 2.55:1 aspect ratio (Disney’s first Cinemascope animated feature), and while background imagery was beginning to show signs of a more stylized interpretation than earlier works, character design was more life-like in representation than ever before. To this later point, the representation of the animal-characters in Lady and the Tramp display an almost uncharacteristically-Disney sense of realism—gone are the cutesified bunnies from Bambi and mice from Cinderella. True, animal faces of primary characters still show a bit of anthropomorphization in that mouths change shape to enunciate spoken syllables and eyebrows dance freely to express emotions. But the general anatomy and movements of the animal-characters never steps out of the artwork’s declared “real world” boundries, and for many who may find the more caricaturized animals in Bambi a bit jarring when juxtaposed against those ethereal water-colored backgrounds, Lady and the Tramp should prove a satisfying treat.
Allow me to made an usual comparison: I find a surprising similarity between Lady and the Tramp and Disney/Pixar’s Toy Story. Here’s the parallel—both stories are constructed from the vantage point of something that’s not human but living in a human world—toys in the case of Toy Story, pets in the case of Lady and the Tramp. In Toy Story the toys converse with each other and share a perspective of the world from what it would be like to be owned and loved by human companions, the dogs in Lady and the Tramp view the world in the same way. The entire story is directed from this point of view, and one of enjoyable aspects of this film is the ability to “read” everyday human behavior through the eyes of the dogs. The animators add emphasis to this theme by reflecting the “perspective” of the dogs visually…we see the world from down low like a toddler taking his first steps gazing upwards into an adult-governed world. Watch the film with this in mind and your appreciation for the subtle care that makes Lady and the Tramp such a masterpiece will be enhanced.
The image of Lady and the Tramp is a 76 minute visual feast of color, texture, and skillful detail that effortlessly mesmerizes the videophile/cinephile viewer. The iconic wonderland of town’s Victorian middle-class suburb is beautifully rendered and one could spend hours and hours just watching the feature’s background paintings alone. From whimsical details on the gingerbread of the home’s exteriors to flowers and leaves in the garden to the careful visual study of turn of the (19th) Century Americana furniture styles, fixtures, and daily life…Lady and the Tramp’s visuals will take you on a journey back in time filtered through a lens of admiring romanticism that is a joy to behold. So many details about early 1900’s middle-class way of life are documented here that the film could be regarded as a treasure-trove of historical details. Aside from the attention to obvious issues like architectural styles and horse-drawn buggies in the streets, the background artists take great care to load each scene with 19th Century artifacts and experiences unfamiliar to (most) modern American eyes. From laundry on the line to gas-burning light fixtures on the wall to the Kitchen ice-box to flame-lit-candles on the Christmas Tree—Lady and the Tramp paints an image of by-gone American life with all the charm and seductive nostalgia of the finest Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving dinner.
Music contributes a key strength to Lady and the Tramp and is used skillfully to advance the story. This includes both lyrical song and score. However, breaking rank from many of its contemporaries, the film doesn’t typify the usual “Disney Musical”. Like Bambi, many songs are used as off-screen music to support on-screen emotion, and for the songs that do find their way out of lips of animated characters, most of them take place in “real context” in the film without taking usual “break into song on the street” musical liberties. The mother rocking her baby to sleep singing a lullaby, the Italian cooks serenading a romantic evening in a back-street alley, and even Peg the diva-dog with her He’s-a-Tramp Torch-song all are carefully contextualized as “real” singing events in real situations (Think Chicago or Cabaret for modern-musical examples of this). The only song that comes to my mind that breaks this rule and unabashedly surrenders in the throws of typical-musicaldom is the Siamese-Cat song, which brings with it a montage of such creative brilliance that its able to change musical-rule gears without any detectable transition. If you’re a fan of Peggy Lee, you should know that Peggy not only wrote most of the music used in the film, but performs most of singing as well (La, la, Lu, Siamese Cat Song, He’s a Tramp).
If you’ve been keeping up with current events you’ve probably heard that yet again DTS Digital Images (the artists formerly known as Lowry Digital Images) have worked their magic on this latest Disney DVD. The results are breathtaking. I’d venture to say that, from the perspective of “a beautiful picture”, the results are perfect, excepting for perhaps a slight degree of softness that I’m suspecting is a result of digital mastering for DVD and not a reflection of the source prints/painted artwork. I say this because I’ve found a similar discrepancy with many other Disney animated DVD titles which were clean and clear, yet appeared a little softer than the projected prints (and a little softer than the DVD medium is able to deliver).
Digital versus “film” restoration…
If you’re familiar with my reviews (and thread discussion) of Bambi and Cinderella you’re aware that while I usually enforce a strong “faithful to the intended look of the original film elements” philosophy to guide my reviews, I make an exception with DTS/Lowry’s work on Disney’s animated classics. There is a rationale for this discrepancy: In the case of animated titles, I view the film medium as an “in between layer” that separates the audience from the source artwork…which I consider to be the hand painted backgrounds and cells. Exactly what constitutes “the art” of animated motion pictures is a subjective matter open to a wide variety of opinions. Regarding animation, I happen to take the approach that what the artists tried to convey with their painting was what they wanted us to see, and the “film” to which these paintings were printed for theatrical projection was the medium that they had available...a medium that the digital DVD does not necessarily have to replicate.
A modern parallel would be taking a digitally animated title, like Toy Story, and deriving the DVD directly from the digital files rather than from the intermediary “film elements” used for theatrical exhibition. In that case we would all agree that while the Toy Story DVD didn’t faithfully replicate the look of the projected film, it did even more faithfully produce the intended look of the animated artwork itself. Thankfully, regardless of how one feels on the matter, DTS Digital Images have done all their “digital restoration” work in much higher resolution than our 1080P HD standard, which allows their digital files to be printed back to film to satisfy that medium’s projection qualities and archival advantages so all groups ultimately can be satisfied. Having prefaced my thoughts, please pull the harness tight over your head, fasten your seatbelt, and keep your hands and arms inside the ride at all times…
As with Bambi and Cinderella, you can look “in” to the painted artwork and see every brush stroke, every hand-placed detail on the elaborately detailed background imagery. It’s spectacular. And the videophile (and/or historical enthusiast) could spend hours just staring into the background paintings and never succeed in taking it all in. Scene after scene and, just like Bambi, each painted background could be lifted from the screen, framed, and enjoyed all on its own. Colors are vibrant and saturated, and by all appearances look “exactly right” in hue, tone, and intensity. Without delving into technical facts about this film’s restoration for this DVD it’s apparent that great effort went into determining the precise balance of all of these parameters in accordance with the original painted backgrounds, cells, and intended look of the original film.
And while I’ve already made mention of a slight softness to my eye, the picture is still overwhelming satisfying with loads of visible detail…especially in the painted backgrounds. What immediately impressed me on my 106” projection screen was the amount of texture coming through…the panted carpet looked “fuzzy”, the waxed wooden stairs looked “shiny”, the pillows looked “soft” etc. It’s this low-level detail that really allows DVD to rise-above the ranks of mere “video” and start to communicate the essence of motion picture images, and while there could still be some room for improvement (which I look forward to on 1080P Blu-ray disc), this DVD effectively communicates texture to a degree that the paintings really start to come to life.
Having enjoyed the improvement that high-definition home-viewing has made with other films that make strong use of color (Moulin Rouge on D-VHS for instance), I’m well aware that for all its potential that the DVD medium necessitates some inherent compromise with color fidelity, and I can only imagine what a 1080P Blu-ray version might deliver.
Black level is solid. Contrast range is smoothly rendered and the picture’s dynamic range is bold and unrestricted. Gone is the “dark” look of the previous DVD and laserdisc, and daylight images look appropriately bright in this new DVD in a manner that feels natural and properly balanced with excellent shadow-detail in the dimmer-lit evening scenes.
Edge Ringing: There is none. *Sigh*. Nary a halo to be seen. I got really picky and moved closer than my usual 1.6 screen-width viewing distance and tried to find some edge-haloing. I never did.
No Color Banding (that I could detect). No MPEG noise (that I could detect). The image is clean as a whistle and free from any added layer of “processing noise”.
Lady and the Tramp is presented in dual-form on the first disc of this 2-disc set…I presume that one layer is used for the widescreen version and the other layer is used for the 1.33:1 version (given this feature’s short running time and the derth of bonus material on the first disc, a single layer seems to be more than adequate to deliver a well-compressed, artifact-free image). The widescreen film is noticeably wider than the usual “2.35:1” composition and according to the packaging is 2.55:1, which was Cinemascope’s early aspect-ratio before some of the frame’s width was appropriated to accommodate additional audio-track options (if I understand the history correctly). I should mention that the “widescreen” version of this film available previously on laserdisc and DVD was slightly cropped on the left/right and presented an image closer to the more modern 2.35:1 aspect ratio than the full-scope 2.55:1 image on this latest DVD. I did some careful A/B comparing and I can assure you that this latest DVD maintain the full vertical image area as seen in both previous widescreen home-video versions, and presents more horizontal picture area to achieve its wider shape (no cheating by just cropping the top/bottom to “fake” a 2.55:1 aspect ratio like the earlier Ben-Hur DVD).
When Disney Studios chose to make Lady and the Tramp their first Cinemascope animated feature, they also produced a 1.33:1 version for theaters not equipped for scope projection which was not merely a cropped version of the widescreen feature, but incorporated some recomposition of foreground characters to better fit the 1.33:1 space (think of the 1.33:1 version of A Bug’s Life). Previously on VHS and Laserdisc, this separate 1.33:1 version was made available (for the first time on home-video) during the last release of this title. However, sources have indicated that the “full frame” version on this DVD is not the original 1.33:1 OAR but rather a pan-and-scanned version of the 2.55:1 scope image. While less than ideal, I can understand that given the cost of digital restoration, Disney chose to use the restored 2.55:1 image as the source for both versions—it would have necessitated the cost of restoring two separate films in order to present the original 1.33:1 version with the same visual quality.
Those of you who, for historical reasons, want to own a copy of the “original” 1.33:1 version could obtain the former full-screen VHS or laserdisc. Those viewers who just want to watch a version without black bars should be content with the p/s alternative on this set. Given that Lady and the Tramp was intended to be fully-realized in 2.55:1 Cinemascope, I would consider the widescreen version of the film included here to be “the” version of the movie Walt intended you to see, as both the p/s and OAR 1.33:1 versions were only produced as a compromised alternative.
Summing up Picture…
Except for the slight bit of image softness that I presume is not a reflection of the source prints/artwork, the image on this DVD is…for lack of a better word…perfect.
Picture Quality: 4.9 / 5
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch even on a 32” 4x3 480I TV. Think Outland or Jean De Flourette (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl, PAL-NTSC conversion artifacts etc.)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Kill Bill Vol 1.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements limited only by DVD’s 720 x 480 resolution. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW" and ask you if they are watching HD. Think The Empire Strikes Back, the Fifth Element Superbit or the new Toy Story 10th Anniversary Edition.|
Currently running DVDs on my OPPO DVD player (Faroudja deinterlacing) which scales to 720P, feeding my BenQ 8700+ PJ via DVI, projecting onto a 106” 16x9 Dalite HiPower screen, viewed from approximately 1.6 screen-widths distance. Well mastered DVDs produce a stunningly film-like image in this scenario, and lesser-mastered material quickly shows its flaws.
The audio on this disc leaves no room for improvement, given the limitations of the original historical session recordings. Disney has done it right on this DVD.
Original 3.0 audio mix:
From what I’ve been able to gather, Lady and the Tramp graced Cinemascope theaters in 1955 with L/C/R stereo sound. That original mix has been reverently restored and presented on this DVD in 3.0 Dolby Digital—and it sounds amazing. There’s a natural and spacious separation in the musical score, and many effects make good use of L/R panning to create a sense of dimension and movement up on the 2.55:1 screen. The lack of surround activity in this “original” mix is not only forgivable, it’s easily forgettable. I think this is so not only because the film style doesn’t “ask” for active surround effects, but because I found that the special cues in the front three channels actually caused me to perceive surround activity on a number of occasions when, in fact, there was no sound emanating from the 2 rear speakers. I used to experience this “faux surround” effect all the time when I had my high-end DAC in place and used to decode all my 2.0 PCM laserdiscs in unprocessed stereo…I found that on well recorded soundtracks many times the phase information and recording techniques used in the mix would create a believable perception that sound was appearing to the side and sometimes behind the listener. It’s rare that I find that effect with Dolby Digital compressed stereo signals (probably because the subtle special/phase cues that trick your hearing in perceiving such things are lost during the lossy compression process) but I confess that the 3.0 DD original mix on the new Lady and the Tramp DVD had me convinced.
While there was an audible “dated” quality to the character of the sound, I found myself continually surprised by the level of fidelity, and by the subtle “inner detail” of many of the orchestral instrumentation and effects. When Peggy Lee sings “He’s a Tramp” her vocal is satisfyingly smooth and well-bodied, if just a tad thinner/lighter-weight than what would be considered ideal (again, the best that the source elements are capable of sounding I'm sure). And during this song what’s most impressive is the texture and palpability of the bass coming out of the right channel…it’s bass with real weight and a controlled response with audible resonance that sounds like a “real” bass. Very, very satisfying.
New D.E.H.T. mix:
Tastefully executed, and I could respect the desire of many “audiophile” HT enthusiasts to prefer this 5.1 soundtrack in their particular system. The first thing you might notice is that the vocals tend to have a slightly smoother, fuller sound than the original 3.0 mix. However, some of that “smoothness” is at the expense of a bit of top-end which seems to have been sacrificed in an effort to rid the soundtrack of audible hiss (which is left thankfully in-tact on the 3.0 mix). But to be fair, the “sacrifice” of top-end response is not as egregious as with other (Mary Poppins) D.E.H.T. mixes and without direct A/B comparison I think that most discriminating listeners wouldn’t find anything apparently missing. In fact, for listeners with audio systems that tend towards brightness, this new 5.1 mix might actually sound better in their system because it mellows out the slightly brighter sound of the original mix.
Stereo separation is slightly enhanced in this new mix over what is already satisfyingly “stereo” in the original mix, and to my ears it sounds like much of the surround activity is really replicating the hard left/right effects in the rear channels as well. However, some creative and tastefully appropriate use of “surround activity” is made from time to time. One such scene is when we first meet the Tramp sleeping in his barrel at the train yard…and where in the original mix the “choo choo” sound of the steam locomotive engine is heard panning and slowly fading out the left channel, in the D.E.H.T. mix it pans left and then moves left-rear as though the train is really leaving the yard and heading out behind the listener into the distance…an effect consistent with the direction of the train orientation in the animated scene.
Aside from the slight loss of top-end on dialogue, the only other criticism I have of the new mix is that some of the orchestral music has a distracting “phasey” sound…like when you have the positive and negative wires switched on one of your speakers. Sometimes playing with polarity works to help create a sense of “space” with mono recordings and perhaps what I’m hearing is an artifact of processing to give the surround channels a more ambient character this way. Nothing as distracting or objectively “bad” as the horrible vocals in the songs in Aladdin which were replicated out of the rear channels instead of being left properly in the center speaker…but an effect worth mentioning as it sometimes did call my attention.
While I personally prefer the original mix in my own audio system, I respect and admire what the new 5.1 mix has achieved and I encourage all listeners to explore both soundtrack options and determine what they personally prefer to hear.
*** Update on March 1, 2006 ***
HTF member Mark-P made some very interesting observations of the new DEHT mix that I want to include here. He writes later in this thread:
| David, there's one little thing you didn't notice about the DEHT mix of the film. All the dialog has been mixed across the three front channels. |
Generally I prefer the DEHT mixes of these releases (Mary Poppins being the exception because of the new foley) but while the dialog may sound fuller in the DEHT mix, it's too unfocused. The 3.0 mix nails the dialog down to the center channel (although this being a 50s mix I would have expected more directional dialog)
Listening to the other language tracks I discovered the French track dialog is also spread across the 3 front channels, but the Spanish track dialog is only in the center.
I also pulled out my old Limited Issue disc and found that the Dolby digital 5.0 mix on that disc had the dialog dedicated to the center channel too.
I don't know who's making these horrible decision at Disney, but this is the 3rd "Disney Enhanced Home Theater Mix" that they have screwed up (IMO). First Aladdin with the song vocals, then Mary Poppins with the new foley, and now this.
The 3.0 original mix will be the one I select when showing this movie in my home theater!