Over all the years I’ve run this website, I’ve talked about lots of movies – some good, some great, some maybe not so great. But I’ve always insisted on one being my favorite. My favorite love story, my favorite musical, my favorite everything. And with the sexiest, most charming leading male ever. Of course I’m talking about Lady and the Tramp.
This glorious animated feature is often considered one of Walt Disney’s better films (though not as historically important as his masterpieces from a decade or so earlier), but what matters to me is that it’s still the best movie about dogs ever.
Now don’t get me wrong. There are lots of excellent movies that have dogs in them. And a number of terrific movies about “a” dog. But most of those are movies about humans, who have dogs in their world.
But Lady and the Tramp is really about us. How we live, what we value, and what we like to do. Is it maybe a bit anthropomorphic (a long word that means animals do things that in real life only people do)? Sure. Like when the dogs can read! But overall, it gets more right than wrong.
And biggest of all, it gets our single most important quality right.
(Now I’m going to admit, what I say after this kind of requires you to have seen it. So if you never have, you might want to catch it before you read on. And if you do, he bigger screen you can see it on, the better – as it was made for the wide screens of the 1950s.)
If it’s been a while since you’ve caught it, the story surrounds a cocker spaniel puppy that a couple adopts and raises in their very nice home in a very nice neighborhood. They name her Lady, which she most certainly is. Her best friends are her neighbors Jock, a Scottie, and Trusty, an aging bloodhound. Her life is bland and simple until the day a stray mutt, Tramp, shows up in her yard. They like each other at once, but he insults her domestic life, and his rudeness repels her.
Soon after that, her humans have a baby, and start ignoring Lady a bit. But when they go on a vacation, they leave the home and baby in the care of their dog-phobic Aunt Sarah. Her cats try to destroy the house, and Lady stops them, but gets blamed for it and taken to a pet store to get muzzled, and runs away.
Chased by some mean dogs, she’s rescued by Tramp, who takes her to a zoo to get her muzzle chewed off, and then shows her his fun carefree lifestyle, famously including eating spaghetti at an Italian restaurant, till they’re chased by a dog catcher, who nabs Lady. Terrified in the pound, she meets other dogs, all who know and tell her about Tramp, and in particular about how many girlfriends he’s had.
Aunt Sarah frees her, but chains her to the doghouse in her yard. Tramp shows up and tries to explain that he hadn’t abandoned her, but she wants nothing to do with him, until they spy a large rat entering the baby’s room. Tramp gets into the house and barely wins a fight-to-the-death with the horrific vermin. But when Aunt Sarah finds him, thinking he had attacked the baby, she calls the dog catcher to take him to the pound and put him down!
Lady tells Jock and Trusty what’s happened, and they run to catch the pound’s truck, while Lady’s humans, returning from their trip, discover the rat and realize Tramp’s heroism. Jock and Trusty stop the truck in time, but Trusty is run over, leaving Jock in tears.
Then that Christmas, Lady’s owners bestow the now fully domesticated Tramp with a license, while their puppies play with their favorite neighbors, Jock and Trusty, who turns out to only have suffered a broken leg.
It’s good, isn’t it! And I didn’t even get to the songs!
Looking at this movie today, there’s a lot to talk about. Yeah, Tramp’s still my ideal fellow, but I can get a bit annoyed at how Lady’s always needing to be rescued by some male or another. And the movie could even be called – in its own weird way – a little racist, with its evil Siamese cats singing in Chinese accents, its buffoonishly emotional Italian chefs, and its cliché’d images in the pound of Germans (the dachshund), Mexicans (a chihuahua), and even a Russian Wolfhound who quotes the works of Gorky (okay, I have to admit, that’s just hilarious!).
However, in the end, the movie actually speaks against prejudice, as Aunt Sarah’s pro-cat-anti-dog viewpoint is proven SO wrong! (And she even sends the family a package of dog treats for Christmas, showing that she learned her lesson. Yes, in modern terms, Aunt Sarah gets Woke!)
But the reason I chose to write about this lovely treat of a movie is something else – something that’s never talked about in the film but is, I think, something we need to talk about a lot more in our world. Integrity.
I got Handsome to look up a dictionary definition of Integrity. He found two main ones: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness” – and “the state of being whole and undivided.” My definition would be sort of a mix between the two, where one acts on their values and has a core sincerity.
Handsome told me about a TV show a couple of years ago, where a society believes in stealing. Not that they were dishonest exactly; they just believe it’s weak to earn things or get them through trade, and that “real men” take what they want instead. Now I would want nothing to do with these murderous thieves, but they actually have Integrity – they openly state who and what they are, and accept the consequences for it. At the other end of a moral spectrum, people who are willing to die for their faith rather than defend themselves absolutely have Integrity too.
Now Integrity isn’t even an issue with minerals or plants, or animals of smaller brains. Rocks have pure Integrity, as do ponds and celery stalks and giant oaks and polar bears and cockroaches. They can’t be anything other than they are.
It gets a little tougher when you talk about animals like horses or cats or, yes, dogs. We can’t lie the way humans can (though humans are always accusing us of it – “I fed you two hours ago! Don’t tell me I didn’t!”). But since we are taught rules, we can choose to follow or break them. For example, if a dog is told to stay off a couch, and only gets onto the couch when the people aren’t home, does that dog have Integrity or not? On one hand, the dog is following a deeper rule (Don’t get on the couch when the humans are there), but on the other it’s living a lie (Act completely subservient and let them think I’m perfectly good, though I know I’m actually sneaking around behind their backs and doing what they don’t want)!
But this gets way bigger when it comes to you humans. You guys are so good at lying, betraying, hypocrisy, all that – so Integrity takes a lot of work when someone has as big a brain as you!
Think of those two definitions – moral uprightness and being whole – and imagine a woman in a marriage that has no spark who’s fallen in love with her coworker. If she sticks with her marriage, she’s obeying definition one, but wouldn’t divorcing or having an affair be more in keeping with definition two? She’d be fully herself, while breaking the most serious vow she ever made.
What about the honest police officer who needs money to pay for his son’s medical operation, and finds some easy-to-steal money? Is it more moral to save his son or obey the law?
And what about when you did something years ago that you now regard as immoral, but to admit it would make other people’s lives worse today?
Is Integrity even possible for a human?
I’ll argue that it is. But it requires the ability to change, and openly own that change. Maybe that woman makes the choice to leave her marriage, or to change workspaces to avoid that coworker. She’s insisting on her Integrity, one way or another. Or maybe that officer does take the money, but spends the rest of his life working to pay it back. Again, the person has to change in some way, to allow for what’s different in their lives.
And then, let’s go back to the movie (admitting, again, that the characters are pretty anthropomorphic), and look at the characters there. Those cats have basically NO Integrity (yes, they share their evil secrets with each other, but they are so phony to Aunt Sarah!). While Jock shows great integrity (if you accept his hiding his bones from Lady and pretending there’s nothing there!). And Trusty seems to live in a state of delusion about his tracking abilities, but he’s still a good caring guy. And of course both of them show enormous Integrity in risking their lives to save Tramp, whom they initially didn’t like.
Does Lady have Integrity? Sure. She sticks by her values as best she can. When she runs away, it’s out of terror at the muzzle, not her cheating on her responsibilities – and she does say she needs to go back home after she’s free of it, to protect the baby.
But then we come to Tramp. Does he? Well, when he’s living free and easy, you could argue that, sure, he’s got full wholeness-Integrity in his love of a trampy life. But once he meets Lady, he changes. Suddenly he wants her for his girlfriend, which means he needs to cover up his past from her; letting her know about the other girls would mean he’d lose her! So he’s stuck – and not fully being himself.
But then, two events enable him to regain his Integrity. First, Lady’s experience in the pound teaches her everything she needs to know about him (particularly courtesy of that great Peggy Lee song, “He’s a Tramp, but they love him / Breaks a new heart every day / He’s a Tramp, they adore him – and I only hope he’ll stay that way!”). And then, while she’s rebuffing him for his past, that rat shows up, and he proves his worth for eternity.
And the end of the movie shows it. Suddenly his past is irrelevant. He’s a husband, a father, and a heroic licensed pet. Yes he has a past, and he owns it, but he has changed, and he owns that change too. And as such, while all the adoring dogs in the pound might be unhappy with those changes, he has regained his Integrity.
If there’s one thing we dogs can teach you humans, it’s this: Integrity is the best quality anyone can have. We might cheat about the couch, or sneak food off the kitchen counter, but at our core we are honest. We might live in love the way I do, or in fear as my friend Aria often does, but we are who we are. It’s easy for us.
While for you, it’s a lifetime of work. Especially as you grow and learn and change, which is just what you ought to do.
Because it really matters in the long run. Someone might be disappointed that you’re not the person they want you to be, but fundamentally they’ll respect you. Whereas, if you lack Integrity, they never can. No matter how much they enjoy what you do for them.
And more than that, having Integrity is what allows you to be loved! Think of how easy it is to fully adore a dog or a cat or a baby, because we have that full Integrity. But it’s harder to love an adult person that way, because they’re so much more likely to disappoint you by their lack of it. But remember: people want to love each other, so they’re going to give you a break as much as they can. Think of when you were a child and first realized your parent had a real flaw – they cheated at something or lied or just failed. That was tough for you, but you still managed to trust and love them enough, because you wanted to. Or maybe you had a boyfriend or girlfriend who just kept blowing it – breaking promises, flaking out, or being cruel to you. Remember how you tried and tried to keep believing in them, so that you could feel loving and loved? And how it felt when you realized you couldn’t anymore? That they had so little Integrity you couldn’t find what to love?
So yes, you’re not as perfect as us (and even we might not be as perfect as the characters in a movie, who never shed in the house or pee on a carpet!). But Integrity will get you closer and closer to it. And with that, you can be trusted, and respected. And loved.
Be a lady or a tramp, but be yourself. And then, at the very worst, they’ll sing of you just what I’d sing of that hero if he were real…
“You can never tell when he’ll show up.
He gives you plenty of trouble.
I guess he’s just a no-count pup
But I wish that he were double!