Dog days of summer

15th August 1997 at 01:00
Lady and the Tramp (U). The Lost World (PG) Men in Black (PG)

The Disney re-release for this summer is the 1955 full-length animation, Lady and the Tramp. Unlike that other Disney pooch pic, 101 Dalmatians, made in 1960 and set in a slightly unconvincing version of 1950s London, this evokes a small American town around the turn of the century, an environment familiar to the animators, which inspired real feeling in them.

Lady is a pampered pedigree who feels rejected when her humans, Jim Dear and Darling, have a baby. Left temporarily in the care of an aunt with two obnoxious Siamese cats, Lady takes up with the streetwise Tramp, whose idea of a good time is chasing chickens. This lovable rogue nearly gets her into serious trouble, but later saves her life, These main characters show that the studio had no qualms about stereotyping, and the support cast, animal and human, confirms it: here are the jolly Italian chef, the gruff Scotch terrier, the heavily-accented Irish family, the lugubrious bloodhound, the eager beaver . . . These minor characters illustrate, at the same time, the strengths and shortcomings of Disney in its heyday: the humour and the sentimentality, the insensitivities and the superb craftsmanship. Children will love it, the sequence with the beaver is one of the best that the studio ever did.

Joseph McBride's recent biography of Steven Spielberg suggested that the film-maker feels a certain animosity towards the Anglo-Saxon, suburban, middle America that Lady and the Tramp posits as the norm. certainly it is under threat in two of the summer's other blockbusters, in both of which Spielberg was involved (as director of The Lost World and as producer of Men in Black).

The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park is a disappointment, with nothing to add to the thesis of the first film and less of its pastoral mood. The dinosaurs have survived on another island and Jeff Goldblum is persuaded to return to study them.

meanwhile, another group has landed, trying to revive the original theme park. The two groups confront one another, then have to join forces to survive. it is not hard to pick the individuals who are destined to be torn limb from limb, and a sign of the film's lack of imagination that one can spot them so easily.

Of course, the few years since Jurassic Park have made us that much more used to the animatronics and other special effects. Men in Black uses them to good advantage. This is a comic spin-off based on the idea that aliens regularly visit Earth ("especially Manhattan"), in human disguise, and are admitted and supervised by a special government department: Tommy Lee Jones plays a seasoned agent and Will Smith a new recruit. This "aliens walk among us" movie is funny and well-written, with no excessive pretentions, and it has deservedly done well at the American box office.

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