The 1970s were a strange time. Much of the entertainment produced in that decade seems to have been created by aliens masquerading as humans; everything seems vaguely familiar, but enough small details are off just enough that the cumulative effect is decidedly creepy. So it is with this piece of video, Lady and the Tramp: A Lesson in Sharing Attention. The odd thing is that I found this by accident on a videotape full of recordings from the Disney Channel in 1988 – it was used as interstitial filler between programs. The Disney Channel didn’t interrupt their programming for commercials in those days, so if a film ran short the rest of its time slot would be filled with ads for other Disney Channel programming or various materials pulled from the company vaults. This was, of course, the era when the Disney Channel aired actual Disney-related material – this featurette was aired before a showing of The Reluctant Dragon – but I can’t imagine what inspired someone at the Channel to dig this deep into their archives.
It would be difficult for me to enumerate everything I find amusing or bizarre about this, so best to just watch it yourself. Note that it takes place in the familiar confines of Disney’s hallowed Golden Oak Ranch in California.
One hallmark of the alien-controlled media of the 1970s is that adults take freakishly inappropriate delight in “whimsical” things that are in actuality devoid of whimsy. Things like a child whirling around with a Peter Pan marionette, joylessly exhorting him to do Peter Pan-esque things. Simply put, did children of the 1970s actually enjoy playing alone in the wilderness by torturing marionettes, and did crusty but lovable neighbors enjoy standing there watching?
In the end, my absolute favorite thing about this film is the end credits, where the filmmakers go out of their way to label “Uncle Phil” as a “Friend and Neighbor.” Because, you know, it’s best to clear those things up if you’re trying to sell your film in certain markets. This begs many questions. Was Uncle Phil made a friend and neighbor in post-production? When Disney tried to sell the film to the Texas School Board? If they thought it important to make Uncle Phil not an actual uncle, then why call him Uncle Phil in the first place? Just make him Neighbor Bob or Reverend Steve or Councilman Lester. Why introduce the confusion caused by the Uncle Phil moniker in the first place?
It was this kind of mistake that led to the aliens tipping their hand and exposing themselves in 1977, leading to our liberation via the Star Wars; this, in turn, led to the eponymous film which you thought was fiction but which is actually a fairly accurate documentary. And that’s why kids don’t play with marionettes anymore.
Update: Whoa! Check out auteur Uncle Phil’s resume…