7 Reasons Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” Is Actually Genius
Disney’s “The Lone Ranger”, released in 2013, did poorly at the box office and with critics, and currently has a rating of 31% on Rotten Tomatoes. The overall consensus on this movie was that it was poorly written, overdone, and slapstick.
Critics on the site said the film was too long, that Johnny Depp should not have been cast in a Native American role, and that Armie Hammer’s John Reid was a weak and useless protagonist, especially when paired with the forceful personality of Depp’s Tonto.
I recently watched the movie again (twice in a row) with my family and wanted to submit my personal opinion, which is the exact opposite. I think this movie is absolutely genius, and has become one of my favorite movies of all time. If you haven’t seen the movie, be warned, there are spoilers, but you’ve had plenty of time to watch it since it came out.
I looked for articles online and it seems like so many people hated this film that there are few defenders of it, though this review gave it a fair pass. I cannot say I have answers to all the critics’ critiques (pun intended), but a lot of their issues seem to be more with the movie politics than the story and its effect on its audience, so instead I will just focus on my list of what I loved from a fan’s point of view.
So, without further ado, here are 7 reasons why I think “The Lone Ranger” is a fantastic, brilliantly plotted movie that deserves a better rating than it got:
1. The Horse
Let’s start with the smaller points and work up to the bigger ones. The inclusion of this horse is probably one of the biggest reasons critics call it overcomedic. The animal is seen multiple times throughout the film doing things that no self-respecting horse would ever do and appearing places no horse should be able to reach – standing on the roof of a burning barn, drinking beer out of an open bottle, standing on a tree branch wearing a hat, etc. Additionally, Depp’s Tonto (though admittedly we must take this with a grain of salt) claims that the horse told him that Reid is a “spirit walker” and therefore cannot be killed, giving the doubtful ranger the confidence to take the shot with his silver bullet at the climax of the movie. However, the horse was genuinely helpful, always seeming to magically appear whenever (and wherever) it was needed.
While some might say that the horse was unnecessary, I say that as a western comedy (which this movie absolutely was), it is essential to the comedic property. Come on, tell me when you watched this you didn’t at least laugh once at the beast’s increasingly improbable activities! We can all confidently say with Tonto, “Something definitely wrong with that horse!”.
2. “Wrong Brother”:
This one is pretty funny. From the very first scene they have together, Tonto doesn’t like John. Instead, he sets his sights on John’s brother, Dan, whom he sees as a “great warrior”. When both Dan and John get shot in the canyon with the rest of their party, Tonto comes to bury them. While he’s there, the horse shows up and starts stamping the ground near John’s grave, indicating to Tonto that John is the spirit walker.
Tonto, obviously not liking this very much, starts trying to lead the horse over to Dan’s grave. He tells the horse that Dan is the “strong brother”, and that John is an idiot. But the horse is insistent, and Tonto is stuck with John for the rest of the film.
The thing that makes this really funny, however, is that it gets brought up again and again. Tonto starts calling John, “kemosabe”, which drives John crazy until he finally asks what it means. Tonto looks straight ahead and says, “Wrong brother.” After that, it becomes kind of an in-joke for the remainder of the movie, but it’s that moment that my family and I still quote all the time.
3. The Bird:
This reason is a little more somber in nature. The dead bird (no, not dead; “awaiting spirit to return – not same thing”) Tonto wears on his head signifies a much deeper tragedy that turned Tonto into the character he is in this movie. It’s what “killed” Tonto the Comanche and gave birth to the wandering, crazed Wendigo hunter in search of revenge for what happened to his village. He blames himself for being so easily betrayed for the sake of a trinket, which is why he still carries the bird.
I believe the bird represents the Comanche in general. Several times throughout the movie you can catch a glimpse of a live bird, especially around Tonto, seeming to imply that it is the same bird even though the audience knows it’s a stiff mannequin atop Tonto’s head – a kind of symbolic reference, which parallells the Comanche chief telling John Reid, “We are already dead”. At that time in American history, Indians of all tribes were being killed or driven out of their lands, forced to give up their identity and their way of life. Tonto’s constant expectation that the bird’s spirit would return seems to communicate that he still hopes his people could be great again.
At the same time, just as I believe the bird represents the Comanche, the pocket watch represents the opposite, namely the greed of the white men in this story. The fact that Latham Cole and Butch Cavendish were willing to slaughter an entire village of innocent people for a river full of silver all to themselves gives a grave warning to all viewers about the devastation of the sin of greed.
This potent symbolism in the movie’s storytelling is, in my opinion, a huge point in its favor. I personally love to analyze stories and it’s gratifying when there’s more beneath the surface than appears at first glance. Though the movie is a comedy, this genuinely serious undercurrent is what gives the movie weight.
4. Johnny Depp:
Back to the non-serious, it’s Johnny Depp! One of the weirdest actors in Hollywood but genuinely fun to watch. I have no problem that he played Tonto because this particular Tonto is a parody of a Native American character, not a true one. He’s designed not to represent the Comache in general, but to represent “the one who lost his way”. His character is so wacky, it does nothing to appropriate Comanche culture in any way as far as I can see, because the character isn’t written to represent Comanche culture. The audience knows this going in because of the particular style of the movie, so it’s very unlikely that Depp’s Tonto would be turned into a stereotype. Plus, the movie isn’t big on historical accuracy anyway because that’s not the focus.
So, I think Johnny Depp was a great pick for this role because of the hilarious way he portrays the insane Indian, from the whole “spirit walker” thing to catching the grape in his mouth to the ladder incident on the train (Pirates of the Caribbean anyone?). And those facial expressions? I could watch this guy all day.
5. The Little-Girl Scream:
I had to put this in here. I just had to. We laugh so hard at this scene every time we watch the movie. I wish GIFs had sound so you could hear just how high-pitched the sound he makes is! Because it’s just a momentary funny and not a whole scene, I almost ruled out putting it as a reason. But every time I watch this movie, I look forward to this moment.
Coupled with where they are in the scene (“You’re lost, aren’t you? Train tracks? I thought you were in Indian Territory.”) and the switching between Ancient Tonto in the museum and the rest of the story, that part of the movie is also critical to the main plot. And they managed to slip that girly scream in there in such a way that it’s very funny without disturbing the momentum of the story. I appreciate that.
I also appreciate the fact that Armie Hammer was willing to make that sound in front of his entire film crew – probably multiple times as they were filming that scene. Here’s a link so you can hear that awesome girly scream for yourself:
6. Storyline Continuity/Foreshadowing:
This is one of my most favorites – where it starts getting really deep. You know how I talked about the symbolism of the bird and the pocket watch earlier in this post? Well, turns out that the creators of this story got even deeper than symbolism. In fact, from the opening scenes of this movie, you already have everything you need to know in order to understand the story.
When I watched this movie last, I paid specific attention to these symbols. Now, I’m getting a little geeky here because this is something I get really excited about, but bear with me.
Here’s a list of some of the most important visual symbols and characters seen in this movie – the train and train tracks, the pocket watch, the bird, the silver, the Comanche, Latham Cole, Butch Cavendish, Red Harrington (the woman with the wooden gun-leg), Rebecca and Danny Reid, and Captain Jay Fuller. In the first ten minutes of the movie after Ancient Tonto starts his story, every one of these people and visual cues appear, one after another. Watch this Youtube clip for some illustration (the person who posted it doesn’t allow embedding) – it skips bits but you should be able to catch most of the cues.
Everything you need – in one scene – right from the very beginning. The directors are literally giving you the plot but it’s so subtle and well-done that you only notice on the rewatch. This is professional, literary, genius-level writing right here, and is something that every good story has in common – it’s so deep and symbolic that you get more out of it each time you approach it again.
7. Train Chase, Finale, and Score
This is my absolute favorite part of the entire movie. Not only is the camerawork and acting and execution of this whole scene so fun to watch, it wraps up the story perfectly, and the music, oh, my gosh, the music. I’ve noticed every single time I’ve watched this movie that the music is perfect. Everything lines up so exactly it almost seems like the picture was cut to the music and not the other way round. I found a video on YouTube that explains my excitement over this scene way better than I can, so I thought I’d put it in here for you to watch.
This video points out everything I wanted to point out about this scene, and also includes a little more about the camerawork that I didn’t know before I watched it. Also, it told me something score-related that I hadn’t known – namely, that Geoff Zanelli (who worked on POTC and scored the last one) was in charge of arranging the William Tell Overture for this scene using Hans Zimmer’s themes. I had always assumed it was Zimmer but Zanelli did such a fantastic job I can’t help but admire his skill at this. My ultimate life goal right here, ladies and gentlemen!
Well, there you go – that’s my seven reasons you should watch The Lone Ranger. Please watch the video above – it may be a little long but it’s worth it, I promise. And don’t forget to comment below with any questions or comments you may have!