A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Lone Ranger is a reboot of the famous TV show and film serials about a lawman-turned-vigilante and his trusty Native American sidekick, Tonto. Only in Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski's take, Tonto (Johnny Depp) isn't merely a secondary character -- he's the story's guide, catalyst, and narrator. There's a surprising amount of violence -- not just the body count, but also persistent references to cannibalism (including a scene of a man's heart being cut out and eaten, albeit partially in shadow) and rape. (Some of the scary scenes are interrupted by flash-forwards, relieving the intensity, but things still get tense.) The language is mild, as is the sexuality (although one scene does take place in a brothel, and a supporting player is a madam), and the drinking is done by adults. A kid holds a gun to a man who's threatening his mother's life, and the lesson that sometimes the law can't provide true justice takes a bit of discussion. On the plus side, Depp has said he is in fact of Native American heritage and had the support of several Native American groups in his portrayal of Tonto.
What's the story?
Director Gore Verbinski reteams with his Pirates of the Caribbean muse Johnny Depp in a reboot of the character made popular in the 1950s TV Western and 1930s film serials. With Depp co-starring as Tonto, Verbinski makes the Native American character more of a protagonist and narrator than a mere sidekick. The framing story takes place in 1933 San Francisco, where a Lone Ranger-costumed boy meets an ancient "Noble Savage," who's actually Tonto. The wrinkled Native American tells the boy the story of THE LONE RANGER. Originally an attorney, John Reid (Armie Hammer) returns to his small Texas town, where his brother Dan (James Badge Dale) is the head Ranger and where a railroad executive (Tom Wilkinson) is planning a public execution to prove to the community that the train won't bring lawlessness. But the criminal Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner) escapes, and Dan's entire crew of Rangers is killed trying to recapture him, including the newly deputized John. But a white spirit horse (yes, it's Silver) leads Tonto to John's body, who re-awakens and eventually becomes the masked lawman. John and Tonto must hesitantly work together to bring justice.
Is it any good?
The problem with The Lone Ranger is that it's a strange hybrid of politically correct Western and mindless popcorn fodder that somehow manages to take itself far too seriously. On a purely nostalgic level, there's something viscerally entertaining about hearing Rossini's iconic "William Tell Overture" and seeing Depp and Hammer get the bad guys (and laughing as Tonto tells the Lone Ranger never to say "Hi-yo, Silver, away!" again). Full points to Disney and Depp for reimagining Tonto as a sarcastic guide with an emotional backstory and for reaching out to the Native American community to assure them that Tonto wouldn't be reduced to a minstrel act. Depp's Tonto is incredibly clever and wise, albeit seemingly incapable of more than one facial expression.
Of course there's humor and plenty of extravagant set pieces the likes of which only a Depp and Verbinski production financed by Jerry Bruckheimer could afford. But there's also an overly complicated plot line that might confuse tweens (not to mention far more violence -- cannibalism! rape references!) than you'd expect in a movie with LEGO tie-ins) and a rather bland Ranger who's a lot less compelling than his dead brother (Dale deserves a leading role, stat) and, of course, the scenery chewing (and crow-feeding) Tonto. It doesn't seem like the start of a beautiful franchise, but where there's explosions and Johnny Depp in a costume, you never know.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in The Lone Ranger. Is there more, less, or the amount you expected in the movie? What is the violence motivated by? What is its impact?
Johnny Depp, who's partially of Native American heritage, and Disney reached out to the Native community to make sure that his portrayal of Tonto wasn't offensive. Do you think they succeeded?
Discuss the history of the railroad, the idea of manifest destiny, and why the country's Westward expansion was so pivotal in the decades after the Civil War. Talk about the facts that there really were many Chinese men involved in the making of the railroad and that the history of the Native Americans in the late 19th century is one of death and loss of land.
This adventure is an origin story for the Lone Ranger of television lore. What do you think of the story line? Has it sparked or renewed your interest in the TV show?
- In theaters: July 3, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: December 17, 2013
- Cast: Armie Hammer, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp
- Director: Gore Verbinski
- Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, History
- Run time: 149 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: sequences of intense action and violence, and some suggestive material
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.