It’s the July 4 holiday weekend. It’s the big Walt Disney action-adventure movie, brought to you by the team behind the Pirates of the Caribbean
franchise. Of course you are thinking of bringing your kids to The Lone Ranger
, particularly if they’re fond of cowboys, Indians, runaway trains or Johnny Depp’s bizarre theatrics.
Except despite everything I just mentioned, you can’t bring your kids to Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger. I mean, you can… but you shouldn’t, for so many reasons.
Let’s hop in the saddle, catch a train, leave the mask on and figure out when you can watch The Lone Ranger with your kids.
Red Flags: “There’s no need for violence, my son.”
Maybe this isn’t such a big deal. If your kids are anything like mine, they have no interest in seeing The Lone Ranger
. I mean, this masked hero was a staple for audiences in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s, but he isn’t Superman, and The Lone Ranger
might not have the same appeal as, say, Man of Steel
But because it’s Disney, Depp and a splashy summer blockbuster, there’s a good chance you’re thinking of going as a family. Bad idea. The violence in Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger
has been raising red flags for multiple movie critics who don’t even have kids on the brain. Mike Ryan of The Huffington Post
points out in his Ranger
review, “Before I saw the movie, I just assumed it would be for kids. It is not for kids. (At my screening, I witnessed wary adults lead a mass exodus of children after the villain slices out the heart of a still living human being, then takes a bite.)”
The heart-eating scene also gets a “shout out” from wary parent Drew McWeeny in his HitFix
review, where he states, “If you're a parent and you're debating taking younger kids to this one because it is a Disney fan, let me warn you. This is an R-rated movie that has somehow managed to squeak by with a PG-13. It is startlingly violent, and it seems unaware of just how upsetting much of the imagery is. … At one point in the film, one of the main villains played by William Fichtner cuts a man's heart out of his chest and, in front of the immobilized Lone Ranger, eats it. I repeat. He cuts the man's heart out. And then he eats it. And this is a big summer Disney movie? Really?”
I echo their sentiments. Verbinski’s Rango
, even though it’s animated, struck me as too dark for kids. I wrote in depth about Verbinski and Depp’s efforts to push the envelope
on family entertainment with the Pirates of the Caribbean
franchise. In The Lone Ranger
, I believe they finally plunge off the cliff.
The movie’s greatest sin might be its length. At two hours and 29 minutes, Ranger tests even the most patient of moviegoing children – particularly because the middle 90 minutes is a tedious slog through locomotive negotiating, Indian peace-treaty violations and spiritual resurrections for the main hero (played by Armie Hammer). Verbinski bookends his story with thrilling train sequences that are beautifully choreographed. There just aren’t enough of these to sustain a family’s interests.
Those who are paying attention may be put off by the film’s violent tone. Admittedly, Verbinski sets his story in the wild West, where shootings and hangings were commonplace. But does that mean they have to be commonplace in a Disney movie? In one scene, an ambush on lawman John Reid (Armie Hammer), the film’s sinister villain (William Fichtner) murder’s Reid’s brother in cold blood. Then, as mentioned, he cuts out his heart. And eats it.
Verbinski’s Pirates movies were proud to be weird, and Ranger tries to plug into that socket. There are cross-dressing outlaws, a whorehouse matron (Helena Bonham Carter) with a shotgun for a leg, werewolf rabbits and Wendigo spirits. Teenagers seeking something surreal might dig what Verbinski and Depp are experimenting with here. Smaller kids, on the other hand, will wonder where the action set pieces went to, and why must they sit through the gory slaughter of Tonto’s tribe.
Is the whole thing a wash? Not exactly.
Green Lights: “There’s no stopping this train, John. I think you know that.”
Verbinski, according to reports, scored a $250 million budget for Ranger, and the film boasts spare-no-expense production values. New Mexico’s vast desert landscapes look spectacular on-screen. The Lone Ranger, if nothing else, is a gorgeous period Western that actually deserves to be viewed on the biggest screen possible.
The director, also, is second to none when it comes to choreographing fluid, large-scale action sequences. The two in Lone Ranger involve rapidly moving locomotives, and Depp’s antics as Tonto aboard (and underneath) these runaway trains are marvelously fun sequences that call to mind Buster Keaton’s The General… an obvious inspiration.
The film really needed more of those.
The elements of heroism, the reasons one would DO a Lone Ranger reboot, are lost in the chaos of sloppy plotting. There are villains and double-crosses, supernatural aspects that were part of early screenplay drafts, and a framing story with a 90-year-old Tonto that’s clever but doesn’t go anywhere.
I’m not sure what kids would want to see The Lone Ranger, what with Despicable Me 2 or Monsters University playing in a neighboring theater. Truthfully, I’m not sure which parents would subject their kids to Ranger, in the first place.
This is not a film aimed at young kids or families. If your teenagers have an interest in Westerns, or if they like the kind of creations Depp concocts – particularly in the Pirates movies – then this might connect with them on some level. As a fan of Westerns, I appreciated the cinematography, and I thoroughly enjoyed the train-based action set pieces. I wish Verbinski had worked in two more, for balance.
Right now, my kids have expressed no interest in seeing The Lone Ranger, so I’m kind of off the hook. If your kids are asking, though, this PG-13 movie really is made for kids 15 and up. It’s violent, bloated and strange… and not what I expected from Disney’s summer slate.
As always, if you do take your kids to the movie, please let me know how it goes!
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.