Disney's New Twist on a Classic Tale
On July 3, 2013, Disney will be releasing a long anticipated Western-a remake of the classic The Lone Ranger. It stars Armie Hammer as the Masked Man and Johnny Depp as Tonto, his faithful Native American sidekick. Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, it has been an ongoing project since it was announced that it would be filmed back in 2008.
This is not a typical Disney summer blockbuster like Monsters University, which is aimed at the kiddie market. The Lone Ranger is for older kids and adults. Filled with action, it only bears some similarity to the classic black and white television program from the 1950’s that starred Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.
Unlike the original, where Tonto was more like an assistant to the masked avenger, this film is more like a bromance, a true partnership. In the television series, The Lone Ranger always sent Tonto into town to do his dirty work, and he would get beaten up for his efforts. The Disney film has the duo working together to get the justice they both seek.
In fact, in this remake, Tonto is more of a coach to John Reid than a partner, since he is a recent colleg graduate heading back west after spending many years on the civilized East coast.
Tonto Gives Dan Reid His New Persona
Johnny Depp as Tonto Is Controversial
In the early years of Hollywood, Native American parts were often played by Caucasian actors. Looking through the eyes of today’s enlightened society, this is ridiculous . The fact that Jay Silverheels, from the Canadian Mohawk First Nations, actually played Tonto, was pretty forward thinking for it’s day.
So why is Johnny Depp, who has a questionable tie to Native Americans, selected to play this infamous sidekick? Weren’t there other Native American actors who could have fit the bill?
The portrayal of Tonto in the 1950’s television series was a racist caricature of Native Americans. His broken English, his subservience to The Lone Ranger and the fact that he wore buckskin drew ire from tribes across the United States.
While some Native Americans welcomed the filming of the movie because it brought money to their reservations, others are concerned with the broken English stereotype being perpetuated onto yet another generation of movie goers.
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Facts About Tonto
This classic western was created by Fran Striker, a writer from Buffalo, New York. He wrote all kinds of serieals, but the owner of WXYZ in Detroit wanted a western.
And so The Lone Ranger was born.
Much is known about the character of Dan Reid, aka, The Lone Ranger. But what about Tonto?
What is the Origin of the Word Kemosabe?
Several credible sources have cited that Jim Jewell, who directed The Lone Ranger, came up with this phrase. There was a boy’s camp in Mackinac, Michigan called Kamp Kee-Mo-Sah-Bee that was established by Jewell’s father-in-law. He said the phrase meant “trusty scout”.  When Cecil Adams, the author of the article contacted Native American language experts, they said that it simply meant “scout”.
Tonto Was a Member of Which Native American Tribe?
The radio program was originally broadcast from WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan. So Tonto was from the Potowatomie tribe, who were Native Americans from that state. According to his story, he is alone, too, as his entire people were wiped out.
In fact, it was a young Dan Reid who saved Tonto’s life many years earlier when he was just a boy. This was never forgotten by Tonto, and he stood by The Lone Ranger’s side because of it.
This Tonto costume is what he wore in the film and is not indicative of a particular tribe.
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How Was Tonto Sure That This Man Was the Person Who Had Saved His Life Years Earlier?
After his life had been saved, Tonto gave DanReid a ring to remember him by and to show his gratitude. When he saw the ring on a necklace Dan was wearing as he tended to his wounds, he knew that this was the same person.
Why Was the Character of Tonto Invented?
The Lone Ranger got its start on the radio in the 1930's. With nothing visual for listeners other than their imaginations, it would have been very boring to have the character of Dan Reid riding on horseback alone, going town to town and doing his brand of vigilante justice.
To keep him company on his adventures, the creators of the show brought in Tonto as his companion. Now the Masked Man had someone to talk to! He did not appear on the first radio eleven episodes, but on the twelfth.
Tonto was a moral character, who was also intelligent. The broken English he spoke did not hide that fact.
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How Did Tonto's Horse Get It's Name?
Fans of the program are already familiar with Silver, the Masked Man’s horse. But what about Tonto’s trusty steed?
Originally, his horse was named White Fellah. It was changed later on when the horse was able to scout out some trouble. His breed was a pinto.
Final Fact About Tonto
What is Up With Johnny Depp’s Makeup?
At first sight, the new version of Tonto, as portrayed by Johnny Depp, is quite shocking to the eye. This is not how viewers of any decade have seen this character portrayed.
Where did this look come from?
The famous icon’s new look came from a painting by Kirby Sattler, an artist who admits to not using historical accuracy in his work. He intentionally creates art that does not affiliate itself with any tribe.
The character of Tonto has always has it’s share of fans and critics. It will be interesting to see how the new Disney film will be received by both.