Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Hero Swap: Django and Rango

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This post contains spoilers for all of Django Unchained and Rango. 

The Rules: Everything has rules, and Hero Swaps are no different.

1. The Rule of One. Only one character can be swapped out per movie, book or television series.

2. Main Street Rules. The main character from each story have to be traded for one another.

3. Both of These Rules Will Be Broken Eventually.

Now that we have established the rules, it’s time to get into what a Hero Swap actually is. Well, it’s exactly what the name suggests. In a Hero Swap I have the two main characters of two separate movies, books, or television series’ switch places, and then I talk about how this change would impact the movies, books, or television series they were originally in. So for example, Captain America and Achilles from Troy could trade places and both movies would be completely different. 

In this edition of Hero Swap, Django from Django Unchained will be switching movies with Rango from Rango.

Who is Django?

Django Unchained is an uber violent western directed by Quentin Tarantino. It tells the story of Django (portrayed by Jamie Foxx), a former slave turned bounty hunter, who is purchased by Dr. King Schultz (depicted by Christoph Waltz), in order to get his help with collecting a bounty. Eventually, Shultz sets Django free and the two become friends. After a long winter of collecting bounties, the two set off to Candyland to purchase Django’s wife Bromhilda (depicted by Kerry Washington) from the evil slave owner Calvin Candie (played by Leonardo DiCaprio).

After a disagreement, Schultz kills Candie, and is subsequently killed by his henchmen. Django attempts to escape with Bromhilda, but they are captured when she is taken hostage. Stephen (played by Samuel L. Jackson), a slave of the Candies who practically raised Calvin, and loves him dearly, convinces Calvin’s sister, Lara Lee to sell Django to a mining company to be worked to death. Django manages to convince the slave traders that he was sold to them after trying to collect a bounty, but his partner was killed. He than kills the slave traders, steals their dynamite and guns, kills all of the slavers of Candyland, including Stephen, and rescues Bromhilda. It’s a terrific movie, and I love it.

Who is Rango?

Rango is an animated, children’s western directed by Gore Verbinski. It tells the story of Rango (a chameleon voiced by Johnny Depp), a former pet turned hero, who is accidentally dropped in the desert when his family goes on vacation. He is chased by a hawk, and finds a desert iguana named Beans who takes him to the town of Dirt. Rango fancies himself an actor, so while in Dirt he plays the part of hero, and eventually becomes the sheriff after accidentally killing the hawk. It’s discovered that the town is running out of water. When the reserves are stolen from the bank by a band of moles, Rango leads a group to recover it. After the bottle is destroyed, but also empty, many of the moles are brought to Dirt for trial. Rango is then run out of town for questioning the Mayor’s purchasing of property surrounding Dirt and Rattlesnake Jake’s returns.

He is humiliated and forced to admit to the towns(animals?) that he lied about his heroics of the past. During his exile he talks to the Spirit of the West and discovers that the Mayor is manipulating the water supply in order to cause a drought, buy all the land, and build a modern city. (So really this movie is about the evils of cities, which is kind of weird because city life would probably be waaaaay better than living in the old west, but that’s a whole other issue from this Hero Swap). Rango returns, and with the aid of the moles, is able to expose the Mayor’s lies, re-earn the respect of the townsanimals (oh yeah I’m running with it) and Rattlesnake Jake, and return the water. It’s a really fun movie, and I love it. 

Which Character Fares Better?

In order for this swap to happen we’ll have to do two things; we’ll have to shrink Django down to the size of a chameleon, and we’ll have to make Rango the size of Jamie Foxx. Now that both of our heroes being swapped are the size of the hero they replace, it’s time to get to work.

Both stories are actually pretty similar, each features a protagonist thrust into unfamiliar territory. Each protagonist not only succeeds at what he has to do, he also excels at it. Each protagonist then attempts to recover something stolen from him, fails initially, and is forced to retreat. After a time, each one returns from their defeat and saves the day.

Given these similarities, I think that both of our heroes would fare reasonably well after the swap, however, Django has more actual skills than Rango. Shultz remarks that Django could be the fastest gun in the west, and he kills dozens of people (at least) by himself. Throughout the course of the film Django goes from an uneducated slave (through no fault of his own, obviously), to a literate freeman, who is also a skilled bounty hunter.

Basically what this category boils down to is: could each hero do what the other does, and I think that Django would definitely be able to do anything that Rango does in Rango while Rango would struggle to pull off the feats of Django in Django Unchained. For example, Rango is a bad shot, and is pretty clumsy as well. 

Django fares better than Rango after the swap.

Which Movie is Changed More?

Given the fact that we are literally changing the species of the two main characters in these films,  both movies are changed a lot.

Django becomes a film about a man who is accidentally shrunken to the size of a chameleon. He has to figure out how to get back to regular size, but gets mixed up in the plight of the town of Dirt. That’s different than the plot of Rango for sure, but overall, the movie could still hit all the same notes, there’s just added an added twist. 

I don’t even know what Rango Unchained is about. It could be the same exact movie, because I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that a giant talking lizard would be enslaved, which could than allow the rest of the movie to basically proceed as is, or it could be a totally different movie. 

We’ve seen movies where people get shrunk down to the size of animals and have to interact with them, we’ve never seen a movie where a giant lizard is trying to rescue his wife from slavery. (Which by the way, sign me up for that please).

Django Unchained is changed more as a result of this swap. 

Which Movie is Better after the Swap?

As we discussed above, Django is a movie we’ve seen before, it’s not that original, however, given the fact that it’s set in the West, it’s actually super original. Django, the human cowboy, is shrunken down to the size of a chameleon, and has to fight cowboy snakes and gila monsters, giant hawks, moles, AND a corrupt government official. That sounds awesome. However, the director of Django would be Gore Verbinski who kind of has a spotty track record (for example he directed The Lone Ranger,) and is certainly no Quentin Tarantino, so that is something to bear in mind as well. Although, both of these films were Oscar nominated, and won Best Animated Feature in the case of Rango, and Best Original Screenplay in the case of Django Unchained (among other things). So Verbinski is certainly capable of greatness. 

Tarantino directing a western starring a giant lizard intrigues me to no end. I already love Rango and I loved Django Unchained so it stands to reason that I would love an almost unchanged version of Rango starring Django. Combine that with the fact that we don’t really know what Rango Unchained looks like, and it seems like this should be an obvious choice in favor of Django.

There is one more thing to consider however, Quentin Tarantino is one of the best directors out there. All nine of the feature length films he has directed have scores of 65% favorability or higher on Rotten Tomatoes (which has it’s problems, but is a fairly decent metric for general critical acclaim).Personally I love all of his movies, so I genuinely think that I would love whatever he did with Rango Unchained as well.

My heart is telling me that Rango Unchained could be better than Django, but I cannot in good conscience make that choice here today. It’d be like if I told someone that the next Spielberg movie starring Tom Hanks will be better than Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, just because the people involved in the theoretical movie have a higher prestige than those in the existing one.

Django is a better film than Rango Unchained.

Images Courtesy of The Weinstein Company, Paramount Pictures, and MonsterGrafix

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