NECA is no stranger to Johnny Depp figures; it produced several during the run of its Pirates of the Caribbean line. Some were good, others not so much. The Pirates line had its ups and downs, and it would be interesting to see how much better the figures would turn out if NECA was making them today. But that's unlikely.
What we are getting, however, is about as close
to that happening as anyone could ever really hope for: NECA is handling figures for a new Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer-produced film starring Johnny Depp in a controversial role, with Gore Verbinski directing a screenplay co-written by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Sound familiar? The film is The Lone Ranger, an update of the old Western TV series, and this time the controversy surrounding Depp's role involves him playing a Native American stereotype (rather than a flamboyantly androgynous pirate).
Now, Depp does claim to have partial Native American heritage (he says his great-grandmother "might" have been Cherokee or Creek, so it's spurious at best), so it's not a total whitewashing, and he actually lived with the Comanche tribe for a time in preparation for the role, so there's obviously some attempts to respect the culture. But any time a guy dresses up like a stereotypical "injun," complete with slow and deliberate broken English speech pattern, there's bound to be some feathers ruffled (no pun intended).
Not that Depp's Tonto is entirely "typical" of the Hollywood Indian archetype. He's got the feathers, the beads, the lack
of clothing, the painted face... but he's also got a stuffed crow on his head. Having defied all expectations by creating an iconic character with Jack Sparrow, Depp was given a lot of freedom in developing his Tonto. The crow hat was obviously taken from a painting by artist Kirby Sattler, but it seems pretty clear that the crow in that painting isn't exactly meant to be a literal hat, though that's certainly where the idea came from (and the face paint, too). Now, since Sattler is not a Native American, and has specifically stated that he doesn't constrain his paintings with historical accuracy, it's unlikely that adopting that look for his costume is going to do Depp any favors in the Native community.
Nevertheless, there's a daring quality to the act of sticking a bird on one's head and calling it a costume that makes me wanna just trust Depp and see what he does with it. By all accounts, the character
of Tonto in the film is portrayed as intelligent, capable, and competent, and will likely steal the show from his titular partner. So maybe all the controversy is for naught. But we won't find out for sure until the film opens on July 3rd.
It's very rare that I'll buy a character from a movie I haven't seen yet, and I actually passed on Tonto the first couple of times I saw him on the pegs at my local comicshop. I finally caved though, because the design is unique, and NECA did an amazing job bringing it to life. The sculpt is great, especially the face. In the film, Tonto's facepaint is caked on pretty heavily, causing it to crack in several spots. Even with this cracking replicated on the figure's sculpt, it's still very recognizable as Johnny Depp.
The rest of the sculpt is equally great. There are intricate details all over: beadwork, horsehair, feathers, tiny chains, stamped leather... all the different textures look exactly as they should, even though it's all just plastic. There aren't any credits on the package insert, which is quite odd for NECA, so we're not sure who to congratulate for a job well done, but rest assured they deserve to be praised.
The paint is a bit of a mixed bag, but the good parts are really good. the cracked texture on the face has a wash to bring out the detail over the white facepaint, and the effect is really nice. The facepaint is intentionally messy, with bits of fleshtone showing through at the edges, and it's difficult to pull that off without it just looking sloppy. The eyes are kind of on the opposite of the spectrum,
and should really be inspected before purchase. I had to search through a couple before finding a Tonto that wasn't cross-eyed or wall-eyed.
Further contrast is found on the body. The bead work found on the separate "bib" piece and belt of the figure are really nicely done, with lots of clean, intricate details. The pants are appropriately dirty and dusty looking. The exposed skin, however, is a dirty, smudgy mess. I suppose this is probably true to the character's film design, but it doesn't look quite as deliberate as the facepaint. There are some blue highlights on the head-crow, which are probably unnecessary but not too obtrusive.
Unlike just about every Pirates figure from NECA, Tonto is highly articulated. He's got a balljointed neck, peg and hinge
shoulders, peg and hinge elbows, balljointed wrists, balljointed waist, peg and hinge hips, peg thighs, peg and hinge knees, and balljointed elbows. Every joint is either a peg/hinge combo or a balljoint, so he's got a great range of motion.
Tonto-Depp comes with a small tomahawk and a smaller knife, both with lots of little decorative elements (the tomahawk in particular gets several fairly complex paint apps). They each fit well in either hand, and there's a little sheath on his belt for the knife. It's not a ton of accessories, but these days it seems like we're lucky if a figure comes with anything. As this is a totally unique sculpt, with no parts re-used for any other figures (thus far, anyway), it's not terribly surprising that he doesn't come with a lot of stuff. Since the movie isn't out yet, I'm not even sure what else he would come with.
I'm somewhat skeptical that the creative team of Bruckheimer/Disney/Depp/Verbinski/Elliot/Rossio will be able to apply the magic of the original Pirates film to the Western genre, but one thing's for sure: NECA's figure is absolutely spot-on. Whether they can reproduce this detail in their upcoming 3¾" line remains to be seen, but as far as the 7" figure goes, they nailed it. Hopefully Disney delivers a film that deserves an action figure as good as this.