Intertextuality: Typecasting, Toy Story 3, and Rango

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*This post has spoilers for Rango and Toy Story 3*

The 2010’s decade has granted us with some wonderful animated classics, but few as beloved as 2010’s Toy Story 3 and few as wrongfully overlooked as 2011’s Rango. These films came from studios – Disney-Pixar and Paramount’s Nickelodeon Movies respectively –  with vastly different reputations. There’s differing characters – anthropomorphic toys and anthropomorphic desert animals. But a similarity between the two films accidentally caused Toy Story 3 to steal some thunder from Rango. Allow me to explain:

 

It all comes down to one shared voice actor: Ned Beatty. His other appearances include All the President’s Men, Rudy, Superman, and Nashville. He’s more or less been typecast as the guy with the folksy southern accent.

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But in recent memory, Beatty’s most memorable role has been Lots-o-Huggin’ Bear from Toy Story 3. Lotso was the mayor of Sunnyside the seemingly-idyllic community in TS3, which ultimately turns out to be a nightmarish hierarchy. Lotso is a wonderful villain because he is so disarmingly friendly. When the toys first arrive at Sunnyside Lotso announces “I’m a hugger,” embracing the toys. That’s what makes it so (relatively) scary when Lotso eventually turns out to be evil. His southern drawl and friendly demeanor are what makes the Mayor so likable and what shocks the viewers more when he turns out to be evil.

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Nine months after the release of Toy Story 3, came Rango. In that, Ned Beatty played a character called Tortoise John, but who the viewers are more likely to remember as “The Turtle” or “The Mayor.” Tortoise John is affable and since he’s an old tortoise he’s depicted as having an aged wisdom. He’s admirable when you first meet him, even though there are clues that he’s a little suspicious. Shortly after the midpoint of the film, Tortoise John is revealed to be masterminding a plan to horde the town’s water (the conflict of the movie is a drought) and rebuild the town to his benefit. The revelation doesn’t come entirely out of left field, but the movie sets up enough other villains so that ot find out that the big bad is the mayor is a little surprising. Beatty’s southern drawl and friendly demeanor are what makes the Mayor so likable and what shocks the viewers more when he turns out to be evil – hey, wait a minute!

I remember watching Rango for the first time and saying “Huh, isn’t that the same voice actor who played Lotso?” And if it were perhaps another actor, I would have needed to check IMDb, but as far as Ned Beatty was concerned, I could simply recognize the voice. Honestly, most viewers could. Now, familiarity with actors isn’t a problem – at least, not to a certain point. But only nine moths after he played the “secretly-evil mayor” in Toy Story 3, Beatty plays the “secretly-evil mayor” again in Rango.

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In Toy Story 3, Ned Beatty’s character, Lotso, who happens to be mayor of a small civilization, is revealed to be evil at the end of the first act. The film ends with his character getting his comeuppance at the hands of one his followers.

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In RangoNed Beatty’s character, Tortoise John, who happens to be mayor of a small civilization, is revealed to be evil at the end of the first act. The film ends with his character getting his comeuppance at the hands of one of his followers. You see the point I’m trying to make here right? Typecasting can cause problems. Typecasting can tip off the audience.

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Rango is built on its relationships to other movies – it’s a parody and an homage to classic westerns – perhaps you noticed that not-so-subtle reference to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly? But the film’s basis for its villain comes from an unlikely place: the 70’s Neo-noir Chinatown. The design for the Tortoise Mayor is similar to Chinatown‘s Noah Cross, who fittingly hoards water and ultimately turns out to be the villain – like Ned Beatty’s Tortoise. The relationship to other films should be the thing that tips off the end of Rango – but it shouldn’t be similarities to Toy Story 3.

A familiarity with classics such as Chinatown and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly should be the thing which cues viewers into end of the film – not a shared voice actor. I’m constantly asking, “Hey, isn’t that the guy from that other movie?” And my mind checks its own scaled-down version of IMDb and notes that, yes, that’s the same guy who was in Toy Story 3 in which he also played a mayor. And that gets my mind jumping to conclusions that turn out to be right.

But hey, maybe this is just something I experienced.

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