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Disney pulls the plug on Johnny Depp’s “The Lone Ranger”

By Sean O’Connell Disney reportedly has shut down Gore Verbinski’s planned production of “The Lone Ranger,” which had cast Armie Hammer as the hand of justice and Johnny Depp as the Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto.

Budget concerns were cited by a source speaking to THR, who said that the director “balked” at the tight budget number set by the studio.

“One concern for the studio, according to an insider, is that even though Depp is the biggest star in the world, the project is a western, and the genre is having some dark days, particularly in light of the recent poor showing of ‘Cowboys & Aliens,’” the trade reports.

I find it a little hard to believe that the poor showing of Jon Favreau’s fizzled tentpole scared Disney, which hasn’t stopped counting its “Pirates” money from this summer’s “On Stranger Tides.” And Verbinski certainly showed that he and Depp have the power to lure massive audiences with odd material, as evidenced by the first three “Pirates” films they told together.

Also, Verbinski and Depp just collaborated on “Rango,” an animated Western – of sorts – that won over crowds.

Something else seems fishy here. Could the project have script problems? Did Disney blink in the face of stiff competition for next December, when “Lone Ranger” was due to open alongside Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” and Ang Lee’s “Life of Pi?”

Either way, this is a shocker. And as THR notes, it raises questions regarding the health of Disney’s relationship with producer Jerry Bruckheimer and its most bankable star, Depp, whom they wanted to film a fifth “Pirates” film … and soon.

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