Johnny Depp in Talks to Replace Robert Downey Jr. in OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL

     January 19, 2011

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The pairing of Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) Robert Downey Jr. for Oz, the Great and Powerful sounded fantastic from the get-go.  But as late as October, we had Downey listed as “unofficially attached.”  It turns out his involvement was all too tenuous, as Downey has dropped out of the project.  It’s a regrettable turn of events, particularly after the news that a similarly promising collaboration between Downey and Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men) for the sci-fi film Gravity was not to be.

But just as George Clooney stepped in to restore the prospects of Gravity, there is a a glimmer of hope for Oz.  Thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and last year’s Alice in Wonderland, Disney is BFFs with Hollywood’s most idiosyncratic megastar, Johnny Depp.  The studio is eager to get Oz in production later this year, and is currently in discussions with Depp to replace Downey.  Of course, fitting the film into Depp’s busy schedule will take some fancy calendar work.  Hit the jump for a look at the various projects Depp must schedule, plus background on the film.

Depp will shoot Dark Shadows with Tim Burton this spring.  Despite how long the film’s been in development, that start date seems pretty set in stone.

Depp is also attached to star as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, another project that has long been on his to-do list.  According to Heat Vision, if Depp commits to Oz, that would necessarily delay Lone Ranger.  Plus, there’s always the looming possibility of more Pirates sequels, which would be truly daunting if shot back to back as rumored.

But there is some wiggle room.  The Lone Ranger and Pirates are both housed at Disney, and the studio is clearly willing to shuffle all of these project in front of cameras at some point.  It’s worth noting that Oz, the Great and Powerful is the furthest along in the development process.  The Lone Ranger has a director in Gore Verbinski, but still no is signed to play the titular character.  (Depp likes Brad Pitt and George Clooney for the masked cowboy.)

Oz, the Great and Powerful is a prequel of sorts to the familiar Wizard of Oz lore.  There is no official start date, but reports suggest Disney wants to begin principal photography this summer.  According to Heat Vision, the studio has hired a unit production manager and “begun the task of creating the world of Oz.”

Here’s a tentative plot outline:

The Wizard — a snake-oil salesman posing as a magician — enters Oz via a hot-air balloon, which he uses to escape an angry husband who has found out that Oz slept with his wife. There, Oz — a fast-talking huckster who wears a velveteen frock coat (yes, I can see that) — falls in love with Glinda (the Good Witch), and the two combine forces to fight the evil witches Evanora and Theodora. Theodora starts out as a good witch, but after Oz jilts her sexual advances, Evanora — the truly evil witch — convinces Theodora to become an evil witch with her and help her to rule all of Oz.

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