Lest you think its fate wasn’t already sealed by its widely reported first weekend belly flop, The Lone Ranger was crushed last weekend, landing in fifth place with a measly $11 million. Those are some pretty miserable numbers for the passion project of a major movie star like Johnny Depp, but if you’d like to know exactly how bad things are going for Mr. Depp, consider this: Deadline is reporting that he’s in final talks to return as the Mad Hatter in the sequel to Disney’s horrifying yet inexplicably successful 2010 version of Alice in Wonderland. This is in addition to his already announced fifth go-round as Captain Jack Sparrow in yet another Pirates of the Caribbean movie. You guys, Johnny Depp must be stopped.
His career didn’t always look like this. There was a time when Johnny Depp was a gifted, idiosyncratic actor who was steadfastly opposed to this kind of money-grubbing and repetition. He famously kicked and screamed to get out of his breakout hit, Fox’s 21 Jump Street, and when he did, he eschewed the kind of conventional leading man roles that show’s Teen Beat spreads might inspire; this is a guy whose first film as a major star was a John Waters movie, for Chrissakes. Few filmographies on this earth have more weird items than Depp’s in the ‘90s: Edward Scissorhands, Dead Man, Benny & Joon, Ed Wood — I mean, have you seen Arizona Dream? Jesus Christ! There’s a scene where Depp wheels around the house acting like a chicken, clucking along while Lili Taylor plays the accordion, and trust me, it doesn’t make any more sense in the context of the movie than it does right here, out of it.
The point is, one thing made Depp refreshing and exciting among his peers: unpredictability. You never knew exactly what he was gonna do; he might make an unassuming supporting appearance in a tiny movie like Before Night Falls, or he might go off and direct a movie and never release it in America. Who knows? And even when he made the occasional conventional thriller, like Nick of Time or Secret Window, he’d invest his characters with an off-balance weirdness that made the pictures seem less easy and less formula.
But lately, that’s all he’s doing — and it’s making his characters monotonous, repetitive, and boring. This actor, who used to be an admirable vessel of genuine peculiarity, is now as predictable as they come: grab a role (preferably with Tim Burton at the helm), put on some weird make-up, vamp it up, collect a nice, big check. It’s a schtick now, and it’s time to reboot, to make some smaller, more offbeat movies with interesting directors and producers who know how to say “no.”
That’s not likely, of course. After The Lone Ranger ate it at the box office, Depp’s PR people tried to change the subject by talking about his new, multi-year, first-look deal at Disney (though Deadline notes that’s actually a deal that happened back in March). This doesn’t sound like the kind of arrangement that’ll allow for much in the way of experimentation. But hey, they can make plenty of those Pirates flicks! And more Johnny Depp-fueled live-action versions of Disney classics! Imagine the possibilities:
- Pinocchio, starring Johnny Depp in a dual role as the title character (in kabuki make-up) and Geppetto (with an outrageous Italian accent and a peacock hat).
- Peter Pan, with Depp in the title role, albeit with a club foot and a costume made entirely of sparkling emeralds. (Bonus: It’s also a sequel to Finding Neverland!)
- Lady and the Tramp, with Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter in the leading roles, but unrecognizable under immaculately detailed dog costumes. All dialogue in subtitled barks.
- The Little Mermaid, with Depp in drag as Ariel, her inability to speak finally allowing him to do a full-on Buster Keaton performance.
- The Jungle Book, with Depp as Baloo, in a crushed velvet suit, with a full bear rug over his shoulders and resting on his head.
Note to Disney: these are joke suggestions. But if you’re taking them seriously, please note that I’ve copyrighted all of them. I’d like some stupid Disney money too.