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Disney, Depp return to ‘Caribbean’

Actor also signs on for 'Ranger,' 'Wonderland'

Johnny Depp is the main man at the Mouse House.

Depp has agreed to reprise his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in a fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” pic and play Tonto in a bigscreen adaptation of “The Lone Ranger,” both produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. He will also star as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland.”

The roles come after Depp helped Disney earn a combined $2.6 billion at the box office with the three pics in the “Pirates” franchise, also produced by Bruckheimer.

“Alice in Wonderland,” skedded for 2010, will be shot using 3-D and performance capture technology similar to that used for “Beowulf.”

Depp’s casting deals closed a full day Wednesday at the Kodak Theater, where Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook touted the Mouse’s upcoming slate of pics during a showcase event for exhibitors, media and other industry insiders.

Toons provided the company’s other big news.

Disney-Pixar’s “Cars” has proved such a major moneymaker for the Mouse House that Disney is moving the release of the sequel up a year to summer 2011.

In addition to shifting the date for “Cars 2,” studio also announced that it will produce a series of animated short films starring Mater and other characters from the first feature.

Shorts will air on TV, including the Disney Channel, and in theaters in front of films.

“You’ll see them everywhere,” Cook said. “We’re going to keep this ‘Cars’ thing going.”

“Cars,” which was released in 2006 and went on to earn $462 million worldwide, has become a runaway hit in merchandise sales for the studio. Pic will also be prominently featured at a revamped California Adventure in Anaheim; “Cars Land,” a 12-acre section of the park, opens in 2011. Move of the sequel from 2012 now times it to coincide with the attraction’s launch.

Before a full screening of Disney’s upcoming toon “Bolt,” Cook also touted the studio’s commitment to 3-D animation, saying the company has released more pics in the format than any other studio.

Cook even managed a playful jab at DreamWorks Animation’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, who has long championed the format and is readying to roll out a slate of 3-D toons.

“I heard that Jeffrey may finally release his first 3-D movie next year,” Cook quipped.

Disney has five live-action and animated pics set to unspool in 3-D next year and a slate of 16 in development.

Although several sequences in “Bolt” weren’t yet completed, the fast-paced pic, produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios but showing off considerable Pixar touches, played extremely well with the Kodak crowd, with Rhino, a hamster going around on a wheel, generating considerable laughs.

The Walt Disney Studios Showcase has essentially turned into a splashy, ShoWest-like event in Hollywood for the company to parade out stars and screen extended clips for a couple thousand attendees in various sectors of the biz to promote its future projects. Last time it held the showcase was in 2005, also at the Kodak.

In addition to Depp, who took the stage dressed as Jack Sparrow while wearing the Lone Ranger mask, this year’s event also featured the cast of “High School Musical” plus Dwayne Johnson, Miley Cyrus, John Travolta and Robin Williams. Adam Sandler appeared in a pretaped sequence with the studio chairman. And Cook even had a conversation with the four-legged star of “Beverly Hills Chihuahua.”

Bruckheimer and Nicolas Cage announced a third ‘National Treasure.’ Although talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey wasn’t present, it was announced that she will voice the mother of the princess in hand-drawn toon “The Princess and the Frog,” set in New Orleans.

Cook called the upcoming pics for the rest of this year and 2009 “the most creative slate of films in Disney history” and showed sequences from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” “Bedtime Stories,” “Race to Witch Mountain,” “Hannah Montana: The Movie,” “Old Dogs,” “The Princess and the Frog,” Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol” and Pixar’s next pic, “Up.”

During an intro for “HSM 3,” Cook teased that he would sing a song from the first bigscreen installment of the runaway Disney Channel franchise but quickly backtracked.

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