Confirming a few weeks of rumored negotiations, Walt Disney Studios announced today that Gore Verbinski's "The Lone Ranger" has been green lit for production.  The studio does not have an actual start date for the epic Western, but it did officially move the picture's release date from Dec. 22, 2012 to May 31, 2013.

How Disney has handled "Lone Ranger" has put the studio under the microscope by Hollywood after the company threatened to kill the long gestating project over budgetary issues.  The first reunion of worldwide box office star Johnny Depp, Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer since the first three "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, "Ranger" was seen as something of a slam dunk by most.  However, after the expensive and similarly Western-themed "Cowboys & Aliens" sputtered at the global box office with just $166 million this past summer, the Mouse House got cold feet about the $250 million plus budget on the line for "Ranger." And yes, the fact they would consider pulling the plug on a Depp film was the big story here.  Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow has been a golden goose for the company powering the fourth "Pirates" movie past horrible reviews to over $1 billion worldwide and "Alice in Wonderland" also crossed the $1 billion mark in 2010.  In fact, even after dropping his fee and backend deal, Depp threatened to quit the project if Disney tried to find another director besides Verbinski who has fought the company over budgets before.  Now, with the price tag down to reportedly $215 million, the studio has faith it won't loose a bundle if another big budgeted Western doesn't fly with audiences.  And everyone is smiling (maybe).

As a spokesperson from Disney noted today, "Johnny Depp, Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski are such a talented combination and we’re thrilled to get back to work with them on 'The Lone Ranger,' an original and exciting new Disney adventure."

For those who have not been paying attention to the casting notices over the past few years, Depp is not playing the title character, but instead, his Indian partner Tonto.  Armie Hammer ("The Social Network") is on board as the legendary masked hero.

Reports indicate that "The Lone Ranger" will finally begin shooting sometime February 6, but that is one piece of news Disney still won't confirm.

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