The reason The Lone Ranger‘s budget was so astronomically high that Disney execs decided to shut it down was because it’s an effects-heavy CG thing due to being a kind of an Indian-spirituality werewolf movie — a.k.a., The Lone Ranger Meets the Wolfman. Yes, I’m serious. A 3.29.09 draft of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio‘s script makes it clear it was going to be at least partly about some kind of Native American wolfbeast tearing victims apart and leaving a bloody mess.

Don’t take my word for it — look at the below photo capture of page 61 of Elliott and Rossio’s draft.

“It was always going to be a big Bruckheimer CG movie with traditional Bruckheimer elements with an eye toward being a tentpole, totally Pirates-style,” says a gadfly screenwriter who always hears stuff and has been following the project through postings on — a private writers’ website that Elliott has posted on.

“It was never going to be a semi-traditional western…it was never going to be Zorro,” he says.

“It was going to be a Tonto show mainly. Tonto as the top dog and more dominant than the Lone Ranger. Tonto and the Indian spirits like Obi Wan Kenobi and the force. The driving engine was going to be Native American occult aspects worked in with werewolves and special effects. But flavored with doses of Native American spirituality in a serious way.

“But then Cowboys & Aliens came along and tanked and Disney got cold tenderfeet, spooked by the idea of a pricey mashup. If Cowboys & Aliens had made $200 million, this wouldn’t be happening. A Bruckheimer-style western in the wake of Cowboys & Aliens is nothing anyone is feeling secure about at this stage. Trust me, the writers of tentpole garbage are all scared now.”

The success of Rise of the Planets of the Apes with its relatively low cost (at least compared to The Lone Ranger) and no big stars has also colored the mentality out there, I’m hearing. Who needs big payday players? Studios do, obviously, but they’d love to get rid of them. Because they want bigger profit margins. Simple.

The most interesting angle for me is the story about Depp taking the Native American spiritual stuff seriously, and how he didn’t want to camp it up like Captain Jack. He wants his role to honor Native American culture and its spiritual foundations.

“Depp’s interest in playing Tonto is about fulfilling his Marlon Brando legacy,” the director-writer believes. “Deep is partly Native American himself and he was partly mentored by Brando, who was a big Indians’ rights advocate. So he didn’t want to do any kind of jaunty performance that plays it light and spoofy with the Native American thing. No Captain Jack crap this time around.”

Justin Haythe was the latest Lone Ranger screenwriter. His Revolutonary Road work suggests be was brought in to class things up a bit and perhaps raise the solemnity levels.

But the film was always going to have a theme that could be summed up as “Tonto knows best.”

Almost three years ago on, Ted Elliott was asked who will be playing the Lone Ranger, and without posting his exact quote he said that while the Lone Ranger character is the lead, any actor might be concerned about Tonto’s character overshadowing the Ranger’s, given the casting.

Which is why the up-and-coming but new-to-the-game Armie Hammer was a perfect fit as The Lone Ranger.

It wouldn’t be out of character for nervous-nelly Disney executives, prior to the shutdown, to be concerned about Quentin Tarantino‘s forthcoming Django Unchained, a totally flip, revisionist and goofy-ass downmarket western with Kevin Costner as a villain, and on the other hand you have Depp as Tonto playing it more or less straight….how would that shake out as they opened more or less in the same time period?