(Source: moviesblog.mtv.com) Following the recent departure of Disney studio chief Dick Cook, Johnny Depp admitted to being less enthusiastic about returning to the role of Captain Jack Sparrow for “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” (“Pirates” part 4, for those who lost count). And the fans in turn admitted that they’d give up on the franchise without him in it.

That apparently isn’t stopping Disney though. According to a tip received by Cinema Blend, the studio is preparing to replace Depp if/when he decides to abandon ship. This may not happen with “On Stranger Tides,” as Disney is likely prepared to offer him as much money as it takes to keep him aboard. The actor, who is said to be aware the last two movies “sucked,” will definitely not be sticking around for the fifth and sixth installments if the tipster is to be believed.

Is this sad news for us Jack Sparrow lovers? Certainly, but I don’t believe it’s the end of the world for the “Pirates” franchise. Yes, Jack Sparrow — and Depp’s portrayal of him — is terrific and hardly replaceable, but there are other wonderful actors out there who could at least steer the series on their own. And anyway, it might actually be refreshing to follow the adventures of another sort of pirate — a character unlike (and therefore incomparable to) Sparrow.

The plot of “On Stranger Tides,” which Geoffrey Rush claims may begin shooting next spring, could easily work as a changing of the guard.

It was widely believed until last week that “Tides”‘ story will come at least in part from Tim Powers’ novel, “On Stranger Tides,” which Disney owns the rights to. Powers confirmed last Monday that the fourth movie will “use elements” of the book.

Powers’ novel involves a pirate’s search for the Fountain of Youth. The story leaves room for a young newcomer, a character who aids the pirates in their search for the mythic location, to come aboard. While this could turn out to be Orlando Bloom’s role in the next movie, it seems possible that Disney might use that character instead as a Sparrow replacement. Of course, the studio will need more than just a pretty face if they hope to rival — and/or replace — Depp’s iconic pirate.

It’s easy to be cynical and believe Disney would screw it up by casting someone like Zac Efron or Shia LaBeouf as the new lead. Just as nobody wants to see LaBeouf completely take over the “Indiana Jones” franchise — yet — without Harrison Ford, few of these sorts of rising stars are acceptable fill-ins for Depp.

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