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Disney's Pooh Redo

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Just in time for his 80th birthday, Winnie-the-Pooh is getting an extreme makeover.

The Disney Channel announced Thursday that it was working on a new animated series called My Friends Tigger and Pooh. The show is slated to debut in 2007 and seeks to update the geriatric characters, which were created by British author A.A. Milne in 1926 for his young son, Christopher Robin.

The most controversial part: the character of longtime bear buddy Christopher Robin will be banished from the Hundred Acre Wood and replaced by a six-year-old tomboyish girl.

The kid-friendly cable network said they hope to attract an older audience by adding the unnamed tyke. The series also will change the look of the rest of the gang, including Piglet, Rabbit and Eeyore, by using brighter colors and 3-D computer animation.

"We got raised eyebrows even in house at first, but the feeling was these timeless characters really needed a breath of fresh air that only the introduction of someone new could provide," Disney Channel spokeswoman Nancy Kanter told USA Today.

The news has sparked outrage in Milne's native England, where fans have taken umbrage at the change.

"This is a betrayal of Milne's stories, because he wrote them specifically for Christopher Robin," one purist grouses in Britain's Independent newspaper.

But the makeover is getting a vote of confidence from someone close to Pooh Corner. Lesley Milne, widow of Christopher Robin Milne, says her late husband would be pleased.

"He hated the character Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh and Disney," she told London Times. "He detested the whole set-up so much that I don't think he would have minded the loss."

Can you feel the love?

Meanwhile, news of the Pooh redo came just hours before a federal appeals court denied an attempt by Clara Milne, the daughter of the real Christopher Robin and heir to A.A. Milne's estate, to reclaim the merchandising rights for the Pooh crew.

Clara Milne first filed the lawsuit in 2002 in an attempt to win back the books' U.S. and Canadian licensing rights from the estate of Stephen Slesinger, a former literary agent who acquired the rights from the author in 1930, so she could sell them to Disney.

In 2003, the court ruled that Milne could not void her grandfather's previous agreement to renew the Slesingers' license. Thursday's ruling upheld that finding.

"We are very, very gratified by the court's decision," the late Slesinger's daughter, Pati, said in a statement. "Disney has been trying desperately to get rid of the Slesingers and get out from under their contract."

While the Walt Disney Co. was not formally involved in the case, the court ruling noted that they did foot the bill for Milne's litigation.

The decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal "affirms that we have a valid agreement between Disney and Milne and Slesinger and that their attempts to end a relationship by this termination has failed," said Slesinger's attorney, Nancy Fineman.

Milne's attorney says the decision might be appealed to the

U.S. Supreme Court.

The Slesinger family has also been involved in a separate state court battle with Disney since 1991, claiming they're owed more than $700 million in royalties from Pooh-related merchandise. The family accuses the Mouse House of hiding revenue to avoid paying the substantial sum.

Last year, a trial judge dismissed the lawsuit after ruling that investigators employed by the Slesingers engaged in inappropriate conduct, but the family has filed for an appeal.

As a certain honey-loving critter might say, "Oh, bother."

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When I first heard about this, I was a little upset, because I think the Winnie-the-Pooh books are amazing. Then I realized that they're only changing the cartoons, and that's fine of course. A.A. Milne rocks!

-B

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