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Last Updated: Friday, 9 December 2005, 10:18 GMT
New-look Pooh 'has girl friend'
Disney's Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and Rabbit
Pooh has been the subject of several legal battles
After 80 years in Hundred Acre Wood Winnie the Pooh is to get a female friend, replacing Christopher Robin, according to reports.

The Walt Disney Company has decided to pair Pooh up with a red-haired six-year-old tomboy for its 2007 series, newspaper USA Today reported.

Disney said My Friends Tigger and Pooh will keep the "trust, friendship and happiness" of AA Milne's stories.

Pooh is being re-branded as part of its 80th anniversary celebrations.

Active side

"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," Nancy Kanter of the Disney Channel told USA Today.

Disney said the new series will emphasise the active side of Pooh's adventures as described in Milne's original 1926 book to appeal to activity-loving children of pre-school age.

Preston Kevin Lewis, director of the Pooh franchise, told Reuters: "Trust, friendship and happiness - Pooh doesn't lose any of those things, it just changes how we talk about him."

But that is unlikely to please Pooh purists, who can point out that the original stories were written specifically for Milne's son, Christopher Robin Milne.

Court battles

Casting a shadow over Pooh's 80th anniversary are continuing court battles over the rights to the franchise.

Milne's granddaughter, Clare Milne, who lives in England, is trying to reclaim the rights from Stephen Slesinger, the company that owns the North American merchandising rights.

Disney obtained the rights from Slesinger in 1961, but the agency later sued Disney claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties.

Milne's case was dismissed by a US court this week, and Slesinger's claims against Disney were thrown out last year - although further appeals are likely in both cases.

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