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Kermit and Miss Piggy join Disney clan

By BILL WOOD

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Mickey Mouse danced on stage with Miss Piggy under a scorching sun Monday to celebrate a hot new relationship between some of the world's best-loved characters and the corporations that own them.

The Walt Disney Co. and Henson Associates Inc. have agreed in principle that Disney will acquire Henson Associates, including the Muppet characters and, for 15 years, the creative genius of Jim Henson.

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Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Disney Chairman Michael Eisner, at a news conference at the Disney-MGM Studio Theme Park at Walt Disney World, said buying Kermit the Frog and his pals was costly 'but less than Epcot Center.'

The deal does not include Henson characters such as Big Bird and the Cookie Monster who romp on the television program 'Sesame Street,' which is owned by the non-profit Children's Television Workshop.

In addition to the characters, who will join the Disney gang at the movie theme park and other Disney attractions, the acquistion gives Disney the rights to the existing Henson motion picture and television properties.

Henson will produce for Disney theatrical movies, TV shows and material for the home video market.

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Disney also gets the merchandising and publishing rights to the Muppet characters. Henson said it had not been decided how or if the 100 workers at his New York office will be absorbed into the Disney organization.

Eisner said he and Henson first met in 1967 when they tried unsuccessfully to sell two Muppets specials to the ABC television network, where Eisner was head of children's programming.

He said negotiations to buy Henson Associates began six months ago. Henson's first creation for the Disney empire will be a 3-D Muppet movie to show beginning next spring at the movie park.

Harold Vogel, an analyst who tracks the Disney Co. for Merrill Lynch in New York, said the condition of Henson Associates is not known because it is a privately held company. Vogel declined to estimate what Disney paid.

But he said, 'It's a good idea for Disney. They'll extend their product lines and know how to exploit it better than just about anybody.'

Henson said he will work to create characters for Disney as well as using the popular Muppets in new television and film productions. Eisner said he hoped Henson's contributions would reach into Disney's adult entertainment divisions as well as the family market.

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