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Disney Bites Back In Henson Tangle

The Walt Disney Co. has accused the heirs of the late Jim Henson of being more interested in money than in protecting their father’s legacy. In a counterclaim filed in federal court, the studio is seeking a license to use the Muppets, as well as damages and return of a $2 million fee.

Separately, federal Judge Pierre Leval set May 13 as the trial date for Henson Associates’ suit against Disney.

Because of the suit, the opening date of “Kermit The Frog Presents: Muppetvision 3-D” at Walt Disney World will be pushed back to May 24. It cannot advertise the new attraction until May 17. The studio had tentatively set May 4 as opening day.

In its suit, Henson is trying to block the studio from using the Muppet characters without a license and is seeking damages. Judge Leval has said he believes the case will take two to four days to resolve.

Henson’s representatives have, since their filing, moved off the Disney lot.

Negotiations toward a Disney-Henson merger were ongoing when Henson died last May. Anticipating the signing of an eventual agreement, Disney had proceeded with advertisements and merchandising of the Muppet franchise.

Sources at the studio concede that, pending a final agreement, Disney had not yet paid any licensing fees.

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