The Walt DisneyCo said yesterday (Feb 17) it had agreed to buy the characters from The Muppets andBear In The Big Blue House from the Jim Henson Co.

Disney isexpected to relaunch the characters, which include Kermit The Frog and MissPiggy, through a new television series and special shows.

The media gianthas courted Henson's Muppets for several decades but pulled away when Hensondied in 1990. The German media company EM TV subsequently bought thecharacters, only to sell them back last year.

Financial termsof the deal were not clear at time of going to press, however it is understoodJim Henson Co will provide strategic consultation for four years and Disney hasa three-year production deal to develop films, television shows and otherprojects using the characters.

The Jim HensonCo will retain its Creature Shop, which creates the puppet characters, and willalso hold on to its film and television library rights, which include FraggleRock and Farscape, among others.

"Michael Eisner's long-standing passion and respect forthe Muppets gives me and my family even more confidence in Disney as apartner," Jim Henson Co co-chair and co-chief executive officer BrianHenson said in a statement.

The Muppet acquisitionshould come as welcome news for Disney shareholders following a hostiletakeover bid by the cable giant Comcast and the recent announcement that thepartnership with Pixar Animation will not be renewed after 2005.