Enter Peter Rabbit, an action hero for a new generation

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For 99 years he symbolised childhood innocence in the same blue coat and slippers. But the modern world has caught up with Peter Rabbit.

To splutters of protest from Beatrix Potter traditionalists, the publisher Penguin said yesterday said that its top-selling cuddly animal has been "redrawn" to make him more attractive to young children. The new Peter Rabbit, who will make his debut in five books this autumn, has been remodelled to make Beatrix Potter's original watercolours easier to reproduce.

While the blue coat and slippers remain "very much in place", says Penguin, which owns the rights to the 20 Potter titles, he will now appear with bigger eyes, brighter colours and cleaner lines.

The new image will also be used for the multimillion-pound Beatrix Potter merchandising industry to allow the lettuce-stealing rabbit to be reproduced on towels, duvet covers, china and food packaging.

The drawings in the original Potter books, including the Tale of Peter Rabbit published in 1902 and the other histories of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Tom Kitten and Squirrel Nutkin, will remain untouched, Penguin insisted.

But Peter Rabbit 2001 will also become something of an action hero. The Penguin spokeswoman said: "We feel this will make show him in a slightly more dynamic light doing things that children now want their book characters to be doing."Guardians of the Potter legacy reacted with concern. Country Life magazine said: "It was bad enough when Disney transformed Winnie the Pooh. Peter Rabbit's features are becoming soppy, his contour more bulbous."

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