Mr. Magoo is nearsighted, not blind.

That is, in part, Disney's response to criticism this week from the National Federation for the Blind, which is asking the studio to stop production on a live-action version of the cartoon, on the grounds that Magoo is an insult to the sightless.

"The Disney people have dragged Mr. Magoo back from richly deserved obscurity in the hope that Americans will think it's funny to watch an ill-tempered and incompetent blind man stumble into things and misunderstand his surroundings," said Marc Maurer, president of the 50,000-member group, on Wednesday.

Disney responded Thursday, saying that its all-new Magoo doesn't "in any way" make fun of blind people.

"The character of Mr. Magoo is ... a kindly gentleman who is nearsighted, not blind," the studio's statement read.

And besides, Disney argues, Magoo is a heroic figure, who regardless of his vision problems, solves crime.

National Federation for the Blind officials said they had little hope of actually stopping production of the film--which stars Leslie Nielsen and is set for a Christmas release--and would probably resort to pressuring theaters not to show it.

The protest by the blind is just the latest in a series of such threats to Disney. The Southern Baptists voted to boycott the company last month for being overly friendly to homosexuals. Today, a conservative group in Texas called on the state board of education to dump Disney stock from its holdings as a blow against "violent, obscene music" distributed by its Hollywood Records. Just last week, the company pulled a hip-hop album from distribution over offensive lyrics.

Mr. Magoo, with the quavering voice of Jim Backus, first appeared in a cartoon in 1949, and went on to star in 39 theatrical shorts and, on television, in 130 half-hour and two hour-long TV shows. The character retired in 1965; Disney bought the rights 30 years later.

(UPDATED JULY 3, 1997 at 6:00 p.m.)

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