From The Reluctant Dragon and Mr. Toad Show through Strawberry Shortcake in the Big Apple City and on to Puff and the Incredible Mr. Nobody… watta career!
And he wrote all the rest of those crazy Rankin-Bass Christmas shows, too, as they tried to recapture the Rudolph lightning: The Little Drummer Boy (1968), Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970), Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979), etc, etc.
Not to speak ill of the dead (Muller died in 1992), but Muller and certainly Rankin-Bass were badly served by the success of the original Rudolph. Yes, that show is charming and totally lovable. But it’s also notable for how scattershot and plain WEIRD it is, especially all the parts that aren’t connected to the original song: krazy trapper Yukon Cornelius and the island of misfit toys and the elf who wants to be a dentist and the Abominable Snowman putting the star atop the tree and the whole nine yards.
Somehow the whole nutty mishmash works, party by sheer chance and partly because of the Rudolph-as-underdog story that we all know from the song. And of course, Burl Ives.
But what Muller and Rankin-Bass took away from that success was, “Eureka! We’re in the imagination business! Just make up the wackiest crackpot characters ever and throw them all together in some kind of insane backstory that ‘explains’ how Christmas or Easter or Hannukah came to be! With a celebrity narrator if possible!”
And that’s what the rest of the Rankin-Bass specials are like, near as I can tell. I always found those shows, like Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, unwatchable. (The creepy Fred Astaire simulacrum doesn’t help.)
So props to Mr. Muller for finding his niche and making a career of it, yes. And props to him for leveraging his holiday successes into other animation jobs.
But he sure kept going back to that same obsessive Christmas kick right to the end. His last three stories were The Wish That Changed Christmas in 1991, Noel in 1992 (“The story of Noel, a cheerful Christmas ornament with a certain ‘happiness’ that rubs off on the families he lives with” — narrated by Charlton Heston!), and The Twelve Days of Christmas in 1993 (“Narrated by a partridge, this charming animated tale explains the lengthy and confusing Christmas carol of the same name”).
Good for Mr. Muller for making a living in his niche. But as for the shows: bah humbug!