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“Puff the Magic Dragon”: A magical mix of writing, animating, and other fancy stuff

“Puff the Magic Dragon”: A magical mix of writing, animating, and other fancy stuff

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Published by wuzziwug
Essay written for CTAN 451, a USC Animation class.
Essay written for CTAN 451, a USC Animation class.

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Published by: wuzziwug on Oct 21, 2007
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06/23/2009

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Pamela Fox CTAN451
“Puff the Magic Dragon”: A magical mix of writing, animating, and otherfancy stuff 
 A dragon lives forever but not so little boysPainted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.
On an overcast afternoon in 1958, a college student named Lenny Liptontyped those lines into a friend’s typewriter. He had become saddened afterrealizing that the days of his innocent childhood were gone and always would be,and had been reading poems about a “Really-O Truly-O Dragon” by Ogden Nash. Thankfully for those of us who consider this song to be one of our favorites now,the friend with the typewriter was Peter Yarrow, of “Peter, Paul, and Mary” and hequickly wrote music for Lenny’s poem and shared it with the world. In 1963, “Puff the Magic Dragon” reached #2 in the charts (Appendix A).15 years later, an animated short film premiered on TV by the same name,and this too reached into the hearts of viewers young and want-to-be young.However, the complete story of how this animated film came to be and why itcame to be that way involves more than just an anecdote. The winning
 
combination of a creative studio called Wolf-Marikuma-Swenson, an “animagical”writer named Romeo Muller, and a broadcasting company that welcomed animatedchildren’s TV specials led to the creation of this timeless animation.By the time Muller was asked to turn Peter’s song into a 40-minute narrativefilm, he and his talents were already well established in the animation world. Hiscareer began years earlier, as an 11-year-old amateur puppeteer in Long Island.Muller would create the puppets, write the scripts,
and 
voice them during hisshows. He later joined an acting troupe where he began as just an actor but soonbecame a director, writer, and producer too. Muller was a large man at 6’2” and200 lbs, so even though his acting skills were equally strong, he decided to focushis attention on writing instead. This turned out to be a very good decision indeedfor millions of TV viewers.In 1963, Directors Arthur Rankin, Jr., and Jules Bass asked to meet with Mullerabout the screenplay for “Return to Oz,” which would become the first Rankin-Basstelevision special (but certainly not the last). This pivotal meeting sparked arelationship that would last for years and spawn a number of animated children’s TV specials, including “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and“The Hobbit.”During Christmas of 2004, the most famous of these TV specials, “Rudolphthe Red-nosed Reindeer,” will celebrate its 40
th
anniversary as the longest running
 
holiday special, and CBS will once again broadcast the film, and it will, as always,be received warmly by both loyal fans and new watchers (who perhaps won’t beable to express their appreciation more than a “ra,ra” yet). One of these loyal fansonce wrote Muller a Christmas card that said, “...Those specials were as much atradition in my parent’s home as the Christmas tree itself, and have become atradition with my own children. You must be very proud of the joy you havebrought to children all over, even me, a simple girl from the Mid-West. Withoutknowing it, your visit to our homes each Christmas through your specials, was justas important as a visit from Grandma and Grandpa. My son thinks you are thegreatest thing since sliced bread and in all honesty, his mom thinks so too.” In fact,Muller was so associated with the warm holiday specials he scripted that he wasnicknamed “Mr. Santa Claus.” The sentiments of peace and happiness that are so jubilantly expressed during the Christmas season were what Muller tried to expressyear-wide in his scripts – and even the villains couldn’t escape his good feelings.“He never killed off the villains. He would make them look ridiculous or reformthem in the end,” explained his best friend Ken Donnelly.In the transformation from a short folk song to an entire narrative film,Muller’s distinctive sentimental style is quite evident. The song is inherently a sadone, at least for those with fond memories of childhood, but most viewers of thefilm can tell you that when they turned off the TV, they felt more happiness thansadness. Somehow, Muller managed to tell the tale of a boy who loses the simple joys of childhood like (non-)imaginary dragons in a way that makes us smile in the

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