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I feel bad for a lot of underrated movies, mostly because the people who'd
like them the most have probably never heard of them. I argue that Chuck
Jones is the most important of the animation directors of the Golden Age of
Cartoons, and this is his only full-length feature. If you like his
cartoons, you should definitely hunt for this charming adaptation of Norton
Juster's charming (if pedantic) novella.
Here's the interesting thing about "Phantom Tollbooth". Neither the book nor the movie strike me as a children's' story. Don't get me wrong, kids will probably like this movie, particularly older kids, but it's more for adults who can get the puns and such. Adult will also probably appreciate the psychedelic artwork from longtime Jones collaborator Maurice Noble. The amoebic Doldrums are a highlight as is the Awful DYNN, a manic crayon scrawl, and the cities of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis; they look like a riot at the Avant-garde Graphic Design class. Adorable and very, VERY sixties.
I hadn't seen this film since I was a child and it was a happy surprise to find it on Cinemax last week. The movie and the excellent book of the same name were big inspirations to me as a grade-schooler and helped me understand the importance of language and logic. The Chuck Jones-directed animation is terrific and although the music is very 1969 middle-of-the-road (dreamy choruses and faux-Herb Alpert trumpet), it doesn't get in the way of a clever adventure story that celebrates using your mind to solve problems. This picture deserves a much bigger cult following.
I still don't get why so many people who have seen it dislike it so much. I
first saw it when it was playing on Cartoon Network. I liked it so much
I had to get it on videotape. Granted, the moralizing was a bit
heavy-handed, but all the same, I loved it when I was young and still find
it entertaining now.
BTW: Those of you who did not like the movie may want to read the book. It is just as good, maybe better, but has things put better into perspective.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have loved the Phantom Tollbooth since I was a young boy, when my
Father first rented it from our local video shop. After that, my
brother and I seldom missed the opportunity to rent it out again if we
could, and even today we can probably quote the entire film to each
other, or to anyone who would want to listen for that matter.
Made by MGM in 1970, The Phantom Tollbooth pretty much remains faithful to Norton Juster's book but gets brought right up to date, (for the time that is), and given a good dose of phsycodelia.
Milo, (Butch Patrick), is a bored young boy who lives in San Fransisco, one day a mysterious box appears in his bedroom, which contains a magic tollbooth which, when passed through takes Milo into a cartoon world called the Kingdom Of Wisdom. A Kingdom ruled by two warring brothers. King Azaz of Dictionopolis whose iron rule is that words are more important than numbers, and The Mathemagician of Digitopolis, who holds the view that numbers are far more important than words.
In order to restore some sanity back to the land he agrees to rescue the Princesses Rhyme & Reason from the Castle In The Air. But first he has to overcome certain obstacles, such as The Doldrums and their inhabitants, The Lethargians who want to stop Milo for Eating, Sleeping and even Breathing. He has to escape the clutches of Kakofonous A. Dischord a mad scientist that wants to stop Milo from ever hearing pleasant sounds again, which he tries with the aid of his accomplice the Awful Dynne (wonderfully voiced by none other than Candy Candido). Officer Short Shrift is a unicycle cop with a insatiable fondness for arresting people for no good purpose. and the Demons of Ignorance who wait in the mountains guarding the approach to the Castle In The Air.
It's not all doom & Gloom though, as Milo does encounter many allies to aid him on his journey. There is Tock The Watchdog, Mr Humbug, The Spelling Bee who, by his own admission, can spell any word that has ever been written in any language, anywhere, The Whetherman and his sister Faintly Macabre, The not so wicked Which, (and no, they are not misspellings).
Every Character in the Phantom Tollbooth is in fact a not too disguised Metaphor for something else. be it impatience, sloth and greed, but the film also shows a remedy for these negative traits.
The most famous of all the people who lent their vocal talents to the movie, is none other than voice of Bugs Bunny, Mel Blanc. If Lon Chaney was the 'Man of a Thousand faces', then Blanc surely was The Man of a Thousand Voices' Unless you're really sensitive about everything, there is nothing in The Phantom Tollbooth that could offend anyone. It's a film that can be watched whether you're 8 or 80 and still get the same thrill from it. I'm also thrilled that my children are also fans of this film that meant so much to me when I was their age, and I hope it is something that they will pass on to THEIR children too.
This movie is amazing. I'm 24 and I have just seen it for the first
time. I've watched it now with a 29 year old and a 34 year old and they
both adored it.
Not only does it give a message that every person needs to here at many different stages in their life *not just childhood*, but it's fun and entertaining.
The songs are well worded and fun, the script is amazing. The art is trippy. The characters have incredible voices that take you back to Saturday morning cartoons.
It's a movie that parents can enjoy with their kids, teenagers can enjoy with friends, and all people should agree it's like a tiny mind trip without the drugs.
Anyone that can't find joy somewhere in this movie is stuck in the Doldrums!
A simple fantasy tale, mostly animation with some live action at the
beginning and end. Milo is a "latchkey kid" living a somewhat isolated
in an apartment block in the big city. While complaining on the phone to
friend that he is bored stiff, he is startled by the sudden arrival of a
strange package which, when unwrapped, unfolds into a gateway into a
Like all of Chuck Jones' work, this movie is great for children and doesn't seem dated at all. My two kids aged five and six were enchanted by it just as I was when I first saw it at the age of ten.
The characters are colorful and entertaining. Milo is easy for any child who has ever been bored or lonely to identify with. The avuncular "Watch Dog" Tock will look fairly familiar to any regular viewer of Chuck's work on Warner Brothers' short cartoons. The Humbug and the Spelling Bee are reminiscent of Dr Seuss characters; Officer Short Shrift is somewhat more surreal but that only makes him stick in your mind all the more. The songs are lots of fun and you'll probably be humming them for a long time afterwards.
All in all a great movie for kids, and Mums and Dads too. Pass the popcorn!
Like Chuck Jones' earlier "Gay Purr-ee," this is a good film for those who
are looking for something good, if decidedly different, in family
entertainment. Mel Blanc, June Foray, Shepard Menken, etc., contribute
usual outstanding voice work (The scenes with Blanc as "Officer Short
Shrift," especially, are a howl!), and the visuals, as one would expect
Jones, are consistently outstanding and imaginative.
Not that the film is without its' faults, by any means. The songs, by veterans Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, range from the clever ("Don't Say There's Nothing to Do in the Doldrums," "Time Is a Gift") to the treacly ("Henceforth and Forthwith"). The moralizing, more pronounced here than it was in the original Norton Juster book, gets to be a bit heavy-handed at times. And, finally, Butch Patrick (Best known as "Eddie Munster" on "The Munsters") plays Milo, the central character, as such a whiney little jerk, at least in the beginning, that it's hard to work up much sympathy for him as the story goes on. Plus, even though he was still short for his age, there was no disguising the fact that he was, in every other way, a fast-maturing fifteen year old, and, thus, just a bit too old for the procedngs.
But, and I have to emphasize this again, don't let you stop you from seeing this movie. The result is more than the sum of its parts, and good, alternative family entertainment is what you get.
The Phantom Tollbooth is warped movie from the warped mind of the great
Milo, an ordinary boy, is bored with life. One day he receives a tollbooth as a present. This Tollbooth will supposedly take him out of his boredom.
Milo enters the Tollbooth and is instantly changed into a cartoon character. From here on in, he journeys to the "Whether" man, into the doldrums, meets tock, the watchdog, and onward to Dictionopolis and the Kingdom of Numbers in order to save Rhyme and Reason.
The movie is twisted in every which way; there are plenty of songs the make no sense but make you laugh out loud. The Animation is typical "Looney Tunes" style but works very well with the quirky plot.
The Phantom Tollbooth is a lost gem the deserves DVD treatment in the worst way. Lets hope one day soon that this diamond in the rough will find a new generation of children!
Growing up I thought the movie was fascinating (HELLO! He goes into another WORLD that is CARTOON!). The songs are awesome too, and the whole film is a mystery. Now that I am older I am noticing how very clever the movie is too, including the use of language (you'd have to see it to understand). I also find a bit creepy now that I'm older, it gives me the willies. May it's the old animation, I don't know, but some of the scenes are really scary! It's a good show, watch it with a ten year old...and enjoy! You could also watch it with a 7-11 year old too. Like I said, it's a great show for kids. Especially if they're at that age where they want to be a little creeped out.
A youngster from San Francisco, bored with school and with time to kill, is offered an educational round-trip from a Phantom Tollbooth; he turns animated and takes a journey to the Castle in the Sky, where Rhyme and Reason have been banished by Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, the feuding worlds of words and numbers who each believe they are most important. Uneven animated feature (with live-action prologue and epilogue featuring Butch Patrick) is an erratic but interesting adaptation of Norton Juster's book, punctuated with musical interludes (and some odd "Wizard of Oz"-isms). Veteran animator Chuck Jones co-wrote the script and co-directed the animated sequences (the first and final cartoon effort from MGM). Jones makes a mistake getting our young hero stuck in the Doldrums in the first act (there's no fascination in lethargy), but he picks up the pace soon after. Digitopolis has a nifty look (and lively Hans Conried as the MathemaGician), and there's a lovely "conducted" sunset and an exciting race to the castle. The animation is alternately crude, clumsy, expressive, colorful, and routine, and the songs are an equally mixed lot (they're pleasant, if not especially catchy). Patrick has a marvelous deep voice for a little kid, but he isn't given anything clever to say; better are Conried, June Foray and Mel Blanc in the voice-over department. Not too popular with child audiences at the time, this may have been a bit high-brow for the matinée crowds. If anything, the film has improved with age, and some of it is quite imaginative. **1/2 from ****
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