Classic film reviews: The Phantom Tollbooth

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Brenda Fellman

The Phantom Tollbooth is an adaptation of the novel of the same name, written by Norton Juster. Milo, a kid who is very bored with life, comes home one day from school to discover a large package in his living room. When he opens the package, he is surprised to find a tollbooth. With the help of the tollbooth speaker, he chooses a location, and eventually finds himself at the Castle in the Sky. As Milo drives through the tollbooth and discovers he is in an animated world, he realises he has been transformed into a cartoon. There, he finds a strange and wonderful world with crazy characters. Through this world, he learns about himself and the magic of the world around him.

The Phantom Tollbooth was directed and animated by the talented Chuck Jones, who is famous for characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Pepe Le Pew, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. He had been drawing these cartoons for Warner Brothers from the 1930s through the 1950s. Jones also directed and animated some of the Warner Brother most famous cartoons, such as What’s Opera, Doc? (1957) which set Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny to the music of Richard Wagner. He also directed and animated Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The animation in Tollbooth is just as impressive as these other infamous cartoons. The Phantom Tollbooth is Jones’ only original feature-length movie, largely because MGM Studios was in decline at the time, and so the film did not get good screening and was unfortunately short-lived. This effectively ended Jones’ career in feature films.

The settings in The Phantom Tollbooth are another impressive point; each location is different and exciting. Each time you watch the film you will find something new and interesting that you didn’t notice before. I’ve found that, despite the 2D animation, the world still sucks you in, and you feel that you are part of the film.

The songs throughout the The Phantom Tollbooth are fun and memorable. The music is composed by Lee Pockriss, with lyrics by both Norman Gimbel and Paul Vance. The songs add some back-story and information about the location of the characters throughout the film, such as the song “Time is a Gift”, sung by Tock, about time, and “Don’t say there’s Nothing to do in the Doldrums,” which teaches you about the Doldrums. The other amazing bit of music is when the sunset is brought in and conducted. The music is both beautiful and calming, as are the accompanying visuals, making this one of the must visually pleasing scenes in the whole film.

The Phantom Tollbooth is also educational, as words and math are taught through fun. Characters like the Spelling Bee, who spells everything, and the Dodecahedron, who asks maths questions. Milo also uses words and numbers to beat the villans at the end of the story. He learns that there are adventures all around him, if he just looks around. He also learns about common sense, since everyone he meets is completely insane, and the only way for order to be restored is for Rhyme and Reason (representations of both common sense and wisdom) to be returned. In this way, Milo’s quest is both literal and figurative.

The Phantom Tollbooth Soapbox

Tock is one of only two characters who isn’t crazy, and he becomes a teacher figure to Milo. Tock is also symbolic, as he represents the wise use of time, and constantly reminds Milo to make good use of his time and not to waste it. This   in the song “Time is a Gift.” Another fun charter is the Humbug, who tends to tell false and deceptive things. He is more of an egomaniac than a villan, though sometimes you question why he is there. This character’s purpose is to give both Milo and the audience a visual interpretation of a devil on one shoulder, which Milo must learn to ignore. The other ‘sane’ character in the film is Chroma, the conductor of the skies and rainbows. Tock describes him as one of the few sane men left. Chrome gives Milo the responsibility of waking him up in the morning (I won’t spoil anything about this bit- just watch the film to see what happens!). Every other character has an interesting background and personality, such as the Whether man, who is more interested in whether it will rain then predicting the weather. The monsters that take place in the climax are also interesting in the way they are represented and dealt with.

While this is an adaption of a book, both stories are different. The movie is much more streamlined, removing characters and locations to make the story run smoothly. The book is full of many characters and even more locations, and while they work well in the book, they would make the movie more convoluted and over-complicated. In a way, the book and the film could be different adventures. At the end of both the book and film, the tollbooth leaves to find a different kid to help. One could interpret this as there being two boys named Milo who had very similar adventures.

The Phantom Tollbooth is an enjoyable film to watch for adults and kids alike. Rumors are that a new film is in production, and I hope the new film takes in to account both the book and the original film, and keeps true to the original story, without too much modernisation. While I can see how it makes sense to modernise the real world, as it would have to be set in modern times rather than the 70s, the Kingdom of Wisdom should be left as it is. However, I hope the new film is just as enjoyable. The Phantom Tollbooth is a gorgeous masterpiece which doesn’t disappoint. Do also give the book a read as you will find yourself enjoying the book just as much as the film.

Also, I want to say hello to all of my readers. If you have any suggestions for a film you would like me to review, please leave it in the comments down below, and I would be happy to review it.

The Phantom Tollbooth Soapbox

The Phantom Tollbooth – Cast

Butch Patrick – Milo

Larry Thor – Tock The Watchdog

Les Tremayne – Humbug

Mel Blanc – Officer Short Shrift / Dodecahedron / Demon of Insincerity (voice)

Daws Butler – Whether Man / Senses Taker / Terrible Trivium / Gelatinous Giant (voice)

Candy Candido – Awful Dynn

Hans Conried – King Azaz / The MathemaGician (voice)

June Foray – Ralph / Faintly Macabre / Princess of Pure Reason (voice)

Patti Gilbert – Princess of Sweet Rhyme (voice)

Shepard Menken – Spelling Bee / Chroma The Great (voice)

Cliff Norton – Kakofonous A. Dischord / Tollbooth Speaker (voice)

Research

This Review took a little bit of research and I was lucky enough to find this site that gave me all the information I need.

http://www.tcm.com/this-month/article/33757%7C0/The-Phantom-Tollbooth.html

http://chuckjonescenter.org/about/chuck

 

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