The Phantom Tollbooth (1969)

Rating: **
Review Date: 5/17/20
Director: Chuck Jones
Cast: Butch Patrick, Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Hans Conreid, June Foray, Larry Thor, Les Tremayne

"You often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."

Milo (Butch Patrick) is a bored and disenchanted boy who finds a mysterious package in his home one afternoon. Inside is a small car and an odd tollbooth that leads to a strange and magical realm. Soon, Milo finds himself in the once great Kingdom Of Wisdom, which has been split into two major cities: Dictionopolis (the city of words) and Digitopolis (the city of numbers). King Azaz of Dictionopolis and the Mathemagician of Digitopolis banished the princesses of Rhyme and Reason out of anger and pride when they declared that both words and numbers are equally important. But without Rhyme and Reason, the world has fallen into disarray and chaos. Milo, along with a watchdog named Tock and a Humbug, must travel through the Mountains Of Ignorance in order to rescue the princesses, and in doing so, Milo can return home.

"The Phantom Tollbooth" was one of my favorite books as a child, and it was packed with colorful characters, imaginative landscapes, and challenging ideas. Unfortunately, the movie fails to capture the magic of the book, and leaves out many of its most memorable moments. While the primary objective of reuniting Dictionopolis and Digitopolis with Rhyme and Reason remains intact, the finer points and details are dismissed in favor of cheerful Rankin/Bass styled songs.

The minimalistic and often surreal animation is unmistakably Chuck Jones, and is highly reminiscent of the Ralph Phillips adventures he did for Warner Brothers. However, I didn't feel that his style matched the material, and the characters are certainly at odds with Jules Feiffer's original illustrations. Tock is especially disappointing. In the book, he's a rough and tough dog with a large watch that makes up most of his body, whereas in the movie he's a calm and relaxed dog with an internal watch that's covered up with fur. The differences considerably change the tone of the material as well as his relationship with Milo, and I had a difficult time reconciling that. Additionally, his soothing adult voice sounds more like a doting mentor than a companion, which cheapens the action and adventure. The only character that I felt an immediate connection to was the Terrible Trivium, which does a good job of capturing the original. Fans of the book may want to skip this adaptation, but Chuck Jones fans might find it an interesting addition to their collection.