Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Afternoon Movie: The Phantom Tollbooth

I think it's time to go back to the 70's and experience the weird and wonderful world of number, letters, time and learning lessons while having fun of, The Phantom Tollbooth.

I don't actually remember the first time I saw this action into animation film. I don't even recall if we taped it and I re-watched it all over again and again or it was TV quite frequently. I know in Uni, someone mentioned something about time and started sing the song from the film, then I found it all on Youtube and sat there and watched the whole thing.

The strange but brilliant film came to my mind again, this time because something at work made me think of 'The Demons of Ignorance'.

The 1970's live action and animated American film, adapted from the novel of the same name by Norton Juster, starred Butch Patrick of The Munsters fame.

The film begins with our hero, Milo, returning from school bored of learning and bored of everything else and as he speaks to his equally bored friend on the phone, queue a giant mysterious box landing in his living room. This is THE tollbooth.

After a brief introduction and very little information, Milo is instructed to pick a destination and be on his merry way. For the purpose of this journey he becomes an animated version of himself and brilliant. Anyone watching it for the first would think the artwork looks tired and dated and in fact the animation studio that made the film closed down immediately after the release of the film. The film was a success so the closure had nothing to do with the film.

Milo drives his little red sports car along the crazy roads, passing through towns and cities such as, Expectations, Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. Every destinaton and character Milo encounters seems to either give friendly advice, hidden with life or academic help or deter him from his path. Mostly the former.

This is essentially a road movie to teach children that they can learn in a fun way and the more knowledge you have the more confident (and happy) you'll be. The other lesson is instead of being bored, come up with a plan or idea and have an adventure, but that really is sugar coating it.

As well as interesting characters, such as Tock, the watch dog who saves Milo near the start from The Doldrums, a place where you end up if you stop thinking, is dog with a giant alarm clock in his belly. He teaches Milo not to waste time, as time is a gift. This the point I should mention that there a few songs in the film but they are brilliant and I think the animation is great, there is even a reference to Dali's melting clocks.

The plot of the story comes to shape when Milo meets the two kings. On his way through their kingdoms hes noticed that everything is confusing and makes little sense. The reason for this is that King Azaz and his brother the Mathmagician argued over what was more important, words or numbers. They asked their younger sisters, the Princesses of Rhyme and Reason and they said they were equally as important as each other. The Kings did not like this answer so banished them to, The Castle in the Air. Milo convinces them both that he needs to bring the Princesses back. The road trip then turns into a rescue mission with some learning along the way. Milo has to get through 'The Mountains of Ignorance' which are inhabited by the demons of ignorance. Milo literally has to fight his demons to get to the castle.

The films boasts a large host of smaller moments too, such as the the conductor of the skies, Croma the Great who actually conducts the morning and evening skies. Another small moment is in the Words Market, there is stall called 'Half Baked' ideas which I thought was a nice touch.

Unfortunately this film was never released on DVD in the UK but it can be enjoyed in US and on youtube for all to see.

I think my next step is to read the book as its such a brilliant story. The author was influenced by Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and none other than the Marx Brothers. Watching the film, you can definitely both influences.

Next time you're bored and think you have nothing to do, don't lounge on the sofa, unless you want the tollbooth to land.

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