Upon returning from school one day, a bored San Francisco youth, Milo, finds a huge candy-striped package in his bedroom. Tearing off the wrappings, he uncovers a magic tollbooth, a red car, and a roadmap of the Kingdom of Wisdom. He drives through the tollbooth and discovers himself in a mystical cartoon world. There Milo encounters Officer Short Shrift, who gives him a traffic ticket with "I am" written on it, and the Whether Man, who is unable to make up his mind. He eventually winds up in the swampy Doldrums, where the yellow-eyed Lethargians try to convert him to their slothful way of life. Rescued from the Lethargians by a ticking "watch"-dog called Tock, Milo and the dog travel to the towns of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. Tock explains that the two towns were at one time united under King Wisdom and his twin daughters, Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason; but when Wisdom died, warfare broke out between King Azaz of Dictionopolis (who believes words are more important than numbers) and his brother, the Mathemagician of Digitopolis (who values numbers above words). Furthermore, the kings have banished Rhyme and Reason to the Castle-in-the-Air, which is guarded by the demons who inhabit the Mountains of Ignorance. Determined to restore peace to the land, Milo--with the help of Tock, the Spelling Bee, and the foxlike Humbug--subdues the forces of ignorance, returns Rhyme and Reason to the Kingdom of Wisdom, and joins in the celebration as the two kings finally realize that numbers and words are of equal importance. Although reluctant to leave his new friends, Milo drives back through the tollbooth into his bedroom. Transformed by his adventures into an alert and active boy, Milo runs outdoors to immerse himself in the real world.
Charles Bonniwell Jr.
George W. Davis
Charles K. Hagedon
The Phantom Tollbooth
Milo, the name with which you may not be familiar, belongs to the star of Chuck Jones' only original feature-length movie, The Phantom Tollbooth (1970). Norton Juster's much-loved children's book of the same name had been a favorite of both children and teachers since its publication in 1961.
Jones and Juster first worked together on The Dot and the Line (1965), which won Jones his only non-honorary Academy Award for Best Cartoon Short Subject. Following that success Jones showed his affinity for children's literature and longer-form material by creating the Peabody Award-winning television adaptation of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). Both achievements allowed Jones to begin work on The Phantom Tollbooth, MGM's first feature-length animated film.
The story begins in San Francisco with a live-action Milo played by Butch Patrick, best known for his role as Eddie Munster on the TV series The Munsters (1964-1966). A "phantom tollbooth" springs from a large gift-wrapped box and when Milo passes through it, he becomes an animated cartoon. Inside the world of the tollbooth he finds a dog named Tock (short for Tick-Tock since he's a watch-dog) and gets help from the Whether Man and his sister The Which. Eventually he arrives at two kingdoms, Dictionopolis ruled by King Azaz where words are valued above all else and Digitopolis ruled by the Mathemagician where numbers are considered more valuable than words. To bring these kingdoms together, Milo must pass through the Mountains of Ignorance to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason.
The Phantom Tollbooth might seem like a 90-minute version of Schoolhouse Rock, but Jones allows his imagination free-range with sequences that have the playful wildness of Fantasia (1940) and Yellow Submarine (1968). Also along for the ride are some very familiar voices provided by Hans Conried (Snidley Whiplash in Dudley Do-Right), June Foray (Rocky in Rocky & Bullwinkle) and Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny and many, many others).
Unfortunately, when The Phantom Tollbooth was released in 1970, MGM was in chaos and they had little pull to get good bookings in theaters. For the most part the movie played only at afternoon children's matinees before it disappeared. A pity, as that generation of children would be raised on a similar combination of humor and learning on a new public television show, Sesame Street.
The box office failure of The Phantom Tollbooth brought Jones' career in feature films to a halt. Perhaps the time has come to re-assess this version of a classic children's story presented by one of the greatest masters of animation.
Producer: Les Goldman, Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow
Director: Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow, Dave Monahan
Screenplay: Chuck Jones, Norton Juster, Sam Rosen
Cinematography: Lester Shorr
Film Editing: William Faris
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Charles K. Hagedon
Music: Dean Elliott, Lee Pockriss
Cast: Butch Patrick (Milo), Mel Blanc (Officer Short Shrift), Daws Butler (Whether Man), Candy Candido (Awful DYNN), Hans Conried (additional voices), June Foray (additional voices).
C-89m. Closed captioning.
by Brian Cady
The Phantom Tollbooth
TCM Remembers - Chuck Jones
CHUCK JONES, 1912 - 2002
Animator Chuck Jones died February 22nd at the age of 89. Jones may not have boasted quite the name recognition of Howard Hawks or John Ford but he was unquestionably one of the greatest American directors. His goals might have been primarily to entertain, which he did so wonderfully that his 50 and 60 year old cartoons seem fresher than most anything produced in the 21st century. But Jones displayed a sense of movement, timing and character barely equalled elsewhere. Literary critics have a saying that while there are no perfect novels there are certainly flawless short stories. Several of Jones' cartoons reach a perfection that Hawks and Ford could only have dreamed about.
Jones was born September 21, 1912 in Spokane, Washington but grew up in Hollywood. As a child he would watch films by Charlie Chaplin and others being made in the streets, absorbing the process and supposedly even appearing as an extra in Mack Sennett shorts. After graduating from L.A.'s Chouinard Art Institute (now California Institute of the Arts), Jones started selling pencil drawings on street corners. He soon landed a job in 1932 with ground-breaking animator Ub Iwerks as a cel washer (somebody who removes ink from the expensive celluloid frames so they could be reused). The following year Jones began to work for Leon Schlesinger Productions which was sold to Warner Brothers. There he directed his first film, The Night Watchman in 1938.
Jones would stay at Warners for almost 25 years until it closed the animation division. Here is where Jones did some of his most-beloved work, putting Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Road Runner, Marvin Martian and numerous others through many of their most memorable exploits. Who can forget Bugs and Daffy's hilariously convoluted arguments about hunting season in Rabbit Seasoning (1952) and Duck Rabbit Duck (1953)? Or the Coyote's tantalized, endless pursuit of the Road Runner? What's Opera Doc? (1957) sending Elmer and Bugs to Bayreuth? A cheerfully singing and dancing frog that, alas, only performs for one frustrated man? Daffy tormented by the very elements of the cartoon medium in Duck Amuck (1953)? That's only a fraction of what Jones created while at the Warners animation studio, affectionately known as Termite Terrace. This building on the Warners lot boasted an array of individualist talents that Jones, like Duke Ellington, could pull into a whole. There was voice artist Mel Blanc's impeccable timing, writer Michael Maltese's absurdist love affair with language, music director Carl Stalling's collaged scores and perhaps best of all a studio that knew enough to just leave the gang alone so long as the cartoons kept coming.
After Warners shuttered its animation division in 1962, Jones moved to MGM where he worked on several Tom & Jerry cartoons, his inimitable lines always immediately apparent. In 1966 he directed How the Grinch Stole Christmas from Dr. Seuss' book, one of the finest literary adaptations. A feature version of Norman Juster's classic The Phantom Tollbooth followed in 1969. Along with his daughter Linda, Jones was one of the first to see the value of original animation art and in the late 70s began a thriving business. (For more info see http://www.chuckjones.com.) Jones made cameo appearances in Joe Dante's Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987). In 1989, he wrote a touching and funny memoir, Chuck Amuck, that's pretty much essential reading.
Jones won an Best Short Subject Cartoons Oscar for The Dot and the Line (1965), having earlier been nominated twice in 1962. His Pepe LePew film For Scent-imental Reasons (1949) and public-health cartoon So Much for So Little also won Oscars though not for Jones himself. In 1996 he was awarded an honorary Oscar "for the creation of classic cartoons and cartoon characters whose animated lives have brought joy to our real ones for more than a half century."
By Lang Thompson
GEORGE NADER, 1921 - 2002
Actor George Nader, best known for the B-movie anti-classic Robot Monster, died February 4th at the age of 80. One-time co-star Tony Curtis said, "He was one of the kindest and most generous men I've ever known. I will miss him." Nader was born in Pasadena, California on October 19, 1921 and like many other actors started performing while in school. His first film appearance was the B-Western Rustlers on Horseback (1950) and he made other appearances, often uncredited, before the immortal Robot Monster in 1953. This dust-cheap, charmingly inept film (originally in 3-D!) features Nader as the father of Earth's last surviving family, everybody else having been wiped out by a gorilla in a diving helmet. Shortly after, Nader landed major roles in RKO's Carnival Story (1954) and with Curtis in Universal's Six Bridges to Cross (1955), bringing a beefy charm that earned him numerous fans. As a result, in 1955 Nader shared a Golden Globe for Most Promising Male Newcomer. He then appeared in numerous lower profile studio films before closing out the decade playing Ellery Queen in a short-lived TV series. He relocated to Europe in the sixties where he found steady work. As secret agent Jerry Cotton, he made a series of spy thrillers which earned him a cult reputation in Europe, starting with Schusse aud dem Geigenkasten (aka Operation Hurricane: Friday Noon) (1965). The eighth and final entry in the series was Dynamit in gruner Seide (aka Dynamite in Green Silk) (1968). His film career ended in the mid-70s when a car wreck damaged his eyes so that he could no longer endure a film set's bright lights. Nader began writing novels, most notably the recently reprinted Chrome (1978), an acclaimed science fiction novel with openly gay characters.
By Lang Thompson
TCM REMEMBERS HAROLD RUSSELL, HILDEGARD KNEFF & ERNEST PINTOFF
Oscar-winning actor Harold Russell died January 29th of a heart attack at age 88. As a disabled veteran whose hands had been amputated in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Russell won Best Supporting Actor but also an honorary award "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans." This made Russell the only person to receive two Oscars for the same role. Russell was born in Nova Scotia on January 14, 1914 but grew up in Cambridge Massachusetts. He joined the US Army after the attack on Pearl Harbor and while training paratroopers lost both hands in an accidental explosion. He then made a training film where director William Wyler saw Russell. Wyler was so impressed that he changed the character in The Best Years of Our Lives from a man with neurological damage to an amputee so that Russell could play the part. After winning the Oscar, Russell followed Wyler's advice and went to college, eventually running a public relations company and writing his autobiography. He made two more film appearances, Inside Moves (1980) and Dogtown (1997), and appeared in a few TV episodes of China Beach and Trapper John MD. Russell made waves in 1992 when he decided to sell his acting Oscar to help cover expenses of his large family. The Motion Picture Academy offered to buy the statue for $20,000 but it sold to an anonymous bidder for $60,000. About the other statute, Russell said, "I'd never sell the special one. The war was over, and this was the industry's way of saying thank you to the veterans."
HILDGEGARD KNEF, 1925 - 2002
German actress Hildegard Knef, who recently appeared in the TCM documentary Marlene Dietrich: Her Own Song, died February 1 at the age of 76. Knef was a big star in Germany after the war, appearing in several classics, which led producer David Selznick to try to coax her to Hollywood. However, Selznick wanted her to change her name and pretend to be Austrian which Knef refused to do. She stayed in Europe and made headlines in 1951 for appearing nude in Story of a Sinner, to which she reportedly remarked "I can't understand all that tumult, five years after Auschwitz!" Knef appeared in over 50 films but the ones best-known outside Germany are The Snows of Killimajaro (1952), Carol Reed's The Man Between (1953) and the Hammer Studios camp favorite The Lost Continent (1968). From 1954 to 1965 she appeared on Broadway for 675 performances as Ninotchka in Silk Stockings. Later in the 60s became a popular German singer, winning qualified praise from Ella Fitzgerald.
ERNEST PINTOFF, 1931-2002
Animator and director Ernest Pintoff died January 12th at the age of 70. He won an Academy Award in the category of Best Short Subject, Cartoons for The Critic (1963), where a man voiced by Mel Brooks hilariously tries to make sense of abstract art. Pintoff had been nominated in the same category earlier for The Violin (1959). He wrote a popular animation textbook and throughout the 70s was a busy TV director. His rare feature films include the exploitation comedies Dynamite Chicken (1971) and Lunch Wagon (1980).
TCM Remembers - Chuck Jones
Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life.- Tock
A slavish concern for the composition of words is the sign of a bankrupt intellect. Be gone, odious wasp! You smell of decayed syllables.- Humbug
Released in United States 1970
Released in United States 1978
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States 1970
Released in United States 1978 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs - Painted Movies) April 13 - May 7, 1978.)