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The Phantom Tollbooth (G)
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This came out in 1970. It was based on a 1961 book of the same name, by Norton Juster. I know I saw the movie at some point in my childhood, probably in the mid-1980s. I really don't recall if I saw it at school, or on TV, or what. Also I should say, before I watched the movie again on DVD in 2014, I was fairly sure I'd never read the book. But there was one thing I specifically remembered happening, which apparently only happened in the book, not the movie, so I guess I must have read it. (In fact, the more I think about it, the more I do remember reading it. Vaguely.) And I guess a lot of things (which I don't recall) were left out of the movie, which is understandable. I should also mention that the movie is bookended by live-action scenes, but the bulk of it is animated, so that's where I'm putting my review. But "weird" would work just as well. Oh, and the main character is played by Butch Patrick, best known as Eddie Munster, from The Munsters. All the other characters appear only in animated form, and there were several old-school voice actors, such as Mel Blanc and June Foray (I find it amusing that she played a "which" in this movie, since I'm most used to her voicing witches). Um... apparently the movie was originally released by MGM, but the DVD was released by Warner Bros., which makes more sense to me. It was produced by Chuck Jones, and the animation obviously looks like Looney Tunes cartoons, as well as How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Anyway... as I said, it begins as live-action. There's a boy named Milo, who is utterly bored with the world. One day after school, he's talking on the phone with a friend, when suddenly he hears a noise, and discovers a large gift-wrapped box in his room. It turns out to contain a strange automated tollbooth, as well as a small car. When Milo drives through the tollbooth, he and the car become animated. He randomly chooses as his destination a place called the Castle in the Air, but to get there he'll have to go through a number of other places, and along the way he meets a number of strange characters. I don't want to mention all of them specifically, but the first stop in the movie that I clearly remembered was "the Doldrums," which is inhabited by goopy little creatures called Letharges. There are a number of songs in the movie, some of which may have been familiar to me when I heard them again, but the Doldrums song is the only one I'd never forgotten. I should also say I was probably a bit frightened by that scene when I was a kid, but not as much as by some later scenes.

Milo would have been stuck in the Doldrums forever (and probably killed by the Letharges) if he hadn't been rescued by a watchdog named Tick Tock ("Tock" for short), who became his traveling companion and advisor. The two of them continue on to two kingdoms: Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. The kings of these lands, Azaz and the Mathemagician, are brothers who have been estranged for a long time, because Azaz belives words are more important than numbers, while the Mathemagician belives numbers are more important. They had asked the princesses, Rhyme and Reason, which was better, but the princesses said words and numbers were equally important, so they were banished to the Castle in the Air. Milo and Tock will have to journey there to rescue them, and bring sense back to the world. Of the various other characters Milo meets, the only really important one was the Humbug, a character I had forgotten about, but he joins them on their journey.

Between the two kingdoms and the Castle in the Air, there are various demons who want to stop them from rescuing Rhyme and Reason. The only one I really remembered was the Terrible Trivium (though I didn't remember his name). He's the character I mainly remember being scared of as a kid, though his scene is much shorter than I expected (I'm probably remembering him from the book more than the movie, in spite of not remembering the book at all). Actually, I want to say that his appearance kind of puts me in mind of the DC comics character The Question. But anyway, there are other demons, and various characters throughout the movie about whom I'd completely forgotten, but who were memorable to me when I watched the movie again. In fact there are probably also various words and ideas and things that I must have first seen or heard of here (or in the book), which later became familiar to me from other sources, and I thought those other sources were the first I'd heard of them. It really is kind of amazing to me how sort of influential this story must have been on my developing young mind. I knew I found the movie nostalgic, before watching it again, but wow... I had no idea how nostalgic it actually was.

Of course, I also need to say that the whole thing is incredibly surreal, one of those movies I'd compare to an acid trip (never having actually tried acid). It's not really scary at all, now that I'm older, but I kind of feel like it makes more sense for me to have been scared by it as a kid than I would have thought. Not that I ever found it that scary, but... eh, I dunno. Mostly I just think it's weird and neat and, you know, trippy. And it kind of makes me like the world a bit more (which makes sense, because the whole point of the movie is for Milo to learn to like the world more). And I really enjoyed watching it again, after all these years. It's definitely got some flaws, and I particularly don't think the way the adventure ends makes much sense; I feel like the princesses should have been perfectly capable of rescuing themselves without Milo, who didn't really do anything. Though I guess the things he did before he reached them were important, so... whatever. There's also something that seems to happen after he gets home that makes me wonder... well, nevermind. It's not important. Anyway, I don't know what to say, but I liked the movie, and I really should read the book someday. (Or reread it.)

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