Monday, April 22, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) *½

G, 90 min.
Directors: Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow
Writers: Chuck Jones, Sam Rosen, Norton Juster (book)
Starring: Butch Patrick
Voices: Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Candy Candido, Hans Conried, June Foray, Patti Gilbert, Shep Menken, Cliff Norton, Larry Thor, Les Tremayne

“The Phantom Tollbooth” reminds me of those days in elementary school when we’d watch a slide show and occasionally an actual movie. This would have been one of the movies we might’ve watched. Heck, I’m pretty sure it was.

The story involves a kid who is too bored to even notice the world around him. He finds a package in his house one afternoon and it turns out to be a magical portal into an animated land where the kingdom of words and the kingdom of numbers are at odds with each other. The leaders have banished the princesses Rhyme and Reason from the land and everything is beginning to fall apart. It’s up to the boy to rescue Rhyme and Reason and restore order to the land. It’s an educational movie disguised as an adventure.

Co-created by artist Chuck Jones, the man responsible for the original “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and many of your favorite Looney Tunes, the animation sequences are lively and full of song. There’s one of Jones’ typical canine characters named Watchdog. I would’ve preferred a movie with Watchdog as it star as opposed to the snot-nosed brat that’s so board he’d probably be better off getting hit by one of those trucks that barely miss him in the opening sequence. I suppose his behavior is so extreme in order to connect with the kids. But Watchdog is good and this kid simply isn’t.

Anyway, it’s all a little hokey in the way it plays with words and numbers to make its point that learning things is fun. In terms of a classroom movie, it isn’t so bad. It definitely would make for an upper tier episode of the Reading Rainbow. But, as a feature film, I’m beginning to think I probably need to start putting a little more effort into picking out our family movie night films.

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