Chuck Jones’ adaptation of Norman Juster’s famed children’s book was his first feature film (and the first animated feature for MGM), but the animator had been mastering his craft for years with the likes of Bugs Bunny, Pepe Le Pew and Tom & Jerry.
Following Juster’s novel fairly closely, the film opens in live-action San Francisco, where a boy named Milo is flat-out bored.
The youngster’s ennui is lifted by the appearance of a mysterious tollbooth and a toy car in his bedroom.
Willing to try anything for a little excitement, Milo pays the toll and crosses the gate, in the process converting himself to animated form.
In this new cartoon world – which showed the powerful influence that Yellow Submarine (1968) had already had on mainstream animation techniques – Milo meets the friendly ‘watch’ dog Tock and learns of a war between the word kingdom of Dictionopolis and the number kingdom of Digitopolis.
To stop the battle, Milo goes on a quest to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason from the Mountain of Ignorance, hopefully learning a few lessons of his own along the way.
In making his first feature, Jones called on several of the voice talents that had helped make his cartoon shorts so memorable: June Foray, Daws Butler, Shepard Menken and Bugs Bunny himself, Mel Blanc.
For the role of Milo, Jones cast Butch Patrick, best known as Eddie Munster on TV’s The Munsters.
The “educational” nature of the film – which preaches the virtues of industry, logic, ‘sticking with it’ and paying attention at school – made it a tougher pill to swallow than contemporary efforts by Disney and others, but at least The Phantom Tollbooth had its heart (and head) in the right place.
Tock The Watchdog
Officer Short Shrift / Dodecahedron / Demon of Insincerity
Whether Man / Senses Taker / Terrible Trivium / Gelatinous Giant
King Azaz / The MathemaGician
Ralph / Faintly Macabre / Princess of Pure Reason
Princess of Sweet Rhyme
Spelling Bee / Chroma The Great
Kakofonous A. Dischord / Tollbooth Speaker