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Remaking The Phantom Tollbooth

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Norton Juster’s The Phantom Toolbooth is an awesome book. I read it as a kid but it is one of those books you can read at any stage of life and get something new out of it. I remember it hit my sweet spot for wordplay and juxtaposition of ideas when I read it.

The basic story is about Milo, a young lad who is bored. He finds life rather dull and uninspiring, until one day a tollbooth appears in his room. Since he has nothing better to do, he gets in his toy car and drives past the tollbooth. As he does so, he finds himself in the Lands Beyond and has a great adventure.

In due time, Chuck Jones (he behind Bugs Bunny and many other classic Warner Brothers ‘toons) adapted the book into a movie (streaming, DVD) starring Butch Patrick (he of Eddie Munster from the Munsters fame). Butch Patrick plays Milo and does a decent job. The problem is, they turned the movie into a musical. Not that that is a bad thing necessarily, but they lost a lot of what made the book so great.

They also did the film as mostly animation in the inimitable Chuck Jones style, making it look like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it again lost some of what made the book so awesome.

Jump to today and the increase in animation techniques since the original movie was made and I think a reboot could be made to capture more of the book’s feel. Drop the music, except for the part of the story that actually calls for it, and stick with the original plot and I think it’d be a hit.

The tale delves into language and math and gives a different take on how to interact with them, something that might help kids better grasp the concepts at school. It engages the imagination and challenges the way kids think about things.

The tale cries out to be visually stunning, complex and colorful. No disrespect to Chuck Jones, but his version compared to what the movie could be, is lacking. He was of course limited by the tech he had available to him at the time. Now, with computer graphics, you get complete control over every aspect of the film, allowing for vibrant colors, 3D characters and sets, and maybe even a few optical illusions.

Bringing the book back to a new generation, and perhaps to several that may have missed it, would firmly put it among other classic children’s tales like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Winnie-The-Pooh, where it belongs. This is one that should not be lost in the shuffle of modern day life.

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