For young Milo (Butch Patrick, who played Eddie in The Munsters), life’s not a cabaret. ”Everything’s a big waste of time,” he says at the opening of this fun and thoughtful 1969 production, based on Norton Juster’s 1961 book.
Then a mysterious box appears in Milo’s room. He pulls a tab and it turns into a tollbooth, through which he drives into the land beyond. Beyond what? Beyond his wildest imagination.
Milo enters an animated wonderland of strange, punny characters, where he regains the childhood wonder he had lost. Officer Short Shrift arrests him, finds him guilty, and gives him a short sentence: ”I am.” Tock, a watchdog , saves him from the terrible Lethargians in a place called the Doldrums. Milo solves a feud between the rulers of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis over the importance of numbers versus words, in the process rediscovering the joy of thinking things through. And he meets a Whetherman, a benevolent Which, and an Official Senses Taker. The word plays will either go by a younger child or prompt questions like ”What’s a Senses Taker?” Try answering that one in 25 words or less.
But each time I saw this tape, I discovered another pun. And the second time, I was even more moved by Milo’s return to real life, now as animated and interesting to him as the fantasy world left behind. The Phantom Tollbooth grows on you. A