Tuesday, March 16, 2010

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Casting Coup Tuesdays: The Phantom Tollbooth

When I was in fifth grade, we did a unit on The Phantom Tollbooth that seemed to last the whole year. We read the book, analyzed the book, made dioramas, dressed as the characters, and even had a huge feast in which we brought in foods that related to our assigned parts. As I recall, I was part of the King's Cabinet of Dictionopolis, where language ruled, so I brought in "Synonym" Toast Crunch. I can't help but grin even now at my cleverness. God, I was smart! Though I can't for the life of me remember what I was doing the day they showed the movie, because I still haven't seen it.

I bought the book for class in fifth grade. Then I re-read it in seventh grade. Then I read it again in high school. It's one of the few books I've read over and over again, along with Moonraker and And Then There Were None. It was a Shakespearian-trained actor who once spoke to me about how children's literature often offers more depth and satisfaction than that of the grown-ups. In this case, I agree. The importance of language, of logic (math), of imagination - such lessons that book gave! The apathy of the youth is often cited as one of the significant traits of my generation. (That must have been a problem in the early 1960s as well, for where else would Norton Juster get the idea for the bored Milo?) How disappointing this is when one considers that most of my generation had to read The Phantom Tollbooth! How did they not learn the most important of lessons, that life is just fucking awesome when you realize just how fucking awesome it is? Also, Rhyme and Reason are really important.

As you all should know (and if you don't, you're probably one of the apathetic youth), the protagonist of the tale is Milo. Milo is bored by everything around him. He looks down when he walks because nothing is interesting enough to catch his attention. Learning and schoolwork are all, like, whatever, man. And then one day he comes home to find a box in his living room. It turns out to be a Tollbooth, and he drives a toy car through it...and is suddenly transported to The Lands Beyond, where he meets a number of interesting characters, rescues princesses, befriend a talking dog and a Humbug, and learns Life Lessons. It's suuuuch a great book! Anna Quindlen of The New York Times once wrote, "I read [The Phantom Tollbooth] first when I was 10. I still have the book report I wrote, which began 'This is the best book ever.'"

One of my dreams is to make a film version of this great book. Not a cartoon, like the Chuck Jones original, but a live-action one. We've got one of Alice in Wonderland (hm...bad example), and it isn't time we actually see an all-star cast in these legendary roles? And, if this story at Cinema Blend is to be believed, I may be beaten to it by Gary Ross. That talented son of a bitch.

Either way, I have a dream. And that dream is to see the following in such a movie:

Who is He: The conductor of the color orchestra. An old man with ka-razy hair, he makes sure the colors of the day are all seen properly and according to the sheet music. When he stops to take a rest at night, Milo gets hold of the baton...

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee/BAFTA Award Winner for Best Actor (The Elephant Man) and Best Supporting Actor (Midnight Cowboy), Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Midnight Cowboy)

John Hurt (V for Vendetta, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull)
Sometimes, you cast because you love a certain actor and feel like, hey, I haven't seen him in a while.

Who are They: Dr. Kakofonous Dischord and the smoke beast known as the Awful DYNNE are keepers of noise in the Valley of Sound. They believe the sounds are beautiful, but everyone else just hears a bunch of terrible noise.

My Choice: Well, one of them is a Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (The School of Rock)

Tenacious D (Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, Cradle Will Rock)
A good team needs to be played by a good team. Jack Black, the more famous face, could play Dr. Dischord, while Kyle Gass could play the Awful DYNNE. Their chemistry and ear for noise-making would be put to good use here.

Who is He: The first thing Milo & Friends meet at Digitopolis. He has twelve different faces for twelve different emotions. He leads them through the Number Mines into the city, and often confuses Milo with the varying emotions and faces.

My Choice: BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Actor (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Drama (The Truman Show) and in a Musical/Comedy (Man on the Moon), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Man on the Moon)

Jim Carrey (The Mask, A Christmas Carol)
He of the varied voices and rubber face.

Who is She: The not-so-wicked Which. Faintly was in charge of selecting words, until she went power-mad and hoarded them all. Now imprisoned, it is she who tells Milo of the disappearance of the princesses. Indeed, it is she who prompts him to speak to Azaz about it, thus inspiring them to action.

My Choice: Academy Award/SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (American Gangster)

Ruby Dee (The Jackie Robinson Story, Jungle Fever)
Faintly is a gentle, grandmotherly type, and I've always felt there was something reassuring about Ruby Dee's eyes and smile. Lord I love this actress. How was she not nominated for A Raisin in the Sun? Or Do the Right Thing?

Who Are They: A quintet of identical men who constantly repeat each other using synonyms. They are confusing and infuriating, so of course they were my favorite characters. They are: the Duke of Definition, the Earl of Essence, the Count of Connotation, the Minister of Meaning and the Undersecretary of Understanding.

My Choice: Academy Award/Indie Spirit/SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Visitor), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Flirting with Disaster)

Richard Jenkins (The Kingdom, Dear John)
Looks great in a suit, and playing five characters gives him a chance to display his comic chops, which are intimidating.

Who is He: The lawman in Dictionopolis. He is judge, jury, cop, and attorney. He believes everyone to be guilty, and despite his small stature, he is just unpleasant to be around.

My Choice:

Warwick Davis (Return of the Jedi, Leprechaun N Da Hood)
Look at that tiny bugger! Tee-hee!

Who is He: At the base of the Castle in the Sky, he asks trivial questions that delay our heroes from rescuing the princesses as the Demons of Ignorance get closer. A withered old man stained with ink.

My Choice: Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Baby Doll), Hollmann Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (The Holiday)

Eli Wallach (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, The Godfather: Part III)

Who is She: The ruler of the Valley of Sound. Like Faintly Macabre, she went mad with power and hoards the sounds to herself. Unlike Faintly Macabre, she has no regrets about her decision, and is quite mad.

My Choice: Academy Award Winner/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Prizzi's Honor), BAFTA Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan Murder Mystery), Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress in a Drama (The Grifters), Best Actress in a Musical/Comedy (The Addams Family, Addams Family Values) and Best Supporting Actress (The Crossing Guard), Indie Spirit Winner for Best Actress (The Grifters) and Best Supporting Actress (The Dead), SAG Award Nominee for Best Supporting Actress (The Crossing Guard)

Anjelica Huston (The Royal Tenenbaums, Choke)
Truthfully, part of this is because she looks like the illustration. But of course, the other part has to do with her formidable talent. Haven't we all seen her go from zero to crazy at one point or another?

Who is He: A faceless demon that distracts our heroes by getting them to complete pointless, impossible tasks. He wishes to keep them from rescuing Rhyme and Reason; that is, common sense.

My Choice:

Doug Jones (Pan's Labyrinth, Legion)
So, this is basically a matter of just covering his face. Which he is apparently totally down with. His build would be menacing enough with just a suit and bowler hat. Creepy.

Who is He: A repetitive little man, Milo meets him at the Land of Expectations. He kind of just stays there, due to his preoccupation of what may be and how.

My Choice:

David Cross (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I'm Not There)
Because he is a hilarious actor with great comic timing.

Who are They: Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason are mysterious orphans adopted by the Mathemagician and King Azaz. Without them, there can be no harmony in world. They find letters and numbers to be equally important, so of course they are banished. The saving of them drives the plot of the entire book.

My Choices: One is an Academy Award/BAFTA Award Nominee/Golden Globe Winner for Best Supporting Actress (Closer); the other is an Academy Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress [in a Musical/Comedy] (Pride & Prejudice), BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Nominee for Best Actress [in a Drama] (Atonement)

Natalie Portman as Sweet Rhyme
Keira Knightley as Pure Reason
I think Natalie comes off as more Sweet than Pure, even though Keira is less shy about showing off her body. But those cheekbones, quite honestly, are more of purity than of sweetness, and Natalie's smile is more sweet than pure. And as the princesses of common sense, you couldn't have a better pair. They resemble each other, they're beautiful, and they're known for their intelligence.

Who is He: The Ruler of Digitopolis, the Mathemagician is a man with a regal bearing and wizard's robes. He and his brother fight over whether letters or numbers are more important, and for failing to pick one over the other, Rhyme and Reason are banished. The Mathemagician is not so sure that their return is a good idea.

My Choice: Academy Award/SAG Award Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Million Dollar Baby), Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy (Driving Miss Daisy), Indie Spirit Winner for Best Supporting Actor (Street Smart)

Morgan Freeman (Bruce Almighty, The Big Bounce)
Obviously, his voice is the voice of a ruler. I find the Mathemagician to be less easily sympathetic than Azaz, which would be a nice switch for Freeman. And the idea of him in wizard's robes is too cool.

Who is He: The Ruler of Dictionopolis, Azaz is as large as a dictionary (ha!) with a booming voice to match. He regrets banishing Rhyme and Reason, and sends Milo and his cohorts on a mission ot rescue them.

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee for Best Actor (The Great White Hope), Indie Spirit Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Matewan), SAG Award Nominee for Best Actor (Cry, the Beloved Country)

James Earl Jones (Coming to America, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins)
A large, imposing man with a commanding voice, his take on complicated characters would do well with Azaz. For Azaz is a proud yet ashamed man, a complexity which an actor of Jones's brilliance could masterfully portray.

Who is He: The humbug is a beetle with very little knowledge, though that doesn't stop him from trying to be the expert on the latest subject. He is a constant brown-noser, though his flattery is what leads to Azaz putting him on the Adventure in the first place. At heart, the Humbug is a coward and a braggart, but Lord he's a lot of fun.

My Choice: Academy Award Nominee/BAFTA Award/Golden Globe Winner for Best Actor [in a Drama] (Mona Lisa), SAG Award Nominee for Best Ensemble (Nixon)

Bob Hoskins (Mrs Henderson Presents, Doomsday)
He has the build, and he has the voice. I wonder if this would be a voice-over, a mo-cap, or a heavily-made-up-by-the-team-from-District 9 type of performance. Thoughts?

Who is He: A watchdog. Literally: his body is a ticking clock, but he has the head and limbs of a dog. Tock saves Milo from the Doldrums (the town, that is), and the two form a best friendship. Tock is smart, fast (time flies, after all), and loyal. He is a great comfort to Milo and is willing to stay 'til the end.

My Choice: Obviously, some sort of CG would have to employed, but the voice actor would be a Golden Globe Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Barton Fink)

John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Speed Racer)
Because his voice is so reassuring and soft, and he is a great voice actor. This is a man who knows the delicate balance between seriousness and funny.

Who is He: Our hero, of course! Milo is a bored little boy who finds the tollbooth in his living room. He uses it to find adventure and imagination!

My Choice:

Nicholas Elia (White Noise, Speed Racer)
When first I saw him in Speed Racer, I thought, "There's a kid who gets it." He got the power of imagination, and how awesome kids can be. He'd have to play the bored part of course, but that's hardly a challenge, I think. The kid clearly has some great chops, and he deserves a lead like this.


Unknown said...

I have literally never heard of this book. And I liked books when I was a kid. And I've been dating you for four years. For years and for years. For four years.

Unknown said...

dude, I'm back.

Ahem, you can't use James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman.

They are currently employed by me.

They read/narrate all my history text books LOL.

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Amanda: I will give you a copy. It's probably one of the most important books in the English language.

Nigel: I wondered what happened to you. Glad to have you back! And, uh...what's the rental fee on those two? :P

Gemma said...

you have no idea how pathetically excited i got when i saw this on my twitter feed. i just rebought this book a couple years ago because it is so amazing! david cross as the whether man is GENIUS, and your kings are perfect. i love that little boy for milo, he was in an episode of supernatural and he was very good.