Beloved kids' book The Phantom Tollbooth turns 50 this year (commemorated by a new edition introduced by Michael Chabon) and an oversubscribed Kickstarter campaign has been funded to produce a documentary about the extraordinary book and the impact it's had over its half-century.
With conversations – and banter – from Norton and Jules, this documentary explores the educational, political and linguistic back-story and lasting impact of "one of the great works of fantasy in American Literature" (Leonard S Marcus, author of The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth).
We follow Norton and Jules as they return to the house in Brooklyn Heights where Norton began writing a little story "to get his mind off of what he had to do." Working as an architect, Norton was awarded a grant for a book on Urban Perception, which he promptly didn't write. Instead, he created Milo. When he showed his notes to his neighbor, a young political cartoonist bent on overthrowing the government, Jules began sketching – and The Phantom Tollbooth was born.
Through the lens of Milo and his adventures, we get to know Norton Juster – an incorrigible punster with a "delight in glorious lunatic linguistic acrobatics" (Maurice Sendak, in his appreciation to the 35th Anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth). Bored as a kid, wondering why he had to learn so many useless facts, Norton is Milo. And we get taken into Norton's personal Phantom Tollbooth: where his imagination gets him in trouble for demoralizing the Navy battalion with his drawings of elves; where his friendship with Jane Jacobs and her critique of American cities shows up in Digitopolis and Dictionopolis; where "beyond expectations" takes on a personal meaning for Norton's daughter and granddaughter as they confront their learning disabilities.