Crowdfunder of the Week: The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations

MovieMaker’s Crowdfunder Pick of this week is a throwback to that moment in everyone’s youthful lives when one magical adventure took them forever out of the Doldrums—the beloved Norton Juster children’s novel Phantom Tollbooth.

The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations is a documentary by Hannah Jayanti about the origins of the novel, Juster’s friendship with Tollbooth illustrator Jules Feiffer, and the rippling cultural legacy that the book has left in its wake since its 1961 publication.

Like many of our previous Crowdfunder picks, this project lends itself easily to a Kickstarter campaign, preying—albeit charmingly—on a worldwide audience’s collective adoration and nostalgia for what is arguably the best American children’s fantasy novel of all time. Beyond Expectations’ Kickstarter campaign was originally scaled smaller, but Jayanti and producer Janice Kaplan were driven by overwhelming emotional response to expand upon the film. They’re not far at all from their final monetary goals (the campaign explains some of the financial obstacles that its makers encountered during its process, including getting legal advice on fair use and copyright issues), and success looks to be nigh.

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The film will mark Jayanti’s debut as a director, and we hope that she has the chops to pull it off (though her background is in videos for publishing houses like Random House, as well as documentaries for VIXPIX and BBC including The Secret Life of Uri Geller, Rolf Harris Paints his Dream, and The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector). One challenge we foresee is that the film may be too much of a homage to the novel, content to praise the genius of Juster and Feiffer’s creation without taking a more substantial and comprehensively objective look at the Phantom Tollbooth’s phenomenon.

Still, we’re optimistic that the film can step outside the novel’s long shadow: the trailer showcases stunning, pitch-perfectly whimsical, original stop-motion animation sequences, both of familiar scenes from the book, and of the real-life story of Juster and Feiffer. We admit to not being immune to such charm ourselves – the thought of seeing Feiffer’s illustrations of Milo and Tock come to life on a big screen is too enchanting to miss out on. Besides its felicitous choice of subject, Beyond Expectations piques our interest with its fertile and erudite mix of contributing talent, with narration by David Hyde Pierce, interviews with Eric Carle (of Very Hungry Caterpillar fame) and the New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik, and a soundtrack featuring Devendra Banhart. All this complements, of course, the extensive participation of Juster and Feiffer themselves, with one of the top donor rewards being lunch with the author himself. Now if only we had $3,500 to spare…

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Synopsis: A documentary about Norton Juster’s classic children’s book The Phantom Tollbooth, its creators, and the lasting impact over half a century and beyond.

Campaigners: Hannah Jayanti (director) and Janice L. Kaplan (producer)

Target Amount: $14,000

Amount Currently Raised: $11,984

Campaign Opening Date: Aug 20, 2013

Campaign Closing Date: Sep 19, 2013 (16 days)

Funding Goes Toward: Funds are going to cover final post-production & mastering, legal fees, licensing & insurance, as well as marketing and distribution.

 Donor Reward Highlights:

$25: A personalized certificate from the film’s director.

$75: A limited edition poster from the film signed by Norman Juster.

$150: A copy of The Phantom Tollbooth 50th anniversary edition signed and personalized by Norton Juster.

$500: Enjoy your name written into a personalized limerick by Norton Juster.

$750: A phone call from Norton Juster.

$3,500:  A lunch for two with Norton Juster at the Brooklyn Heights’ Queen Restaurant, as featured in the film.

To check out The Phantom Tollbooth: Beyond Expectations Kickstarter page, click here.

Moviemakers, keep them coming! We welcome any crowdfunder campaign submissions for spotlighting consideration in our Trailblazer Tuesday series. Email info@moviemaker.com with your pitch! Help us to help you get your films made.

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