'Rio' Filmmaker Carlos Saldanha to Direct 'The Phantom Tollbooth' (Exclusive)

Ted Melfi, of 'Hidden Figures' fame, wrote the latest draft of Tri-Star's adaptation of the children's classic.
Vera Anderson/WireImage; Courtesy of Penguin Random House
Carlos Saldanha

Carlos Saldanha, the director behind the colorful Rio and Ice Age animated movies, has signed on to direct The Phantom Tollbooth, Tri-Star’s adaptation of the Norton Juster children’s classic.

Donald De Line and Ed McDonnell are producing the project, which would end up being the live-action feature debut for Saldanha, who last helmed Ferdinand, the adaptation of another children’s classic.

First published in 1961 with illustrations by Jules Feiffer, Phantom Tollbooth centers on Milo, an apathetic child who is bored by everything. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through it and discovers the magical Lands Beyond — which is full of intriguing places and dynamic characters, like kidnapped princesses and Rhyme and Reason, and Tock, an oversized watchdog with a clock in his side — and learns that life is much more exciting than he had thought it to be. The beloved book has sold nearly 4 million copies since it was published.

Ted Melfi (Hidden Figures) penned the current draft, with previous writers including Michael Vukadinovich and Phil Johnston.

Matt Shakman was previously on board to direct Phantom Tollbooth, but the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia helmer moved on due to scheduling issues, sources say.

Saldanha got his feature start co-directing 2002’s Ice Age before taking the lead on Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009), keeping alive Fox Animation’s billion-dollar franchise. But he wowed audiences with his passion project, Rio, set in his homeland of Brazil, which drew acclaim and won an Annie Award while grossing almost half a billion dollars. He also directed the sequel.

Saldanha is repped by WME.