The Phantom Tollbooth
By Paul Trandahl,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Clever artistry fails to convey the book's depth.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there is some mild peril to the main characters, but nothing of concern. The film addresses the importance of learning.
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What's the Story?
In this animated adventure, young Milo, always bored, discovers a magic box in his room. It contains a tollbooth, through which he's able to enter the Kingdom of Wisdom, a wildly surreal landscape. Milo's soon visiting places with names like The Doldrums, Dictionopolis, and Digitopolis. He discovers that a feud between the King of Words, and the King of Numbers has brought ruin onto this once great land of Wisdom. Milo decides to help reconcile the two kingdoms, and rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason, who were banished long ago to the Castle in the Air. To do this he must come to an understanding of how words and numbers work together and then face down the Demons of Ignorance, who are guarding the castle. He succeeds in bringing harmony back to the Kingdom of Wisdom and acquires a newfound appreciation for the value of language and mathematics.
Is It Any Good?
Although it fails to make an emotional impact, verbal cleverness and impressive imagery make PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH worthwhile for those seeking more challenging entertainment. Based on a highly recommended book by Norman Juster, this feature-length cartoon offers a startling change of pace. Directed by animation legend Chuck Jones, the story does not involve a quest for love or identity, nor is it an animated retelling of a classic fairy tale. Instead it strives to depict the beauty of knowledge. Plunging its young hero into an Alice in Wonderland-like dreamscape is only partially successful, however.
The biggest problem is a meandering first half. Nevertheless, the movie has its rewards for the patient viewer. Its visualizations of various states of minds are fun to watch as Milo encounters the Lethargians, and faces down the Demons of Ignorance, all with clever names. Much of the film is a feast for the eyes. Maurice Noble, Chuck Jones's frequent collaborator at Warner Brothers, designed the stylized environment of the Kingdom of Wisdom. His conceptions of the bizarre landscapes are stunning. All in all, this is a worthwhile film with a very good message: Knowledge makes the world a better place. While probably too cerebral for younger children, older kids and even teens should enjoy it, and they may learn something in the bargain.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how the book differs from the cartoon. If you saw the cartoon first, how did it influence how you imagined the book? If you read the book first, did the cartoon live up how you imagined the characters, the settings, and the action of the book?
- In theaters: November 7, 1970
- On DVD or streaming: October 23, 1991
- Cast: Butch Patrick, Daws Butler, Mel Blanc
- Director: Chuck Jones
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: G
- MPAA explanation: General Audiences
- Last updated: March 31, 2022
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