The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) Movie Review

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

The French word “ennui” means boredom with the monotony of life. Life can be boring at times given the bleakness of reality. Nevertheless, some people would argue that the ordinary can actually be extraordinary. That is a life lesson that Milo learns after venturing off into an animated world in the film adaptation of Norton Juster’s celebrated juvenile novel The Phantom Tollbooth.

A Toast

This is a very charming motion picture filled with the magic that made the original novel a classic. Butch Patrick does a phenomenal job as Milo as he navigates through the animated world past the titular phantom tollbooth. Norton Juster’s characters come to life vibrantly on screen, such as they princesses named Rhyme and Reason, and the famous watchdog named Tock who reminds Milo to make the most of his time.

This film definitely honors the themes of the original text because both the novel and this film adaptation teach viewers powerful life lessons about dealing with reality. For example, the “Island of Conclusions” offers the lesson of not making hasty generalizations. The conflict between words and numbers is easily relatable to the real world because many students have their own preferences when it comes to studying either English or mathematics while they are still in school. This film is so spectacular that it is a bit of a shame that it was not a box office success, nor did it receive any accolades when it was originally released in 1970. Nevertheless, the magical realm beyond the phantom tollbooth is definitely a place worth exploring.


Ever since its publication in 1961, critics have compared The Phantom Tollbooth to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Milo can be viewed as a male version of Alice and Dorothy Gale because they are all children learning to look beyond fantasy in order to deal with reality. Such qualities are possibly why some children’s novels are timeless masterpieces that resonate with all audiences, and not just children. This film version of The Phantom Tollbooth is definitely an underrated classic because it can offer people the chance to accept the beauty of life instead of feeling a sense of ennui.

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every interesting character that Milo meets

Take a Drink: every time Tock emphasizes the importance of time itself

Drink a Shot: for every pun (and there are A LOT of them in this film, so don’t actually drink shots literally please)!

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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