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The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)

Milo is a boy who is bored with life. One day he comes home to find a toll booth in his room. Having nothing better to do, he gets in his toy car and drives through - only to emerge in a wor... Read all Milo is a boy who is bored with life. One day he comes home to find a toll booth in his room. Having nothing better to do, he gets in his toy car and drives through - only to emerge in a world full of adventure. Milo is a boy who is bored with life. One day he comes home to find a toll booth in his room. Having nothing better to do, he gets in his toy car and drives through - only to emerge in a world full of adventure.

  • Chuck Jones
  • Abe Levitow
  • Dave Monahan
  • Norton Juster
  • Butch Patrick
  • Hans Conried
  • 54 User reviews
  • 18 Critic reviews
  • See more at IMDbPro

The Phantom Tollbooth

  • Officer Short Shrift

Daws Butler

  • Whether Man

Candy Candido

  • Princess of Sweet Rhyme
  • Spelling Bee
  • (as Shep Menken)

Cliff Norton

  • Kakofonous A. Dischord

Larry Thor

  • Tock The Watchdog

Les Tremayne

  • (uncredited)

Chuck Jones

  • Cable Car Passenger
  • Dave Monahan (live action sequences)
  • All cast & crew
  • Production, box office & more at IMDbPro

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Horton Hears a Who!

Did you know

  • Trivia Norton Juster , author of the book upon which this film is based, had no input on the adaptation, and many characters from the book weren't included in the film. He didn't like the film, and was angered by positive reviews.
  • Goofs When King Azaz is first seen (in long shot) his costume has the purple and blue colors of the Mathemagician, instead of the correct colors of orange and red. (Noticed by someone's seven-year-old daughter.)

Tock : [singing] Time is a gift, given to you, given to give you the time you need, the time you need to have the time of your life.

  • Crazy credits The closing "THE END" zooms in as the last shot freezes into a still. The closing title (in one line) and "An MGM Picture" appear shortly before fading to black a second later.
  • Connections Featured in Jambareeqi Reviews: The Phantom Tollbooth (2012)
  • Soundtracks Milo's Song (1969) Music by Lee Pockriss Lyrics by Norman Gimbel Performed by the Cast

User reviews 54

  • Jan 22, 2002
  • How long is The Phantom Tollbooth? Powered by Alexa
  • December 1972 (United Kingdom)
  • United States
  • Milos ganz und gar unmögliche Reise
  • 420 Filbert Street, San Francisco, California, USA (Garfield Elementary School at beginning of film)
  • Chuck Jones Enterprises
  • MGM Animation/Visual Arts
  • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
  • See more company credits at IMDbPro
  • $2,000,000 (estimated)

Technical specs

  • Runtime 1 hour 30 minutes

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The Phantom Tollbooth

1969, Kids & family/Fantasy, 1h 30m

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The phantom tollbooth   photos.

A delivery arrives at the home of young Milo (Butch Patrick), and at first the small tollbooth appears to be an ordinary toy. But when Milo steers his miniature car through the booth's gateway, he finds himself in a mysterious fantasy land. In Dictionopolis, Milo and his dog sidekick Tock encounter a city fixated on words, and draw the ire of Officer Short Shrift (Mel Blanc). Milo also treks through Digitopolis and over the Mountains of Ignorance, an adventure that teaches the boy vital lessons.

Genre: Kids & family, Fantasy, Animation

Original Language: English

Director: Chuck Jones , Abe Levitow , Dave Monahan

Release Date (Theaters): Nov 7, 1970  original

Release Date (Streaming): Jan 1, 2009

Runtime: 1h 30m

Production Co: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Cast & Crew

Patrick Lilly

Officer Short Shrift, The Word Speller, The Dodecahedron, The Demon of Insincerity Voice

Daws Butler

Whether Man Voice

Candy Candido

Awful DYNN Voice

Hans Conried

King Azaz, The MathemaGician Voice

Ralph, Faintly Macabre the Which, Princess of Pure Reason Voice

Patti Gilbert

Princess of Sweet Rhyme Voice

Cliff Norton

Spelling Bee, Senses Taker Voice

Les Tremayne

Humbug Voice

Shepard Menken

Spelling Bee, Chroma the Great Voice

Tock The Watchdog Voice

Chuck Jones

Abe Levitow

Dave Monahan

Critic Reviews for The Phantom Tollbooth

Audience reviews for the phantom tollbooth.

Now this feature length animated film is a real blast down memory lane, in fact I'm confident many won't have even heard of this. The film is an adaptation of another classic children's book of the same name by Norton Juster and very much along the same lines as 'Alice in Wonderland' or 'The Wizard of Oz'. In fact you could say all three stories are a trilogy of uber classic fantasy tales but like I said I don't think many folk have heard of this one. This cutesy little tale follows Milo, a young schoolboy, with a drab boring life...or so he thinks. One day after school he starts chatting on the phone to his friend about how dull life is when a strange box appears in his room. This box speaks to Milo and eventually reveals itself to be a tollbooth, a tollbooth that apparently leads into another world. Reluctantly Milo decides to venture through the booth and winds up in a surreal yet colourful world inhabited by odd creatures and wacky people. Milo is soon lead on an adventure to save a couple Princesses from a strange castle in the sky along with a few companions he meets along the way. Produced by the legendary Chuck Jones who was at the peak of his greatness coming off a string of massively successful Looney Tune cartoon shorts and 'Tom & Jerry' (amongst other things). Watching the movie you can clearly see Jones influence on the overall visuals with many backgrounds and structural designs being highly reminiscent of his Looney Tunes work. Not only that but a few of the characters look a bit familiar too, almost a little too familiar, even going so far as to throw in the same ideas from his back catalog. For example the character of Chroma the conductor not only looks like a chubby conductor from the Bugs Bunny cartoon 'Long-Haired Hare', but at times their facial expressions are identical also (I think it was that Looney Tunes toon). Speaking of Bugs Bunny its no great shock to find that the awesome Mel Blanc was also utilised here too. He provides voices for three characters in the film and its pretty easy to work out who they are because they all kinda sound like Bugs Bunny. Most of the other characters are voiced by people I don't know admittedly (very different era), but the lead character of Milo is portrayed by Butch 'Eddie Munster' Patrick in the live action sequences and voiced by him in the animated sequences. The film is bookended by live action sequences in the real world, the present day (1970's San Francisco). At the start we see Milo moping around until the tollbooth pops up. This is a very brief yet highly enjoyable sequence as we see Milo leaving school and travelling home through urban Frisco. The scenery is really lovely and just shows how pleasant Frisco would have been to live in at that time...at least for me being a Brit. The sequence where Milo meets the tollbooth is also really great fun and always got me excited as a child. Its so very charming and adorable plus it really captures the moment perfectly with some really neat effects and those wholesome vivid 60's visuals which always look so good. There is another great little moment where Milo discovers he appears in cartoon form once crossing the tollbooth barrier which is typically Chuck Jones, again its simple but effective. From there on as Milo goes through the tollbooth the film crosses over into full animation and doesn't go back to live action until Milo comes back across the barrier. This isn't just any old silly fantasy filled with monsters and heroes oh no, like the source material its actually very smart. The reason being because everything within the 'Kingdom of Wisdom' is a play on words...puns, idioms and metaphors galore. Most of the characters and evil creatures are named by simple word plays or puns such as The Spelling Bee which is a bee that has a large extended vocabulary, Dr. Kakofonous A. Discord who likes to make loud noises and unpleasant sounds or The Terrible Trivium, a demon that lives in the mountains of ignorance and wastes your time with trivial meaningless tasks. The same goes for various locations like the Doldrums where all the slimy lifeless creatures live in a constant state of inactivity, tiredness and depression and their surroundings are swamp-like, murky and colourless. Some characters are more normal looking but all appear to be for educational purposes I guess, yet they all still have there clever amusing quirks. King Azaz the Unabridged who rules Dictionopolis (words) for instance...you get it? Or his brother The Mathemagician and ruler of Digitopolis (numbers). Together they both battle and argue over what is more important in life...words or numbers. I especially liked King Azaz's advisors...the Duke of Definition, Minister of Meaning, Count of Connotation, Earl of Essence and the Undersecretary of Understanding...all of whom looked exactly the same. Its not just the characters and locations either, the dialog is top heavy with the same kind of wit also. Such as Milo enjoying a feast with King Azaz where they all tuck in and eat their own words. The visuals are passable by today's standards but a little sketchy admittedly, its nice to see hand drawn animation and its all very Chuck Jones. The similarity to the classic Warner Bros. Looney Tunes visual style assists for sure but its still not the same quality and way behind the likes of Disney. I must also add that the film can be a little scary in places I think...for younger kids. The monsters towards the end are quite horrendous looking considering its aimed at kids, plus the animation style used for them adds to the scare factor. The Terrible Trivium always did give me goosebumps when I was young with his emotionless faceless mannequin-like head. Whilst the plot is rather mundane (saving two Princesses from some generic evil) its the witty dialog and visuals that make things interesting. Whilst the story holds all the magic and wonder that will enthrall kids of various ages it will also teach them a bit about Maths and English...maybe. At the same time its also a solid watch for adults too with its word trickery, it would take many viewings for kids to grasp everything they see, if they can look beyond the colourful creations on display. I tend to think of this as a poor man's 'The Sword in the Stone' (Disney)...a touch of music, a dabble of fear and a wheelbarrow full of imagination.

the phantom tollbooth rating

I think I saw this movie as a kid and I didn't understand the jokes or depth within this film. I actually wanna see it again to see what I missed.

Great Chuck Jones animation. His style is unmistakable; with each character's wide-eyes. The colors are rich and the backgrounds are beautiful. The princesses could've been detailed a bit better however. The story is a bit abstract and fanciful. The live action scenes with Butch Patrick in 1970's San Francisco are neato. The songs are catchy. An underrated fantasy cartoon which needs a proper DVD release.

A fun and seriously underrrated kids classic you've never heard of. Chuck Jones' animation is great and the story is in that category of late 60s out there. Unfortunately it would probably be lost on today's generation of kids but as much as I can't stand remakes, I'd love to see this story get a modern treatment. I also loved the dog and the Sergio Mendez-like soundtrack. The Phantom Tollbooth is dated as hell but if nothing else the adults might get a kick out of it.

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Based on 11 parent reviews

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One of the best books ever written for children and adults alike, a classic that hold up, a classic for good reasons, christina's review, the adventures of milo, lovely life lessons in wonderful wordplays, enjoyable for kids and adults., this is my favorite childhood book.

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The Phantom Tollbooth Reviews

  • 1 hr 30 mins
  • Fantasy, Family, Action & Adventure, Kids
  • Watchlist Where to Watch

Live action and animation combine in the adventures of a San Francisco youth who enters a magical world in which letters and numbers do battle.

This fine adaptation of the children's book by Norton Juster was Chuck Jones's and MGM's first animated feature. Butch Patrick stars in the live-action sequences as Milo, a bored youngster who cannot maintain an interest in anything. One day the "phantom tollbooth" appears in his bedroom and Milo drives his toy car into it. He is then transported through the magic of animation into a strange and wonderful world broken up into two camps, letters and numbers. Unfortunately, letters and numbers are at war with each other (each thinking they are more important to society), and Milo soon finds himself caught in the middle. Aided by a dog called Tock, Milo strives mightily to restore the land to peace, in a charming film that combines some fairly sophisticated ideas (demons from the "Mountains of Ignorance" cause much of the trouble, and Milo tries to restore "Rhyme and Reason" to the land) with cute and likable characters that are sure to grab a child's attention.

the phantom tollbooth rating

Book Review

The phantom tollbooth.

  • Norton Juster

the phantom tollbooth rating

Readability Age Range

  • Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Books for Young Readers, Random House Inc.
  • Scholastic Parent and Child100 Greatest Books for Kids, 2012; William Allen White Children's Book Award Master List, 1963

Year Published

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster with illustrations by Jules Feiffer has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine .

Plot Summary

Milo is a boy who doesn’t know what to do. Everything in his life seems like a waste of time. One day, he finds a package in his room containing a tollbooth. Since he has nothing better to do, Milo hops in his toy car and picks a random destination from the map in the box. The town he chooses is called Dictionopolis. When Milo goes through the tollbooth, he finds he is no longer in his room but driving through a strange land.

Milo’s first stop is a town called Expectations. Then he veers into the Doldrums, where lackluster Lethargarians spend their days loitering, dillydallying and daydreaming. A watchdog named Tock, whose body is a working alarm clock, tries to prevent residents from wasting time. When he meets Milo, he helps him think his way out of the Doldrums and accompanies him on his trip to Dictionopolis.

Milo and Tock arrive in Dictionopolis just as the word market is opening. They wander through the market, meeting the Spelling Bee and a surly creature called a Humbug. When the Bee and the Humbug get into a tiff, the Bee topples the word merchants’ booths in domino fashion. He flies away, and a police officer blames Milo and Tock for the disturbance. He sentences them to six million years in prison. In jail, they meet a Which named Faintly Macabre. She’s a kind old woman who gained her title because she was once the person who helped the king choose which words were best for various occasions. When she fell out of favor with the king, he threw her into prison. She says the only thing that can save her is the return of Rhyme and Reason.

The Which tells Milo and Tock the history of the land. Once, evil creatures roamed what was known as the land of Null. A prince sailed his ship into the Sea of Knowledge and claimed the land in the name of goodness and truth. He built a small city and continued to battle the land’s demons and monsters until his increasingly large territory became known as the kingdom of Wisdom. His two sons each created cities, always arguing whether numbers or words were most important. The king adopted two abandoned girls in his old age, which he named Rhyme and Reason. After his death, one son went to the south and became known as Azaz the Unabridged, King of Dictionopolis. The other went north and became the Mathemagician, ruler of Digitopolis. The brothers took care of Rhyme and Reason, who helped them and their people settle many disputes. The feuding brothers finally decided they needed to know once and for all whether words or numbers were superior. They asked Rhyme and Reason, and the sisters deliberated. At last, they replied that words and numbers were equally important. The brothers became so angry that they banished the princesses to the Castle in the Air. The girls had not been seen since. The two kingdoms remain, the Which says, but the city of Wisdom has fallen into disrepair, and there is no one to set things right. She says the stairway leading to the castle, where the princesses are located, is guarded by fierce, black-hearted demons.

The Which shows Milo and Tock a simple way out of the prison, and they find themselves having an odd lunch and wordplay with King Azaz and his court. After lunch, when the king is lamenting the state of the kingdom, Milo asks why he doesn’t bring Rhyme and Reason back to the kingdom. The Humbug, also present, relays the great treachery that would be involved. In addition, the plan would first require the Mathemagician’s approval. The king allows Milo and Tock to go to Digitopolis to ask. It is a dangerous trip. King Azaz sends the Humbug to be their guide.

En route to Digitopolis, the trio drives through strange cities including Point of View, Illusion and Reality. They meet Kakofouous A. Dischord and Doctor of Dissonance, and they help return noise to the Valley of Sound. They also take an unwanted jump to the land of Conclusions. They meet a Dodecahedron who touts the beauty and precision of numbers, and he takes them to the number mine where they find the Mathemagician. The Mathemagician stumps them with number games and story problems before they can explain their purpose. He reluctantly agrees to let them attempt to rescue Rhyme and Reason and points them toward the forbidding mountains of Ignorance. There, they begin to encounter the demons they’ve heard so much about.

The demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs tricks them into moving grains of sand with tweezers. When they finally realize what’s happening, they escape. Then they meet the demon of insincerity, a Gelatinous Giant and a Senses Taker, who distracts them with pleasant sites, sounds and smells. When they finally get to the castle and collect Rhyme and Reason, numerous demons chase them in an effort to protect Ignorance. All seems lost, until the kings arrive together with their armies and scare away the demons. Rhyme and Reason return to the kingdom of Wisdom and great celebrations ensue.

After a few days of revelry, Milo returns home. The tollbooth has disappeared from his room. While he’s disappointed that he can’t return to see his new friends, he’s learned he has much to see and experience in his own world.

Christian Beliefs

Other belief systems.

Demons and monsters that live in Ignorance guard the Castle in the Air. The demons, which may seem comical to readers, are called fierce, evil and black-hearted by the citizens of Wisdom. Some of these include the Overbearing Know-it-all, Gross Exaggeration and Threadbare Excuse.

Authority Roles

The two kings, brothers Azaz and the Mathemagician, allow their disagreements to harm the entire kingdom by banishing Rhyme and Reason. In the end, they band together to fight the demons and restore the integrity of the kingdom of Wisdom.

Profanity & Violence

Sexual content, discussion topics.

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books .

Additional Comments

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected] .

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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The Phantom Tollbooth Book Review

the phantom tollbooth rating

As I mentioned two weeks ago , for every Battle of the Books, the Children’s Librarians at my work get to pick 10 titles to read. They have to be from a variety of genres, but one of them has to be a classic. For this year, we decided on The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, who passed away one year ago tomorrow. I can absolutely see why; it’s wonderfully silly and absurd with an important message of applying what we learn.

The Phantom Tollbooth revolves around Milo – a bored kid – and his adventures in the Lands Beyond. After coming home from school one day feeling disinterested, Milo discovers a mysterious tollbooth that appears in his room. With nothing better to do, he drives through. While there, he encounters many places in the Lands Beyond like the Kingdom of Wisdom and the Island of Conclusions, meets various characters like a literal Watchdog, and embarks on a quest to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason. During his travels, Milo realizes that life is exciting and beyond his wildest dreams.

Unsurprisingly, The Phantom Tollbooth gets compared to Alice in Wonderland a lot, and it’s not hard to see why. Both have bored protagonists that encounter strange and unique worlds. Those environments are laced with absurd logic that the characters have to deal with, and both come across danger frequently. However, there are some crucial differences. For starters, Alice is on her own for her journey, while Milo has two companions – the Watchdog and the Humbug – for most of his quest. Also, the latter learns from his experiences, yet it’s not entirely clear if the former does. Finally and most importantly, what happens with Milo is real, while it’s all a dream for Alice. It also turns out that Juster never read Alice in Wonderland . 

It’s clear that he wanted to do the whole person-goes-to-a-whole-new-world troupe, but in a special kind of way, and it works. At first glance, the Lands Beyond is the typical absurdist realm with logic that vastly differs from the real world. However, when one examines it a little closer, it’s one that’s filled with puns, lots of them! For example, in order to get to the Island of Conclusions, one has to jump. Also, one minor character is a bee that spells everything. On the other hand, since the book was published in 1961, there might be some puns that might fly over people’s heads. For instance, when the main characters are running away from the demons in the Mountains of Ignorance, one of the monsters is horned and named Dilemma. Some people might not know the phrase “on the horn of a dilemma.” 

Luckily, readers are given a break from the puns every now and then. It’s not like some of the parody fantasy books, where they go overboard on them. This is especially true with the maps (I’m looking at you Kill the Farmboy !).

Moreover, in a handful of fantasy books, if the world is absurdist or contains a lot of anti-logic, it’s that way for the sake of it. In the case of The Phantom Tollbooth, there’s a legitimate reason why it’s that way. The princesses Rhyme and Reason have been locked away by two bickering brothers who rule their own kingdoms. As such, the citizens in the Lands Beyond act more like characters in a Marx Brothers film than in the normal world. It’s up to Milo, the Watchdog, and the Humbug to rescue them.

The illustrations are a wonderful addition to the story. The map has just the right amount of detail. It shows where certain places are as well as the terrain. Furthermore, the map looks like it was illustrated in the 1700s, which adds to how important the Lands Beyond see themselves, especially since it’s all done in pencil. The rest of the illustrations are well done. Milo is depicted as a typical white boy, while the sillier characters are drawn in the ways that the author describes. At one point, Juster tries to describe a monster to the readers, but since he lacks the articulation at that moment, he basically tells them to see it for themselves.

Now, we must talk about the characters. Milo is a bit bland because he stands in for every kid who felt bored at school. He isn’t much different from other protagonists who are transported to other worlds like Alice and Dorothy. The stand out characters are the ones that Milo comes across on his journey. These include the Humbug, a bug who’s arrogant and foolish and likes to use big words for the sake of loquacity; the kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, who are the brothers that bicker and argue about their superior mode of communication; and the person who’s tall to short people and short to tall ones. They all have their one defining character trait, yet they’re all effectively silly in their own distinctive ways.

The one final thing that I want to mention is the messages. Normally, when these occur in children’s media, they tend to hit their viewers over the head repeatedly, but they can come off as shallow and even condescending if not executed properly. The Phantom Tollbooth has various messages, yet Juster integrates them into the story so fluidly that some might not realize that they’ve come across one. The whole plot revolves around applying the things that we learn. At first, Milo is bored with education because he doesn’t know what to do with the stuff he’s taught. Once he goes through the tollbooth and experiences in the Lands Beyond, he discovers that there are other ways to learn beyond the school setting. This quote hammers in that point: “But it’s not just learning things that’s important. It’s learning what you do with what you learn and learning why you learn things at all that matters” (p. 233).

Now to jump to my conclusion, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster is a wonderful classic kids’ book. It’s very silly, and it contains a profound message about learning and experiencing all of the senses. I’d recommend it to both adults as well as kids, especially to those who love fantasy, absurdist worlds, and puns. Now, if you all will excuse me, a tollbooth just showed up at my place, and I’m going to explore it. Bye!

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Published by emilymalek.

I work at a public library southeast Michigan, and I facilitate two book clubs there. I also hold a Bachelor's degree in History and Theatre from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI; a Master's degree in Library and Information Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, MI; and a Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration also from Wayne. In my downtime, I love hanging out with friends, play trivia and crossword puzzles, listening to music (like classic rock and K-pop), and watching shows like "Monty Python's Flying Circus"! View more posts

5 thoughts on “ The Phantom Tollbooth Book Review ”

I just put the book on order with our local library based on this review.

I just put the book on order with our local library based on this review. John F. Blakowski, CPIM, CIRM, Retired, Vincentian University of Toledo Detroit Alumni Chapter, Secretary 6745 Boulder Pointe Drive Unit #12 Washington, MI 48094 [email protected] Cell phone: 248.227.2933

On Mon, Mar 7, 2022 at 11:04 AM Book Reviews by a Chick Who Reads Everything wrote:

> emilyblakowskimalek posted: ” As I mentioned two weeks ago, for every > Battle of the Books, the Children’s Librarians at my work get to pick 10 > titles to read. They have to be from a variety of genres, but one of them > has to be a classic. For this year, we decided on The Phantom T” >

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