The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) Movie Review: A Whimsical Journey of Words and Numbers

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) – Milo, a disgruntled youth, receives a gifted phantom tollbooth that transports him into an enchanting world of words and numbers. As he embarks on a quest to reach the Castle in the Air, the side quests and friendships he encounters along the way gradually transform his perspective, teaching him to appreciate the beauty in life’s smaller moments and ultimately changing his life.

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970)
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Characters/ Roast

Milo (Butch Patrick) is a bored child longing for excitement in a seemingly mundane world. This story, originating from the 70s, showcases Milo as the inspiration behind an opening song that summed up his existence. He possesses traits being uninteresting, lost in daydreams, and somewhat introverted. While he vented about the troubles of being a child without financial responsibilities to his classmate, Ralph. Suddenly, a massive gift box materializes in his room, arousing his curiosity. He opens the box, unleashing an interdimensional Tollbooth. As he embarks on his journey, Milo’s indecisiveness even manages to bore the sentient Tollbooth. Upon entering the Tollbooth, he discovers his complexion appearing two-dimensional. Determined to regain his fleshly form, Milo reverses the car back to three-dimensional space. He repeats the process repeats until the Tollbooth intervenes, urging him to proceed to his destination: Dictionopolis, the Castle in the Air.

Throughout his adventure, Milo endures trials and learns valuable lessons, revealing his own laziness, lack of experience, and the things he had taken for granted in life. Along the way, he encounters peculiar characters such as Tock, a talking watchdog, the Whether Man, and Humbug. These oddly named characters, except for Tock, are not individuals one would naturally seek friendship with. However, the friends Milo makes along the journey serve as metaphors for his subconscious, stubbornness, and confusion. It’s crazy how the film depicted beforehand Milo walking into oncoming danger without being phased, raising the possibility of a learning disability. It is important to consider that in the 70s, disability labeling was not as widespread as it is today.

If this story were set in 2023, Milo’s adventure would likely be replaced by endless smartphone scrolling, highlighting the vast changes in societal dynamics.

Tock (Larry Thor) the faithful watchdog, rescues Milo from the clutches of the Doldrums by stimulating his mind and encouraging him to utilize the power of thought to set the vehicle in motion, preventing them from being consumed by boredom and laziness. With a watch in his stomach, Tock serves as Milo’s conscience, guiding him on the right path throughout his quest. Tock’s vast knowledge about the kingdoms and demons they encounter feels like having a walking map by his side. Tock proves to be an exceptional companion, going above and beyond the role of a mere babysitter. If friendship were to be graded, Tock would undoubtedly receive a perfect score of 100%.

Humbug is a character who effortlessly embraces a “fake it ’til you make it” attitude, going with the flow without much hesitation. He often seemed inclined to give up and settle for less than he truly desired. The interactions between Humbug and the Trivium, the trivial demon, conveyed a sense of familiarity and suggested that they had a history together.

Villian’s

Since most of the villains in the film originate from Milo’s imagination, he essentially becomes his own antagonist.

Milo’s encounter with the Lethargians could have been avoided if he had paid attention to the road, thus hindering his own progress. The Lethargians lured Milo with a catchy song, tempting him to give in to idleness and accomplish nothing.

However, the standout villain was the Trivium demon. With a steampunk Slenderman appearance, he distinctively stood apart from the other demons. The Trivium’s purpose was to assign time-consuming tasks that served no real benefit, such as moving grains of sand from one side to the other using tweezers. If that doesn’t sound like a pointless job, then what does?

Thoughts

This movie is undoubtedly something I would have enjoyed and watched numerous times as a child. It’s a hidden gem animated by the genius Chuck Jones. The surreal and trippy visuals have stood the test of time, capturing a unique vibe. The orchestration of sunsets by Chroma was truly marvelous. It is an animated musical fantasy that showcases the author’s Norton Juster creativity in explaining the nuances of laziness, boredom, and lethargy.

The characters breaking the fourth wall, looking at the screen as if they were part of the audience, added an interesting touch. The divisions and conflicts between the kingdoms disregarding rhyme or reason emphasized the notion that both sides were equally important.

Oddly enough, the year 2023 feels reminiscent of this movie in a nutshell. It’s hard to believe that the book was once banned but later received a theatrical release. The ending, where Milo discovers the Sisters of Rhyme or Reason and realizes he was summoned by them because little boys with boundless boredom are the best candidates, was questionable. As Milo returns to the three-dimensional world, his friend on the phone holds the line for a while, and what feels like days to Milo turns out to be only a couple of minutes. Interestingly, while Milo was on the phone, his friend went through the same experience, leaving Milo to hang up and go play outside. This made me wonder whether all the progress Milo made in that world reset for his friend to experience again or if it was an entirely different story.

In many ways, this film feels like a schoolhouse rock version of “Alice in Wonderland” meets “The Wizard of Oz.”

The Phantom Tollbooth (1970) Movie Review 8 out of 10

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