The Phantom Tollbooth
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay by
  • Chuck Jones
  • Sam Rosen
Based onThe Phantom Tollbooth
1961 novel
by Norton Juster
Produced byChuck Jones
CinematographyLester Shorr
Edited byJim Faris
Music byDean Elliott
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • November 7, 1970 (1970-11-07)
Running time
89 minutes
CountryUnited States

The Phantom Tollbooth (also known as The Adventures of Milo in the Phantom Tollbooth) is a 1970 American live-action/animated fantasy film based on Norton Juster's 1961 children's book of the same name. Produced by Chuck Jones at MGM Animation/Visual Arts, the film stars Butch Patrick as Milo, alongside the voice talents of Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Candy Candido, Hans Conried, June Foray, Patti Gilbert, Shepard Menken, Cliff Norton, Larry Thor, and Les Tremayne. Jones also co-directed the film with Abe Levitow, while Dave Monahan directed the live-action segments. Completed in 1968, the film was held up from release by MGM until late 1970 due to internal studio problems. The animation studio closed soon after the film's release, with MGM leaving the animation business until 1993 with the startup of their new Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Animation studio.


Milo is a bored boy who lives in a San Francisco apartment block and suffers from feelings of apathy. One day while telling his friend over the phone that there's "no rhyme or reason" in his life, he is surprised by a large, gift-wrapped package that appears in his room. He opens the package and discovers a tollbooth which is a gateway into a magical parallel universe. As Milo uses the tollbooth's toy car and pays the toll with coins, the character moves from live action to animation. After getting accustomed to this, he drives further, and is transported to the enchanted Kingdom of Wisdom in the Lands Beyond.

Accompanied by Tock, a "watchdog" who actually has a large pocket watch in his body, Milo has a series of adventures in places like the Doldrums, Dictionopolis (Kingdom of Words), Digitopolis (Kingdom of Mathematics), the Mountains of Ignorance, and the Castle in the Air. Together, they must rescue the Princesses of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason, who are being held captive in the Castle in the Air, and restore order to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

The many eccentric characters they meet include the Whether Man, the Humbug, the Spelling Bee, the noisy Dr. Kakofonous A. Dischord, King Azaz the Unabridged, the Mathemagician, Faintly Macabre the Not-So-Wicked Which, Chroma the Great, and Officer Short Shrift as well as demons like the Senses Taker, the Terrible Trivium, the Demon of Insincerity, and the Gelatinous Giant. In all of the places he visits he finds a new friend to guide him on his mission to Rhyme and Reason. The princesses are freed, and the victory of Rhyme and Reason is celebrated.

At the end of Milo's adventure, he hears his friend on the phone and finds out he's only been away for a few seconds. He is about to inquire further when his friend says he has to go, as there is a giant gift box in his room... The film ends with a song about Milo finding things to do and be happy with in the real world, as it shows him smiling while playing at a playground.


Main article: List of The Phantom Tollbooth characters



In 1963, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer contracted with Sib Tower 12 Productions to have Chuck Jones and his staff produce new Tom and Jerry cartoons. For his first project with MGM Animation/Visual Arts, Jones read the book The Dot and the Line written by Norton Juster, which was adapted into an animated short that won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film. In January 1966, MGM optioned to adapt The Phantom Tollbooth into a feature-length film. Jones remarked, "It was a natural progression to another Juster work. On this one Les Goldman and Abe Levitow are my co-producers. Levitow and I are directing and Maurice Noble is production designer." Early into development, it was decided that the first few scenes of Milo would be filmed in live-action before transitioning into animation.[1]

In a departure from the novel, Ralph was added to the film to act as a friend to Milo. Jones explained, "It had to be a boy named Ralph. Anybody called Steve or Mike would have called with something to do. Ralph sounds like a wet tennis shoe."[2]


On October 24, 1970, the film premiered in Los Angeles as part of MGM's children's matinee weekend engagements. The release was accompanied with six other films that were released across key cities throughout the United States.[3][4]

Home media

The film was released in VHS, Betamax, CED, and LaserDisc formats in the 1980s by MGM/UA Home Video. In 2011, it was released in a remastered DVD edition by Warner Home Video via the Warner Archive Collection label. The DVD is matted in a similar manner to Tom and Jerry: The Chuck Jones Collection.[5]


Music by Lee Pockriss; lyrics by Norman Gimbel, Norman L. Martin and Paul Vance (two more songs) unless otherwise noted.[6]

Release and reception

The film was a box office flop.[7] Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the film "is a lively and warming enchantment with real appeal for the 7-plus age group—and the plusses run up well into adulthood."[8] Stefan Kanfer, reviewing for Time, complimented the film's animation, but remarked the plot "bogs the film down. More than 20 characters are thrown at the audience in 90 minutes; children will barely be able to recognize them before they disappear forever." In conclusion, he stated "The youthful viewer and his parents should overlook Phantom Tollbooth's flaws and concentrate on the film's underlying moral. Discovery and delight do not come at the end of the trail, but along the way. The going is the goal."[9]

Time Out Paris wrote that the story has "too many lessons" but "some very nice ideas".[10] TV Guide rated it three stars out of four and described it as "a charming film that combines some fairly sophisticated ideas [...] with cute and likable characters that are sure to grab a child's attention".[11] Tom Hutchinson of the Radio Times rated it 4/5 stars and wrote that the film has "wonderful ideas", but they are "likely to be a bit above the heads of very young children".[12] The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 100% of ten critics gave the film a positive review with an average rating of 7/10.[13]

Juster had no input into the adaptation, and has expressed his hatred for the film in an interview: "It was a film I never liked. I don't think they did a good job on it. It's been around for a long time. It was well reviewed, which also made me angry."[14]


In February 2010, director Gary Ross began development of a live-action remake of The Phantom Tollbooth for Warner Bros., the current owner of the film. Alex Tse wrote the first draft.[15][16] As of August 2016, the remake has moved to TriStar Pictures, with Michael Vukadinovich writing the adaption.[17]

In December 2017, TriStar Pictures picked up the project and it was announced that Matt Shakman would direct its upcoming "live-action/hybrid" film adaptation of The Phantom Tollbooth with a screenplay by Michael Vukadinovich and Phil Johnston.[18] In 2018, Carlos Saldanha replaced Shakman due to scheduling conflicts while Theodore Melfi replaced Vukadinovich and Johnston.[19]

See also


  1. ^ Scott, John (January 25, 1968). "'Phantom Tollbooth' Film on the Drawing Board". Los Angeles Times. p. 2. Retrieved November 29, 2019 – via Open access icon
  2. ^ Chuck Jones (April 1968). "The Fantasy Makers: A Conversation with Chuck Jones and Ray Bradbury". Psychology Today (Interview). Interviewed by Mary Harrington Hall. Sussex Publishers. pp. 28–37.
  3. ^ "'Tollbooth' Premiere". Los Angeles Times. September 15, 1970. Retrieved November 29, 2019 – via
  4. ^ "Matinees Set for 'Tollbooth'". Los Angeles Times. October 21, 1970. Retrieved November 29, 2019 – via
  5. ^ "The Phantom Tollbooth". Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  6. ^ a b c "The Phantom Tollbooth Soundtracks". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  7. ^ Natale, Richard (23 February 2002). "Chuck Jones, 89, dies". Variety. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  8. ^ Champlin, Charles (October 23, 1970). "'Tollbooth' To Play Matinees". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved November 29, 2019 – via
  9. ^ Kanfer, Stefan (March 22, 1971). "Cinema: Oz Revisited". Time. Vol. 97, no. 12. Retrieved November 29, 2019.
  10. ^ "The Phantom Tollbooth". Time Out Paris. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  11. ^ "The Phantom Tollbooth". TV Guide. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  12. ^ Hutchinson, Tom. "The Phantom Tollbooth". Radio Times. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
  13. ^ "The Phantom Tollbooth (1969)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved November 2, 2019.
  14. ^ Stone, RoseEtta. "An Interview with Norton Juster, Author of The Phantom Tollbooth". Writing, Illustrating, and Publishing Children's Books: The Purple Crayon. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  15. ^ Billington, Alex (February 17, 2010). "Gary Ross Bringing Phantom Tollbooth Back to the Big Screen". First Showing, LLC. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
  16. ^ Billington, Alex (February 17, 2010). "Gary Ross Bringing Phantom Tollbooth Back to the Big Screen". First Showing LLC. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  17. ^ Calvario, Liz (6 August 2016). "'The Phantom Tollbooth': Michael Vukadinovich to Adapt Beloved Children's Book for Tristar".
  18. ^ "Matt Shakman to Helm TriStar's 'Phantom Tollbooth' Adaptation". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2017-12-25.
  19. ^ Trumbore, Dave (October 24, 2018). "'The Phantom Tollbooth' Movie Lands 'Rio' Director Carlos Saldanha". Collider. Retrieved October 24, 2018.