The first full-length animated feature for both Chuck Jones (as a director) and MGM, The Phantom Tollbooth is a mostly faithful adaptation of the classic children's novel by Norton Juster -- but one that lacks the book's unique tone and spirit. The Juster original had an understated, quirky quality which added to the enjoyment of its complicated and entertaining wordplay. The film settles for a more conventional "cartoon" tone, going for easier laughs, softening some of the character design (of Milo in particular) and treating the story slightly too conventionally. The creators also opted to include some very poor Norman Gimbel-Lee Pockriss songs that do little more than slow down the story. While the voices are fine and certainly professional, they are not as special as the material demands. All of that said, the movie still has a number of pluses, not the least of which is the enormously clever original source material. The abundance of puns, fascinating concepts, and delightful ideas ensures that the movie has plenty of surprises. The animation, while not up to "Golden Age" standards, is well done, and obviously influenced by the then-current "psychedelia" craze, and Butch Patrick is very appealing. Not the enduring classic it could have been, Tollbooth will still entertain its target audience.
by Craig Butler review