Why Isn’t The Phantom Tollbooth a Movie?

One of the great joys in my life is reading to my son before bed. I know there will only be so many years that this can continue, and I still have to get through Bridge to Terabitha, Great Expectations, all of the Harry Potters, and so many more. But of all the great books of my (and others’) youth, The Phantom Tollbooth (to my knowledge) has never been made into a live-action film.

Yes – there was the semi-live/animated version from 1970, and indeed I watched this endlessly growing up. But it was abridged, and the animation was second-rate.

What I’m talking about is a genuine, live-action epic that traces Milo’s adventures through the lands beyond. I read Lord of the Rings with Miles, and we then watched the superb movies. We read Treasure Island, and then watched (okay, I’ll admit it) Muppet Treasure Island (surprisingly accurate, actually). But why not The Phantom Tollbooth?

Should such an endeavor be attempted, here’s what it would need to be.

  1. A Tim Burton movie. There really is no discussion here.
  2. Live. This doesn’t mean no CGI, but certainly no cartoons.
  3. The complete story. Don’t chicken out at Dictionopolis and miss the whole point of the book. We need to see the Mountains of Ignorance, complete with Demons, and even some great flashback battles as the Prince of Wisdom first arrives in the Land of Null.
  4. Featuring a new child actor.
  5. Faithful to the dialogue of the book. Nearly every idiom in the English language appears somewhere in this book, and are the source of one of the main joys I got out of it. Only now, as an adult, do I understand the whimsical humor of Milo eating his own words.

It’s quite likely that if and when The Phantom Tollbooth is made into a movie, it will not be a good one. It will probably not be directed by Tim Burton, and it will probably not be faithful to the book. The trailer for Bridge to Terabitha looked so damningly awful I never went to see it. I would hate to see another of my childhood favorites butchered, but the sad truth is that it’s more than likely. Nonetheless, I will probably go to see it, and Miles and I at least will enjoy it.

Update: It turns out The Phantom Tollbooth may be made into a movie after all. Wikipedia says it will come out in 2013, though I can’t say I’ll be thrilled to see Gary Ross direct it. Eh.

One thought on “Why Isn’t The Phantom Tollbooth a Movie?

  1. A movie would be great! I just read The Phantom Tollbooth about a month ago after a friend recommended it and I loved it. I actually had never heard of it. I loved the children’s book fantasy quality of it, but mostly appreciated the wit and clever puns. Definitely a book I want to reread in the future

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