‘The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T’ Revisited

         
 

13 March 2012| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

I was surprised to learn that Dr. Seuss considered his kid’s movie The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) a disappointment that hadn’t lived up to what he envisioned. I myself was so fond of it from the two viewings I had growing up. Excuse my brain scrambling, but I recalled it as a magical live-action musical/fantasy-adventure set somewhere high in the clouds. I felt a nagging to see it again after Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” became such a breakout hit. What I found is that it wasn’t as magical as I remembered, but please, I still like it.

Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) was responsible for the original screenplay, not the direction. It tells the story of a typical 50’s pre-teen boy fed up with learning to play the piano. Following this quick prologue, young Bart (Tommy Rettig) falls into a dream world where his piano teacher is the evil Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried) who hatches a plan to fasten 500 boys to his gigantic 5,000 keys grand piano and will have them play for an eternity up on his levitating castle in the sky. Bart has just one night to thwart the evil doctor’s plan.

Under the spell of Dr. Terwilliker is Bart’s domesticated mom (Mary Healy) whom past lights out is placed inside a cage (while it’s a cage, it’s colorful and not-so-scary). Dr. Terwilliker has hypnotized mom to prepare for holy matrimony, but Bart would rather see mom marry the plumber Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) who is more of an ideal father figure. Naturally, the plumber joins Bart in his quest for liberation. They dash a series of guards similar to the Emerald City troops in “The Wizard of Oz,” but most memorably, Bart defeats a pair of rollerskating twins attached by a unison beard. But only an atomic weapon can conquer Dr. Terwilliker’s kingdom.

Much invention was made with outlandish costumes, painted skies and baroque set designs with directional hand arrows that are a Dr. Seuss trademark. There are even chutes and ladders for our hero to maneuver around. Significantly, Dr. Seuss wrote the musical lyrics himself (the boys don’t talk their troubles away, they sing them). It’s technically neat-o.

Yet, as you get older, you start focusing on the laboring that went into the sets and chuckling at the foolish grandiosity of the nemesis’ dialogue. The magic is depleted a wee bit when you over-think too much. I would have enjoyed it more had I been watching with a group of gullible 5 to 10 year olds. Gullible might be the wrong word. Unjaded kids watching Dr. Seuss is more like it. And yes, it’s way better than Jim Carrey’s “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” or Mike Myers’ “The Cat in the Hat.”

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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