“The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T” is Seussian magic

Photo courtesy of quanka.biz.

Certainly, most of us are familiar with the wonderfully creative Dr. Seuss. Most of us probably grew up reading his books and, not surprisingly, some of us probably still do. What fun it is to twist one’s tongue over and through his wacky words. The characters he created are uncanny and are as brightly colored and surreal as the landscapes they live in. There is no doubt that Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, engendered an imaginative world of learning and fun for generations around the world.

However, it is very likely that many of you have not yet enjoyed the thrills and laughter of “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” (1953). No matter what age you are, this movie is sure to get you giggling like a child again. You just might even burst your seams at one point. Supposedly, Dr. Seuss thought the entire film was a “debaculous fiasco.”

The movie did not receive much enthusiasm at its Hollywood premiere in 1953. Yet, in 2011, “Dr. T,” the first live-action Seuss feature-film, is a delightful 90-minute ride through the surreal imagination of one of the 20th century’s more fanciful thinkers. And, despite the fact that it did not adhere to Dr. Seuss’s own meticulous standards, there is nothing unfamiliar about the film in respect to his work, nor does it seem to pale in comparison to his better known work.

For us daydreamers out there (and it is hard not to be one if Dr. Seuss has had any strong influence), we will feel a genuine empathy for Bartholomew Collins (Tommy Rettig, “Lassie”), the main character in “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.” Like most young children, Bart would much rather play outside than practice piano for hours on end as his piano teacher, Dr. Terwiliker (Hans Conried), as well as his mother, Mrs. Collins (“Mary Healy,” “Second Fiddle,” “Hard Guy,” “The Yanks are Coming”), would prefer. Bart cannot help but continually doze off. He then begins to have lucid Seussian dreams or, at times, nightmares.

The entire story is focused around a dream that Bart has right after Dr. Terwiliker has left from their lesson together. In his dream, Dr. T has opened up a music school where he will have 500 children come and practice with their 10 little fingers for 24 hours a day; he will have 5,000 fingers playing non-stop. For Bart, this is not only a nightmare because of all the practice time, but also because Dr. T has his mother under some sort of spell. She is helping Dr. T open the school, where he will soon be forcing her hand into marriage. But Bart has convinced Mr. Zabadowski (Peter Lind Hayes), the family plumber, to help him save his mother and for him to take her hand in marriage himself.

The sets in this film are just what you would expect from any Dr. Seuss story. They are fantastical, with wild shapes and coloring, and are probably among some of the most fascinating sets ever made. One particularly arresting set features Dr. T’s magnificent, 500-seat, swerving piano.

In fact, there are times that it is not the story itself that is most interesting (though it never fails to be so), but watching the characters wander through such a strange, colorful and geometric world. It is fascinating to see Dr. Seuss’ imaginative world made “real,” not merely animated.

The costumes are just as eye-boggling, but it is the music and dancing in “Dr. T” which absolutely take the cake. The lyrics were written by Seuss with his (un)usual word choice and rhyming. The score was written by Friedrich Hollaender, who employed a contemporary and sometimes exotic style of music (everything from Argentinean Tango to Broadway show-stoppers seem to find its way into the score). But the music would not be as exhilarating without the exciting choreographed dancing.

In one memorable scene, Dr. T and Mr. Zabadowski go at it, but rather than actually battling one another, they dance at one another, comically trying to out-hex each other. One of the best scenes in the entire film is the “non-piano” scene where the non-piano players must reside in a dungeon. They provide Bart with a little performance which is amazing, quirky and hilarious.

“The 5000 Fingers of Dr.T” is inspired by musicals such as “The Wizard of Oz,” and it leaves you with a comforting feeling that many 1950s films do. Yet, it is completely outrageous, extravagant and astonishing at the same time.

If you wish to view “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T,” add it to your Netflix queue.


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