A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this isn't exactly a motivational tool if you want your kids to get into music (especially piano-playing). There's a dramatization of the now rather archaic (not to mention unhygienic) "blood brothers" kid ritual. Though it seems ridiculous that young kids could be frightened by Seuss whimsies, Stephen King (!) claimed he was terrified by one of the books -- so there. Maybe the executioner here is the scariest character, but he does nothing except sing and work an elevator to the dungeon. Though it precedes the MPAA rating system, some video versions carry a "G."
What's the story?
THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T is the only story that the great Dr. Seuss concocted as an original for Hollywood. Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) complains directly to the viewer about being ordered by his widowed mother (Mary Healy) to practice piano under stern Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conreid). Tommy calls Terwilliker a "racketeer," a word he's picked up from visiting household plumber Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), whom Tommy sees as a father-figure. Falling asleep, Tommy dreams Dr. Terwilliker as a true criminal, keeping the boy prisoner at an enormous piano in the fortress-like Terwilliker Institute, guarded by weird henchmen (including mutant twins on roller skates, joined at the beard) who sing boastfully of how villainous they are. Dr. T has locked all non-piano-playing musicians in his dungeon and put Mrs. Collins under hypnosis as his cohort/fiance. Tommy's only hope in thwarting Terwilliker's plot to enslave 499 other boys with him in this piano-tentiary is to recruit Zabladowski, reappearing in the dream as a plumber with all sorts of handy (and atomic!) evil-fighting tools.
Is it any good?
This movie looks like a Seuss picture-book come to life, with fanciful soundstage sets melding perfectly with off-kilter drawn backdrops, colorful landscapes, and weird costumes. Though it wasn't a great commercial success, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T gained a cult reputation with critics. The big question is how well a Seuss narrative holds up at feature length, compared with the animated shorts and the early-reader storybooks. This one is certainly padded out with musical numbers and dance routines (the score, though bouncy and Oscar-nominated, doesn't have any really catchy tunes), but viewers of any age shouldn't be bored once they tune into the robust comedy performances and satirical-nonsense dialog that's often funny and sometimes flat-out weird.
Young Tommy Rettig, later a star in TV's Lassie, really carries off the spunky juvenile lead well. You can tell kids that foppish villain Hans Conreid was for a whole generation the cartoon voiceover behind "Fractured Fairy Tales" and other spin-offs of Jay Ward's classic Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the message of the movie, if any. What is the best way to get kids to take up music (especially piano) if they don't want to? You can discuss with older, more movie-savvy kids how the special effects were done with actual sets, costumes, and glass-matte style paintings and drawn vistas, unlike today's computer tricks.
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