Beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss made his first and only foray into feature films with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., which he conceived, co-wrote and helped design. Not surprisingly, the look and story were unlike anything audiences had seen before.
Young Bart Collins doesn’t like his piano lessons any more than most kids, but in his dream world, he has a good reason.
His piano teacher, the maniacal Dr. Terwilliker, secretly runs a sort of death camp for young boys, forcing 500 of them to practice twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week at his giant piano with 480,000 keys – all part of his “Happy Fingers” method.
With the help of sympathetic plumber August Zabladowski, Bart plans an underground rebellion. Literally underground, in fact, as the boy tries to spring the miserable prisoners held captive in Dr. T’s dungeon (imprisoned because they chose other instruments over the piano).
The film was a surreal fantasy, perhaps most memorable for an elaborate production number with all the non-piano-playing prisoners in the dungeon. Dr. Seuss wrote the lyrics for this sequence, as well as the movie’s many other songs.
Dr. Seuss’ unique style was imprinted all over the film, from the zany concept to smaller details like the blue beanies with yellow “Happy Fingers” hands and the tall red ladder to nowhere.
The astonishing design of the film is, in itself, an achievement worthy of praise without consideration for the story.
Though The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. was a disappointment in its initial release, it became an underground classic, surfacing in midnight revivals, on television and later on video.
Peter Lind Hayes