The Troubled Timeline of “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T”: Dr Seuss Goes Live-Action? | Lighttrain

Hello, hello! Welcome aboard the Train once again. If you are new here I am your conductor, Gavin Nowak. A pleasure to meet you! I’m almost certain that you’ve at least heard of Dr. Seuss, a children’s book author. His short stories have implemented a flowing rhyme to its own text which have become associated with his creations in general, as well as an overall whimsy and fantastical folly one may only dream of. However, in 1953 the Doctor himself released The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, a film he had written a majority of. It was his first venture into a full-length feature, and didn’t include Seuss’ cartoon style in favor of real performances and sets. So, does this attempt live up to Seuss’ reputation? Let’s find out as we dive into the history and odd nature of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

The movie branched off the success of the television series Gerald McBoing Boing, one that Seuss thought up of. While it isn’t related to the characters or setting of that show, it was an inspiration to the author to try new things. Thus he wrote the full screenplay of what he would call The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. The film was centered around a young boy whom, with the aid of his family’s plumber (Mario?), were to bring an end to Dr. Terwilliker’s tyranny. It covered so-called “themes of world dominance and oppression coming out of World War II”. Huh, alright. So, to summarize the bizarre motives of this Dr. Terwilliker, he wants to enslave 500 young boys, hence 5,000 fingers, in his institute and force them to play the piano, a rather long one at that. Yeah, don’t think about rational logic in this world, since most of it is a dream sequence. And it’s written by Dr. Seuss, that is a given as well.

The picture is now considered a Seussian rarity after its flop on release. How is this so? Well, a simple answer to Dr. T‘s failure could be the tremendous amount of cuts made to the film. The crew behind the project were in the hopes of working on a new musical Technicolor classic, in lieu to The Wizard of Oz, maybe. However, to far into production did the team realize that their film was apparently too dark for their target demographic, young children. The test screening of the movie proved this to them, as some viewers left the cinema, not because of grotesqueness, but for being too peculiar. Singer Michael Feinstein, a longtime fan of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, said, “It’s something either people discover and love it and have this thing for it, or they just don’t get it”.

I suppose imagineering the next Wizard of Oz would be more challenging than Seuss had thought. Following the preview, the crew began skimming off the meat that they believe brewed the mediocre response. Out of roughly 18 musical numbers composed for the film alone, that number was chopped in half. That’s right, only 9 of the created 18 were implicated. Jeez. The movie was released in 1953 remarkably edited down, and proved a mixed bag. Later on his lifetime, Dr. Seuss in fact denounced the creation as, quote, “a debaculous fiasco”. Never since Dr. T has he wrote for the big screen. He believed that he wasn’t meant for Hollywood, but instead books. The film didn’t even earn itself a mention in his biography. How tragic.

Apologies for the grainy footage! This was also the re-release trailer for the film, retitled Crazy Music.

Despite Seuss’ displease with the feature, it remains to this day fondly reminiscenced apon. It currently retains a positive critical appreciation for it’s creativity and infusion of the charming flavor that Seuss was known by. Dr. T has additionaly been dug up like fossils by internet roamers, a fair chunk who have formed a fanbase surrounding this madcap ‘wonderama’, including Feinstein. The group has been described similarly to the cult following of the kooky 1975 jubilee The Rocky Horror Picture Show, as both have theater celebrations during retrospective screenings and tend to quote right along with each line. In modern times, Feinstein and other have campaigned a hunt for all the cut songs in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, and have been successful in publishing a full-blown soundtrack for the picture. Now that’s a devoted fanbase!

Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel certainly took a risk with his film Dr. T… With being too strange and too frightening, production was pure insanity! The creator himself ditched his work and left it in a drought. And yet, the dedication and curiosity of the fans care a whole lot. It may prove to some to be confusing, colorful ridiculousness. But to me and some others who took time to process, from the doctor, we expected no less.




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NEXT WEEK | From Fu Manchu to Tarzan… it’s Forgotten Film Franchises!

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