For some, all that needs to be said is that Dr. Seuss cowrote the script, designed the sets and costumes, and was essentially the film’s guiding creative intelligence. Inexplicably, this marvelous musical fantasy flopped at the box office.
You know this is a Dr. Seuss movie when you hear the name of the boy hero — Bartholomew Collins, played by Tommy Rettig (Lassie). Bart, who labors over his piano lessons to humor his widowed mother, mistrusts his piano teacher, the prim, humorless Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried). Hunched over his hated piano, Bart falls asleep and has a dream, which is where the film really begins. In this elaborate, lavish nightmare, Bart is trapped in Dr. Terwilliker’s vast castle, where the mad teacher plans to lure 500 boys to play on his huge piano forever. Bart’s mom is hypnotized into obeying Dr. T’s every command; the only person he can turn to for help is kindly plumber Peter Lind Hayes.
The sets, effortlessly imported from the pages of Seuss, will make you gasp every time, and there are wondrous Seussian touches like rollerskating twins joined at their beard. And dig those crazy beanies! Conried gives one of the all-time camp performances; he seems to dote on the notion of being vicious and dressing in preposterous outfits. If you’ve got kids, they should watch this instead of Jim Carrey’s Grinch or Mike Myers’ Cat in the Hat.