Expanding the Harry Potter magic for the Young Ones
The final installment of the Harry Potter movie series is just a few days away. And while most movie goers are gearing up to see it, the more violent and graphic subject matter of Potter’s final confrontation with Lord Voldemort may have some parents feeling a bit squeamish in taking their little ones to the theater.
The first two Harry Potter films, “Sorcerer’s Stone” & Chamber of Secrets” are far less intense, more childlike films if you will. Although there are still a few scary parts, the snake-like monster in “Chamber” comes to mind. But the overall tone is more light and whimsical, better suited for the entire family. I particularly enjoy the rapport that Harry, Hermione, and Ron share as they face each challenge.
So to satisfy those who may wish for a little “magical” entertainment this weekend, I have a couple more suggestions that might do the trick. They are part of that rare breed of classic fantasy film with little violence or objectionable material, yet they can entertain young and old alike.
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
From the fervent imagination of Dr. Suess, this rare, live action feature of his work stars a young boy named Bart who is getting pretty tired of taking piano lessons and even more so with his teacher, the strange Dr. Terwilliker (an over the top perfect Hans Conried). In a plot twist similar to The Wizard of Oz, Bart falls asleep and dreams that his piano teacher (renamed Dr. T) rules the known world, has control of his mother, and worst of all enslaves the boys to play his gigantic piano.
If this sounds strange, then wait until you see the bizarre sets used in the extended “dream” sequence which look like they came straight out of a Salvidor Dali painting (rumor has it that Dali himself assisted with the design of the sets). The energy level never lets up and while the musical numbers are somewhat uneven, the unique “Dr. Suess” language is in full form.
“Dr. T” does contain one of the funniest “non-fight” fight sequences in film as Dr. T engages in a “whammy” battle with “Mr. Z”, the local plumber who also fancies Bart’s mom.
Shot in Technicolor and using the full spectrum of color available, this is perfect entertainment for one and all, though I will admit it’s so over the top (like a Tex Avery cartoon) that it’s best shown on special occasions as it can be wearing if seen every weekend.
The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao
A small town in the old west faces a crisis. The pipeline carrying their only source of water is crumbling. They can either go broke trying to fix the pipe or abandon their town. In the mist of this dilemma arrives the curious Dr. Lao (played with great effect by Tony Randell in perhaps his finest performance on film) who invites the town folk to visit his circus. As indicated in the title, Randell plays seven characters including a snake, abominable snowman, and the Medusa. And if you look closely in the final scene inside the tent, you’ll see Randell in the crowd, slowly shaking his head in disapproval.
There are a couple of fistfights and perhaps the really young might flinch at the “monster” (a stop motion animation puppet) who threatens to “eat” a couple of henchmen, but overall the film plays with your imagination in delightful ways. In particular, Merlin’s demonstrating his magical abilities to a less than believing crowd and Dr. Lao fishing in a dry stream bed and catching a fish anyway.
“7 Faces” is chock full of good moral lessons that do not preach, but fit well into the overall story. A highlight features a vain, older woman getting her fortune told to her by the blind Appalonious, who sees more than she wants him to.
I understand that some might object to the fact that Tony Randell is playing a character of Chinese origin and he does occasionally use the stereotypical “pidgin” English that might seem mocking. I would argue that his character is not of any Earthly origin. His choice of how he speaks is dictated by the person(s) who are listening and in no way demean his character.
Now for the tough part, while “Dr. T” is readily available and reasonably priced on DVD, “Dr. Lao” has gone out of print for some strange reason and is more difficult to obtain.
I hope that these two choices will become some of your favorite movie “magical” experiences as well.