Based on source material held in some esteem (more on that later), Tubby the Tuba is among the lesser animated features released during the ’70s, so even though the story is a harmless morality tale extolling worthy virtues, the experience of watching the picture is quite tedious. Dick Van Dyke provides the voice for the title character, an overweight brass instrument depressed that all he does is provide repetitive “oompah-oompah” rhythms. One day, he breaks from his orchestra in search of a melody to play. Yet Tubby gets sidetracked when he takes a job at a circus, delivering pails of water to thirsty elephants. One of the pachyderms, Mrs. Elephant (Pearl Bailey), asks for a demonstration of Tubby’s musical skills and rejoices in what she hears. (“That oompah turns me on!”) This leads to Tubby becoming a star attraction at the circus, which in turn causes Tubby to become an insufferable diva. Will our hero regain his humility? Will he find a melody to play? As Tubby the Tuba follows the blandest possible children’s-entertainment patterns, the answers to these questions should be painfully obvious. Tubby’s story originated as a narrated classical-music piece in the 1940s, and it was first animated, via stop-motion, for an Oscar-nominated 1947 short film. The expansion of the piece to feature length did not serve poor Tubby well. Even with Van Dyke valiantly striving to inject his characterization with pathos, the narrative is enervated and predictable and stupid, with the material added to flesh out the running time coming across as pure filler. By the time Tubby meets an underappreciated singing frog, the filmmakers seem absolutely desperate to compensate for the limitations of their one-dimensional leading character. Putting this sort of thing over requires magic, but Tubby the Tuba is never more than mundane. One might even say it’s oompathetic.
Tubby the Tuba: LAME