A Year in Shorts Day 253: "Tubby the Tuba"
Sometimes, a film is just so bizarre, so random, so utterly inexplicable that the rational part of your brain which has such thoughts as “Why?” or “Who the fuck would make such a thing?” or “Oh stop, please stop, God make it stop!” are completely bypassed, and you have no choice but to respect it. And Lord knows the easiest way to find such a film is by watching animated shorts. Case in point- George Pal’s 1947 short film, Tubby the Tuba.
Tubby the Tuba is the final installment in George Pal's Puppetoons series, which should tell you all you need to know about how weird it is. I don't know what that man was smoking in the 40s, but I'd certainly like some. Based on a song by Paul Tripp and George Kleinsinger and narrated by Victor Joy, the film follows the titular Tubby, a tuba with a real problem. You see, Tubby belongs to an orchestra of sentient instruments, which ordinarily would be quite a magical experience. Unfortunately, the world is filled with people who don't appreciate the beauty of the tuba, and as such he is often stuck merely providing the beat. It's even worse than being a baritone in a world which favors the tenor! Tubby tries to branch out, but the other instruments bully him and shit on him for trying to follow his dreams. But things change one day when Tubby goes to the park and meets a talking frog.
I think the strangest thing about Tubby the Tuba is how surprisingly not strange it is. Despite being an objectively weird film with an outlandish premise, the short somehow feels perfectly normal as you watch it. It's almost as if the people behind it had no idea how strange a film they were making, and instead just treated it like it was any other cartoon and not the story of a musical instrument with self-esteem issues populated by horrifying, soulless puppets. It's that straightforwardness that makes the short work; it never winks or tips its hand, and instead tells the tale of Tubby the Tuba so sincerely that it slips right past your defenses. It's as if George Pal is saying to you, "This movie's about a talking tuba with an identity crisis. Fucking deal with it!" When you're presented with something like this, you can either accept it or reject it out of hand. And in this case, I choose to accept it.
It certainly helps that anthropomorphic musical instruments are a better vessel for George Pal's style of puppetry than regular human beings. While George Pal's Puppetoons are typically pretty unsettling by default, Tubby the Tuba only rises to the level of mildly creepy. As such, I'm barely disturbed by the sight of Tubby and his friends, and therefore find it much easier to get involved in his plight. And because I'm not spending most of the short averting my gaze in horror, I can instead focus on the impressive craftmanship on display. Unlike other forms of stop motion, the Puppetoons relied on a series of slightly different wooden puppets consistently replacing one another to produce the illusion of movement. That's an insane amount of hard work (not to mention money), and it's easy to overlook that when the result is something out of your worst nightmares. By comparison, Tubby the Tuba is more like something out of a strange but mostly pleasant dream.
It may not seem like I'm being very positive about this short. It may not even seem like I'm saying much of anything at all. I genuinely don't even understand half of what I've written. Perhaps Tubby the Tuba has simply broken my brain. Who can say? Regardless, I just want to make it clear that I actually quite like this film. It has its own unique energy, and a confidence in itself that I can't help but admire. And honestly, that's George Pal to a T. Say what you will about his Puppetoons, or his feature length efforts like The Time Machine or 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, there certainly aren't many films out there like them. Compare that to Tweetie Pie, the short which beat it at the Oscars that year. Even if you're a fan of Tweetie Bird, you have to admit he's not exactly original. Hell, none of the other shorts nominated that year were original! So what the hell. All hail Tubby the Tuba!
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