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Western Animation / Theodore Tugboat

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♫"Theodore, he's a tugboat and a friendly tugboat, too. (A friendly tugboat, too.)
Oh, Thedore likes to do the things that friendly tugboats do.
Pushing and a pulling in the great big harbor in the great big world is so much fun,
So many brand new things to discover, waking with the sun, gotta get the job done!
Oh, Theodore, Emily, Foduck, Hank, and George, and the Harbour Master too."♫

—>— Opening song

Theodore Tugboat is a Canadian children's show about the adventures of Theodore Tugboat and his friends George, Emily, Foduck, and Hank. The Harbourmaster (played by Denny Doherty of The Mamas & the Papas) introduces the stories.

It was produced by Robert Cardona, co-producer of TUGS, making this a Spiritual Successor of said show. Both are centered on the harbour activities of a fleet of tugboats who wear hats. Unlike TUGS, which was set in The Roaring '20s and were essentially models mounted on trolleys pulled by fishing line, the setting of Theodore is much more modern and the characters are radio-controlled.

Theodore Tugboat is still very popular. To this day, a large-scale imitation tugboat built like Theodore himself, entitled Theodore Too, can be found in Nova Scotia. While the filming models can be viewed at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, located in the show's setting (and filming location) of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

This show provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Theodore and Hank wanting to get V-words. By the end of the series, Emily, George and Foduck were the only tugboats with "V-words".
  • Achilles in His Tent: Two occasions:
    • In "Hank's New Name", Hank, feeling that no one respected him because of his short name, changes his name to Henry. After a big mix-up, a large barge goes out of control and speeds through the harbour. Hank is the only one fast enough to catch the barge, but he ignores his friends' pleas for help until Theodore addresses him as Henry.
    • In "Guysborough's Garbage", the eponymous Guysborough refuses to collect garbage after feeling nobody appreciates him for the job he does, resulting in the Big Harbour becoming a big mess. As a result, a visiting ship, to whom cleanliness is Serious Business insists on leaving the harbour.
  • Actor Allusion: Several of the Harbormaster's segments involve him playing musical instruments. The late Denny Doherty was himself a musician.
  • Always Late: In "Theodore in the Middle", George makes an official complaint to the Dispatcher that Emily is always late to the morning work meeting, bringing up that her lateness delays the meeting and causes delays for the visiting ships who needs the tugboats' help. This results in Emily getting a red mark in the Great Tugboat Book and feud between her and George that lasts for the whole episode.
  • An Aesop: Nearly every episode features an aesop.
  • April Fools' Plot: The episode "Big Harbour Fools Day" centers around George's displeasure with the holiday. Being the strongest tug in the harbor, he feels the festivities are far below him, and he spends the day feeling extra irritable. The other tugs decide to teach George that it's okay to laugh at oneself once in a while.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The stuff the tugs get when a ship named Scally comes to visit, who likes to collect lots of weird knick-knacks.
  • Bad Mood as an Excuse: In "Theodore and the Grumpy Garbage Barge", Guysborough's grumpiness makes Theodore surly and this bad mood is eventually contagiated to everyone in the Big Harbor. When the Dispatcher demands an explanation for the ensuing mischief, Emily replies that they're just in a grumpy mood.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: In "Theodore's Day Off", a tired Theodore requests a day off, and The Dispatcher gives him one, with strict instructions for him to get plenty of rest. However, Theodore can't really do anything on his day off except stay in his dock. He can't go anywhere he wants or listen to stories from his friends (not even Donald Dock, especially given his limited vocabulary). Theodore also misses out on pulling in a visiting ship from China and even working with Barrington the barge. All of his friends are too tired from doing his work as well as their own, which leads to the evening storytelling being cancelled.
    • In "Brunswick's Big Scare" Brunswick the Barge hopes to get tossed and turned or even capsized by an impending storm in the Big Harbor. Soon enough it winds up happening and Brunswick is beached on a pile of rocks. After being rescued he admits being tossed around may have been fun, but becoming beached was not, and he decides to play it safe in future storms and just stay sheltered.
  • Big Storm Episode: "Brunswick's Big Scare" deals with Theodore taking a barge named Brunswick out into the harbor to deliver storm supplies to another harbor, despite Brunswick only wanting to go because he enjoys danger and wants to be tossed by the storm.
  • Canada, Eh?: The show takes place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with many characters named after places around Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia, the Maritimes, and Atlantic Canada.
  • Compressed Vice: In "Emily and the Tug-of-War", George suddenly becomes a sexist towards the titular tug. The two have clashed before, but it was never over each other's gender differences. Thankfully, George grows out of this behavior at the end of the episode.
  • Butt-Monkey: Digby the cable ship tends to get himself stuck frequently. Whether they be sandspits, rocks, cables, or other things, there is nothing Digby hasn't trapped himself with. Of course, it happens so frequently that it's not a terribly big deal for him.
  • Cheer Up Episode: In "Foduck's Hurt Feelings", Foduck accidentally sprays The Dispatcher with his fire hose while trying to spray Theodore, causing The Dispatcher to yell at him. This makes Foduck think that The Dispatcher doesn't like him anymore, and he runs away to a gloomy cove. Theodore tries to cheer Foduck up by telling him to spray him, but Foduck tells him that was what got him in trouble in the first place. Theodore eventually manages to cheer Foduck up when he helps him clean up some barrels that spilled into the water, as well as tell him they can still be friends even if he did yell at him. The Dispatcher also apologizes to Foduck and tells him he will always like him no matter what.
  • Companion Cube: In "Emily's New Hat", it's revealed that they have an item that is special to them and that they can't stand to be without.
    • For Theorodre, it's his lifeboat.
    • For The Dispatcher, it's a flag he wears by his signal reciever.
    • For Emily, it's her hat (which serves as the focal point of the episode).
  • Credits Pushback: An odd example happened on pre-1999 PBS airings of the show. The credits would be shrunk and sped up so that a white border with a blue circle that read "" in the center could appear and the Primestar funding would follow it.
  • Dangerously Loaded Cargo: In "Theodore and the Unsafe Ship", Theodore is tasked with docking Cabot, a scruffy and rough cargo ship who is very careless with his cargo. When Theodore inspects Cabot's deck, Cabot's cargo looks as if it's about to fall off. Theodore's job is to make sure that ships are safe before bringing them in, and the closer Theodore looked, the less safe Cabot seemed. Cabot's cargo falls off his deck and Theodore has to collect it to prevent any possible collision with other boats.
  • Fearless Fool:
    • Carla the Cabin Cruiser lets her freedom get to her head. Sometimes, she doesn't consider the consequences of her risk-taking until it's almost too late.
    • Also Brunswick the Barge who likes getting into danger because he enjoys the excitement.
  • Feud Episode:
    • In "Theodore in the Middle", George and Emily have a feud when George makes an official complaint of Emily for her constant lateness to the morning work meeting. As the title implies, they use Theodore as a proxy to make their displeasure towards one another known.
    • In "Theodore and the Bickering Barges", this happens between Bayswater and Brunswick, a pair of barges that Theodore has to work with. The two barges bicker over everything, from who has more cargo to who's pulling on the ropes, leaving Theodore in the middle of it all. When the Dispatcher suggests to Theodore that he only take one barge at a time, it leads to a fight over whether Brunswick or Bayswater should go first. When Theodore gets fed up with the two barges bickering, he leaves, which gets them to realize that they're both to blame for it.
  • Family-Friendly Firearms: Nautilus is clearly meant to be a destroyer escort, but has no visible gun turrets, likely for this reason.
  • Fighting Back Is Wrong: In the episode, "Theodore and the Boat Bully", Oliver the Vast, a Jerk Jock tug visits the Big Harbor to take Owan the Oil Rig out to the ocean to work there. During his visit, Oliver bumps Theodore in a hurtful way. At one point, Theodore thinks about bumping Oliver back, but decides against it. When he explains his problem to the Dispatcher near the end of the episode, the Dispatcher is proud of Theodore for not fighting back, and tells him that if he did that, it would only make the problem worse.
  • Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Downplayed but Petra is the foolish Sibling while Pearl is the responsible sibling.
  • Framing Device: Each episode began and ended with the Harbourmaster talking to the the viewers. In the first segment, he would tell them about a problem he's having that's similar to the story he is going to tell, and in the second segment he summed up the story's moral. Most foreign Dubs of the Show would omit these segments.
  • The Ghost: The Harbormaster's friend Rodney, who often has something to do with whatever is going on but never really shows up, along with any other humans in the show.
  • Ghost Story: George's Ghost starts out with the Harbourmaster telling the story of the Flying Dutchman. It also deals with Theodore and George seeing a ghost ship who turns out to be Digby, who ran aground in a storm.
    • Emily and the Sleep-Over has Emily, Carla, and Dorothy telling spooky stories. A series of coincidences caused them to believe that they were reliving one of the stories.
  • Hate Plague: Guysborough's known for causing everyone to be grouchy that in "Grumpy Garbage Barge" caused everyone in the Big Harbour to be grumpy. Ever since then, Theodore who usually takes Guysborough has to tow him quickly out of everyone's way before his grouchiness affects anyone.
  • Hates Baths: Guysborough loves garbage and hates being cleaned. When Foduck tried to clean him in "Foduck and the Shy Ship", Guysborough thought he was melting.
  • Hate Sink: SS Malarkey from "Hank's Funny Feeling" is deliberately portrayed in a creepy, suspicious way to help further the episode's message about stranger danger. His name literally means "nonsense," he speaks in a forcedly excited voice in an attempt to hype up nearly everything that he says, he unconvincingly presents mundane objects as fantastical ones to try and earn Hank's trust, and for whatever reason, he wants to meet up with Hank alone without him ever telling anyone of his whereabouts. Hank slowly starts to pick up on these red flags, and eventually, against Malarkey's wishes, he confides in Theodore and the Dispatcher about Malarkey's suspicious behavior.
  • Heavy Sleeper: Northumberland the Submarine works nights, and consequentially, he's rarely wide awake during the day for too long. When the sun is up, he has a tendency to yawn and fall asleep mid-sentence.
  • Hiccup Hijinks: In "Hank's Hiccups", Hank gets a case of the hiccups and accidentally bumps into Jennifer, a cargo ship he and his friends are pulling into the loading dock. Hank decides not to work until his hiccups are cured, so his friends try different ways to cure his hiccups, all of which were met with dead ends. His hiccups disappear when he and Bobby pull a fishing net out of Theodore and Emily's path (which had earlier been knocked off of Fundy the Fishing boat during one of Hank's attempts to get rid of his hiccups).
  • Hypocrite Has a Point: In Theodor The TattleTug, Theodore notices that George's towrope is too long, when tied to Brunswick. He goes to tell the Dispatcher, hoping that he'll be praised for alerting him to a safety hazard. Theodore says that Brunswick could get hurt, only for George to show up and angrily state that Brunswick DID get hurt, which wouldn't have happened if Theodore had just told George instead of tattling on him to the dispatcher. However, it also wouldn't have happened if George had tied his tow rope properly in the first place.
  • Jerkass: Cabot from "Theodore and the Unsafe Ship". Not only was he incredibly careless with his cargo and disobeyed Theodore, but he recklessly sailed around the Big Harbor and endangered the other ships. It takes Theodore tricking him into beaching himself and forcibly towing him from behind to get Cabot to learn his lesson.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: in Theodore In The Middle George puts in an official complaint about Emily being late. While George was most likely motivated by his own pride, Emily's lateness was delaying the morning work meeting.
  • Meaningful Name: The fact that shifty ship from Hank's Funny Feeling is called S.S."Malarkey" should be a clear sign that he's not being entirely truthful.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In Hank's Funny Feeling Malarkey tries to get Hank to meet him alone at an isolated part of the harbor without telling anyone, under the guise of towing practice. By the end of the episode we get the distinct sense that Malarkey was planning to do something awful to Hank, but his specific plans are left to the viewer's imagination.
  • Not-So-Forgotten Birthday: "Big Harbour Birthday" is this for Theodore. It's his birthday, but everyone seemingly has forgotten about it, despite Theodore trying to make it very obvious.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: In "Theodore and the Boat Bully", the normally loud and easily excited Owan becomes very quiet and unenthusiastic when he finds out that Oliver the Vast, a visiting Jerk Jock tug, is coming to the big harbor to take him to the ocean to work.
  • One-Word Vocabulary: Donald Dock. All he can say is "Uh-huh". The junk dock Jasper can only say "nope". Apparently it's common for docks to only be able to say one word.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In "The Cold Snap", Theodore's new tow rope proves to be unsafe, which Petra reports in to The Dispatcher. Unfortunately, The Dispatcher has a bad cold and mishears this as Theodore being unsafe, and restricts him to the dock. Later, after his cold has cleared up and the truth comes out, he apologizes to Theodore.
  • Puppy Love: Theodore has a crush on Rebecca the research vessel. He thinks she's 100% perfect, but comes to realize that she's not, and no one is.
  • Running Gag: The Harbor Master segments seem to have one: more than a couple have him looking for something, and by the time he's finished the story he realizes he was holding it/had it in his ear the whole time. Usually his pencil.
  • Shout-Out: In the episode "Bedford's Big Move", the Harbourmaster receives cookies from his mother that are shaped like Sunshine from TUGS. Some of the character names coincide with other characters' names in TUGS, such as Lilly Lighthouse (Lillie Lightship). Theodore himself also resembles Sunshine quite a bit.
  • Sleepy Head: Northumberland Submarine. However, he only does so in the daytime, as he works primarily at night.
  • Slice of Life: The Harbormaster's segments usually focus on his everyday life, before he notices a similarity to something that happened in the Big Harbor. Many of them also ended with the harbormaster finding a way to tie the story's lesson into whatever he was doing.
  • Super-Speed: Hank, you're the fastest Tug in the big harbour!
  • The Magnificent: Emily the Vigorous, George the Valiant, and Foduck The Vigilant.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: An instrumental of the main theme starts blaring as Theodore is doing something heroic/cool.
  • Theme Tune Roll Call: Towards the end of the theme song, they start listing the characters' names.
    Theodore, Emily, Foduck, Hank and George, and the Harbor Master too.
  • True Companions: The tugs, no matter what conflict comes between them, are loyal to each other to the end.
  • Twin Switch: Phillip and Fillmore the ferry twins do it often as a joke.
  • Very Special Episode: "Hank's Funny Feeling" is a rather dark and mature episode that deals with strangers and child grooming. SS Malarkey was very creepy towards Hank and had seriously bad intentions for him, but Hank is saved and Malarkey is defeated by the episode's end. It was nominated for a Gemini for excellence in children's television.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Canso Colossus has a noticeably squeaky voice for a supertanker. Everyone is taken aback when they hear him speak for the first time in "Guysborough's Garbage".
  • Vocal Evolution: Phillip and Fillmore initially had nasally voices. By the final season, they sounded more like Barney Gumble, of all people.
  • Welcome Episode: "Theodore and the Big Harbor." Unusually, it was the last episode aired for Season 1.

Thanks for visiting us here at The Big Harbor. We'll see you all again next time!