Being G-rated, Tugger assures concerned parents their ears won’t be assaulted by swear words. Alas, the 65-minute film is so boring that the attempt to avoid being offensive might put them to sleep. In its favor, Tugger’s visual style is delightfully vibrant, crisp and clever, with a lovely, World War II-era vintage look. But the story is so uninvolving that no amount of drawing skill can make the movie soar.
Tugger the Jeep (voice by Jim Belushi) survives WWII by having his engine fan replaced with an airplane propeller. Thus, when Tugger is shipped to Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, Ariz., after the war, he dreams of being able to fly. His parents, the Shell gasoline pumps, think he’s nuts, but they’re proud of him anyway.
Disregarding Shorty, his shortwave radio pal (voice by Carrot Top), who insists that “Jeeps can’t fly,” Tugger attaches wings and a fuselage to himself and takes off. He actually manages to get into the air for a few seconds before a jet plane lands on him and reduces him to “a bucket of bolts.”
Tugger is then booted off to storage on blocks and forgotten for about 10 years. All this time, the wheel-less Jeep dreams of flying. Then one day, Tugger is discovered by a smart young Air Force mechanic. He renovates Tugger and adds a spanking-new, patriotic paint job. Then Tugger gets to fly in the cargo plane that accompanies the Air Force Thunderbirds exhibitions.
See? If you stay in an abandoned hangar long enough, and hope, hope, hope, you, too, will be discovered by a young man in uniform who will make your dreams come true. Argh! Is this the pabulum-message we want to impart to our kids? The lesson of Tugger is not for tykes but for its filmmakers: Machines, even war-hero Jeeps, are not interesting enough characters to carry a whole movie. Kids want to see kids in movies, or at least human-like fuzzy animals. Big-budget Robots had the same problem. And with only one female presence in the entire movie — the fire engine who’s paranoid about people walking underneath her ladder — Tugger dismisses half its audience from the get-go.
It’s obvious Tugger was a labor of love for the small company, former Disneyites, that made it. I wish them well — and I wish they’d put their obvious talents to work creating the one thing that will guarantee them success in Tugger’s next outing: a meaningful story. Rated G.
— reviewed by Marci Miller