TUGS: Big Harbor Tugboats is a new special.
The movie opens in the Bigg City Port, with Theodore Tugboat, Ten Cents and their friends disembarking the train at the station and heading to the Bigg City Port to attend Theodore's first star tug summits since his coronation. Theodore is both nervous and excited (or "nervicited", as Warrior puts it) about the summits and self-conscious about wearing his Star Smokestack, but his friends are supportive as expected, believing his new status as star tug should be embraced. In the throne room, Theodore bumps into a female tug half his size who introduces him as "New Star Tug, Theodore Tugboat", and he and his friends meet with Captain Star, Captain Zero and the Z-Stacks. Captain Star takes notice how tired Theodore and his friends look from their trip and sends the seven of them off to sleep. Some time later, as he tries on his Smokestack, Theodore is once again feeling unsure of himself, wondering what will happen now that he's a Star Tug. Ten Cents assures him everything will be fine, and the two of them go to sleep (though Theodore has some trouble trying to keep his tow lines folded). Later that night, a shadowy tug sneaks into the port, past the patrol of the Customs Launch and Bluenose the Naval tug and into the Star Pier. Using Tug magic, the cloaked tug switches Theordore's star stack with a fake stack and attempts to make off with it. However, as the tug sneaks past Ten Cents, he turns left in his sleep at the last second, putting his back bumper in the way. The thief trips over the back bumper, crashing into the dock and stirring Theodore and Ten Cents from their sleep. Theodore, noticing the stack in the tug's barge, cries "Thief!" before giving chase. His shouts wake the other Star Tugs as he passes their docks and they quickly join the pursuit. He attempts to cut the thief off by teleporting, but the tug is just as skilled at teleportation as he is; uncloaked by the spell, the thief is revealed to be a Z-Stack. Theodore tackles the feeling Z-Stack to the dock as they reach a chamber in the port that houses a large mirror. During the struggle, Theodore's stack falls through the mirror. With a wicked grin and a sarcastic, insincere apology, the mystery tug untangles himself from Throdore by teleporting to the mirror and leaps through it, to Theodore and his friends' shock. The next morning, Captain Star identifies the Z-Stack as Zebedee, his former tug. He began his work under Captain Star not long before Theodore but had turned cruel and dishonest when he didn't get what he wanted as quickly as he'd liked. He subsequently abandoned his work (eventually going through the mirrior, apprently). Ten Cents brings out the fake Stack, with Captain Star surmising that Zebedee hoped that Theodore wouldn't notice the switch right away, and by the time he did, it would be too late to retrieve the real one. When Theodore asks where Zebedee fled to, the other captains show him and his friends to the mirror. The mirror is in fact a gateway to another world, an alternate world, that opens once every thirty moons. It used to be kept in the warehouse of bigg city port, as Captain Star hoped that Zebedee would use it to return to Bigg City Port some day to seek his guidance. The captains task Theodore with venturing into this other world and retrieving his stack; without it, the other Star tugs are powerless, and Bigg City looses one of its greatest working tug fleets. Not only that, but the stacks do not belong on the other side. Zebedee would likely use the Star Stack to harm the inhabitants of the alternate realm, and they will not be able to defend themselves against its power. Unfortunately such a task has its share of complications. For one, Theodore must go alone, as sending him with all of his friends could upset the balance of the other world and complicate his mission further. What's more is that the gateway will only be open for another three days. When the moon reaches its peak in the night sky at that time, the gateway will close, and it will be another thirty moons before Theodore can use it to return to Bigg City. With some encouragements from his friends, Theodore steps through the gateway. Only moments later, an anxious Ten Cents follows after him. Dizzy from the journey across worlds, Theodore open his eyes, surprised Ten Cents-now a harbor tug-standing before him. They at least know what his current form is, because what is even more alarming is the fact Theodore himself is now a creature they are completely unfamiliar with: a harbor tug. The two find themselves outside what appears to be a harbor, and immediately begin their search for Theodore's star stack. However, Theodore struggles to get used to his new body, learning to chug upright and get around without magic. Theodore and Ten Cents enter the seemingly empty "harbor", and Theodore gets his first look at his new body through a ferry's glass windowframe. Suddenly, a bell rings, and dozens of multi-colored tugs pour into the water. An overhelmed Theodore stumbles his way out of the crowd and bumps into a pilot boat with red hat who help him to his bow. As Theodore watches her chug off, it becomes apparent to him and Ten Cents that it's not a harbor they're in but a port. Theodore grows more accustomed to his harbor tug body and closely observes the inhabitants of the strange new world he's in. As he passes by faces both new familiar to him, he listens in on a conversation between two tugs: one is being considerably cruel and verbally abusive to the other. Theodore steps in to defend the tug being harassed, but his oppressor shrugs Theodore off and chugs away, saying he can speak to anyone any way he wants. As Theodore comes to discover, that was Zebedee. The tug Theodore stood up for introduces herself as Emily, much to Theodoe's surprise. Before she can dwell on this, Emily notices Ten Cents and starts to fawn over him in the exact same manner her star tug counterpart did when they first came to Bigg City. Theodore ask Emily about the star stack; Emily tells him that she had indeed found the star stack. While handing out flyers for the Big Harbor's animal shelter on the front entrance that morning, the stack came through the portal and struck the back of her head. Not wanting anything happen to it, she then turned it over to The Harbor Master. With this information, Theodore and Ten Cents head to the Harbor Master's office. As he keeps Ten Cents hidden in his barge on Emily's advice, Theodore enters the Harbor Master's office and asks him about the stack. Having given it to The Dispatcher for safekeeping, Harbor Master is mystified as to how the stack ended up on the water. Theodore learns from the Harbor Master that the stack is to be awarded to the Prince of the upcoming Fall Formal dance. Leaving the office, Ten Cents questions why Theodore didn't just explain the truth to the harbor master. He was going to, but he came to realize during the conversation how Harbor Master would react to it; if a harbor tug ended up in Bigg City and told its people about the Big Harbor, Star tugs would consider them crazy. With few to no alternatives, Theodore decides to run for Prince of the Fall Formal to get his stack back, but he just has no idea how to do so. At nighttime, Theodore meets Emily again in the Harbor Tug and Salvage company dock and shares with her his decision to run for Prince of the Fall Formal. The news comes as a shock to Emily, who warns Theodore that Zebedee makes life miserable for those who oppose him. It's here that Theodore also learns about how isolated all the social groups of the harbor are from one another, from the safety tugs to the research crew to the Pilot Boats, and that he'd have to get all of them to vote for him. Theodore is still determined however, and he asks where to find the head of the Fall Formal planning committee. He and Ten Cents enter the harbor repair dock, which is in the process of being decorated. There, they meet another familiar-and at the same time unfamiliar-face:Hank. While the peppy tug is more than happy to put Theodore's name on the ballot, he's less than thrilled to know Emily is involved. As the two of them talk, in enters another face Theodore reconizes:Lucy, delivering cases of oil with the help of Shelburne. Upon learning that Theodore will be running against Zebedee for Prince, Lucy warns that Zebedee is not to be trusted, commenting that the only boy tug in the harbor who's even less trustworthy is George. Theodore takes his leave of the repair dock, and Zebedee enters just moment later with Philip and Filmore. He spares no harsh words regarding the decorations and choice of refreshments, inciting Lucy's anger. When Zebedee learns that Theodore will be running against him, he goes to "meet the competition". Zebedee confronts Theodore in a barely lit, dead end dock and gives him a verbal lashing, scoffing at his efforts to run for Prince of the Fall Formal, outright insulting and belittling him, and even threatening Ten Cents's safety.
- "You want to be a prince here? Please. You don't know the first thing about fitting in."
- — Zebedee to Theodore
Zebedee orders Philip and Filmore to follow Theodore and bring him something he can use to discredit Theodore in the eyes of the tugboat body. A hungry Theodore comes across a oil barge, and unable to get it open, is about to bump it Star tug-style when he's interrupted by Zak, who easily gets a barrel from it. Realizing that he really doesn't know anything about this world, Theodore decides to do research about the harbor to better familiarize himself with it. Much to his delight, Big Harbor has an extensive library. Theodore's attempts at using a tow rope are inept and awkward, he makes a mess of barge loads (handling a number of them by deck rather than by towline), and he has trouble figuring out how to use a crane. Unbeknownst to him, Philip and Filmore are watching him every embarassing move security camera. That evening, as the library nears closing time, it occurs to Theodore that he hadn't thought about where he and Ten Cents are going to sleep. Luckily, Ten Cents had thought ahead and assembled a bed out of wooden beams for them to sleep on, having discovered a rarely used section tucked away on the second part of the library. Meanwhile, Theodore's research into the big harbor has yielded a yearbook. Inside, he found an old photo of Hank, George, Lucy, Emily, and Foduck. Although the five appear to be friends in the photo, they don't seem to be friends now. Ten Cents reminds Theodore that he can't focus on why the tugs are no longer friends: making friends and beating Zebedee comes first. The next morning, Theodore is ready to make a good impression on his fellow tugs, but he finds that everyone he passes in the harbor is laughing at him. As he wonders why, Foduck suddenly pulls him into an empty warehouse and puts him in a new paintjob and hat. At that moment, Lucy, Emily, and Hank enter the warehouse. They show Theodore a video that Zebedee had posted online, showing Theoodore struggling to adapt his harbor form and otherwise embarrassing himself on camera. Mortified, Theodore believes that his chances of getting voted Fall Formal Prince are hopeless. Hank offers to help, but Emily advises Theodore against accepting it. Within moments they, Foduck and Lucy are each other's bows. Theodore breaks the arguement with the yearbook photo, reminds the four that they were all friends once; the tugs fondly remember the photo as being at the harbor's big fair. Theodore believes that Zebedee somehow broke them apart, but the tugs claim it wasn't Zebedee that dismantled the four's friendship but a series of rumors and gossips between them that ruined harbor events they put together: a rumor from Emily to Hank that ruined a auction, a gossip from Lucy to George that ruined a barge sale, and so on. However, as the tugs come to realize, none of them had heard these alleged rumors.
At Theodore's encouragement, Lucy approaches George on the harbor towing pitch, where the two work out their misunderstandings and reconile. With him and Lucy's friendship mended, George agrees to help Theodore become the Prince of the Fall Formal on one condition: beat him in a game of one-on-one. Unfortunately, despite Theodore's best effort throughout, George and his lack of athleticism and inexperience with barges lead to him throughly losing the match. However, George agrees to help regardless, explaining that what he was actually doing testing Theodore's "heart and determination", two qualities that the Fall Formal Prince should have; Theodore proved that he has both. Behind the coves nearby, Philip and Filmore show Zebedee photos they'd taken on their cameras, eliciting an evil grin from the other tug-turned-harbor.
In a refueling dock run by Digby, Theodore bumps into the boat with red hat again. As they awkwardly part ways, Theodore finds himself developing a crush on her. Foduck is quick to notice and discourage this; the pilot boat, Pearl, is apparently Zebedee's ex-girfriend, and developing a relationship with her would likely invite more of Zebedee's wrath. The six friends brainstorm ways to boost Theodore's popularity and get him the votes he needs to be named Prince. Foduck comes up with the idea of getting everyone in the harbor to wear fake tug whistles and stacks, to foster unity and harbor spirit.
"The five of us are obviously very different, but deep down, we're Big Harbor Tugboats! Zebedee is the one who divided us, Theodore Tugboat is the one who united us. And we're gonna let everyone know it!"
The next day, the six friends put their plan into action: a lively song and dance in the harbor that rouses everyone into dancing. But even as he watches on from outside the harbor, Zebedee isn't deterred; he has yet another task from Philip and Filmore. Later that day, everyone in the harbor is seen wearing Foduck's tugs whistle and stacks, and harbor spirit and pride are at an all-time high. But as Lucy points out, Zebedee still sails down the water with a smirk. He whistles, getting the attention of the Dispatcher and feigns distress, informing him that the Fall Formal decorations have been destroyed. He accuses Theodore of committing the deed, even presenting the photos as evidence. A suspicous Pearl listens in on their conversation, then slips away. Theodore is brought to the dock, where the Dispatcher shows him the photos and says that the harbor can't let someone who'd do such a thing run for Fall Formal Prince. Theodore is s about to lose himself to despair when there's a whistle. Pearl enters, presenting evidence she found in the library's barge crate. The photos the Dispatcher was given were in fact altered to incriminate Theodore, by using cutouts of Theodore from the towing pitch, superimposed onto backgrounds of the decorations being destroyed. In light like this, the Dispatcher allows Theodore to continue his Prince bid. Theodore is immensely grateful to Pearl for her help, but the damage done to the harbor means the Fall Formal will have to be postponed until the following evening. Pearl asks Theodore if he wants to go to the Fall Formal with her. Theodore is about to accept before he realizes what the dance's postponement means. Crying "no!" over and over, he burst out the dock, leaving behind a disappointed Pearl. Theodore dash into the flower cove where his friends are picking out their formal wear and ducks behind a Ceilidh's cove, where he takes stock of situation: If he doesn't get his stack back by that evening, the portal to Bigg City Port will close and he'll be trapped in this world for thirty moons. Ten Cents suggests they tell his friends the truth and let them know what's at stake, but Theodore is uncertain, worried that they'll reject him for not being a harbor tug. Ten Cents encourage him, saying that they rallied around him because they saw what was in his heart and won't care that he's actually a star tug, at which Theodore tells him that he's glad he followed him. Theodore reluctantly tells his friends the truth (or rather, to Theodore and Ten Cents's complete and utter shock, Hank guesses at it):
"You're from an alternate world and you're a star tug prince there, and the stack actually has a magical element embedded in it that helps power up other magical elements and without it, they don't work anymore, and you need them to help protect your magical world, and if you don't get the stack tonight, you'll be stuck in the world, and you won't be able to get back for like, really, really long time!"
-Down to the smallest detail
The others are skeptical at this, until Ten Cents speaks up to comfirm this and that he is actually a switcher, shocking everyone except Emily, who's thrilled to finally meet a talking harbor tug.
-George's reaction to the truth
With that, Theodore rallies his friends together in cleaning up and redecorating the harbor repair dock, an effort that many of the harbor's ships lend a helping hand in. When the renovations are finished, the Harbor Master is so impressed by the ships' effort that he doesn't postpone the Fall Formal. As everyone leaves to get ready for the dance, the Harbor Master reminds the ships to vote for the Fall Formal Prince as they leave the harbor and the number of ships cast their ballot for Theodore. In a barge storage warehouse, Zebedee chews out Philip and Filmore for going overboard in their trashing of the repair dock, as he needs the Formal to go on that night just as much as Theodore does.
The tugs return to the the flower cove to get themselves ready for the Fall Formal later that evening. They change into fancier bows and paintjobs and put on decor themed after each of their respective Elements of Harmony.
The tugs arrive at the Big Harbor later that evening in a large cargo ship. As they enter the harbor, Pearl pulls up on a barge. She jumps out and quickly runs up to Theodore, asking if he would reconsider and have at least one dance with her. Theodore, jumbling up his words as he attempts to explain that his flurry of "no"'s earlier wasn't directed at her, accepts.
Inside the harbor, the tugs and the rest of the attendees dance to Pearl and her band's live performance. Theodore notices Zebedee is nowhere to be seen and asks George about it, to which George replies that he isn't there because he most likely knew Theodore won the Fall Formal stack. After the band finishes their song, the Harbor Master and the Dispatcher walk on stage to announce the Prince of the Fall Formal. After some words of praise to the ships for their hard work, the Harbor Master announces the winner- Theodore Tugboat.
As the Harbor Master congratulates Theodore and places the Fall Formal stack on his harbor stack, Philip and Filmore sneack into the harbor through a back entrance and kidnap Ten Cents. Ten Cents screams out for Theodore, and he runs out after the duo, followed quickly by his friends. Philip and Filmore take Ten Cents into the harbor courtyard near the statue, where Zebedee is waiting.
Theodore and his friends find themselves face-to-face with Zebedee, brandishing dynamite and ready to destroy the portal back to Bigg City Port. Theodore tells Zebedee not to hurt Ten Cents; Zebedee, saying he "wouldn't dream of it", tells Philip and Filmore to let Ten Cents go. Zebedee then gives Theodore an ultimatum: give the stack back and be allowed to return to Bigg City Port, or keep the stack and never go back. Theodore, maintaining his fortitude, keeps the stack. Surprised by this, Zebedee tries to reason with Theodore to hand over the stack, to which Theodore replies by explaining he's seen what Zebedee has been able to do to the Big Harbor even without the magic the stack will give him.
Zebedee appears to give up, throwing the dynamite down. Theodore's friends surround him and command him selflessness. Hearing the flurry of kind words directed towards Theodore, Zebedee loses his temper and charges at Theodore, tackling and knocking the stack off his harbor stack. During the minutes that follow, the stack repeatedly trades ropes as Theodore and his friends attempt to keep it out of Zebedee's, Philips', and Filmore's possession. In a moment of absentmindedness, Theodore tosses that stack away, and it ends up Zebedee's rope.
A giddy Zebedee immediately places the stack onto his harbor stack. As soon as he does this, a magical aura surrounds him and he lifted up into the air. Theodore, his friends, and onlooking Fall Formal attendees watch in horror as Zebedee is surrounded by a dark aura and transformed into a demoniac creature, with red body, fiery hat, wings, and a tail. Using his magic, Zebedee proceeds to turn Philip and Filmore into demons similair in appearance. The ships retreat to the supposed saftey of the harbor entrance, but the transformed Zebedee tears away the entire front entrance, declaring himself the ships' Prince" and demanding their loyalty, He flies around into the harbor and projects him magic onto the fleeing ships, hypnotizing them into submission.
With the ship body under his control, Zebedee explains to Theodore that it was never his intention to destroy the portal; he wanted the stack not to rule the harbor but to rule Bigg City Port, with the help of his brainwashed followers. Theodore stands his ground however, and his friends back him up. Unfazed by their defiance, Zebedee hurls a fireball at Theodore to take him out. Just before the spell hits Theodore's friends huddle around him.
Zebedee cackles at his apparent victory but is shocked to find his attack had no effect. A pink force field surrounding Theodore and his friends had protected them from Zebedee's attack. Theodore reasons that the magic contained in his Element of Harmony united with "those that helped create it". An aura from the stack engulfs Threodore and his friends in light, linking each of them to their Element of Harmony and giving them star-like traits, including actual stacks, tow ropes, and hat extensions resembling numbers when viewed from the front. Theodore finally proclaims that while Zebedee may have the stack on his harbor stack, he cannot wield its power because he lacks the most powerful magic of all: the magic of friendship.
The magic surrounding Theodore and his friends explodes, causing a double-helical rainbow to shoot out and engulf Zebedee in a rainbow-colored tornado that strips his of his power and releases the ships of his mind control.
As the bright light dissipates the ships congregate at the front of the harbor. Ten Cents runs out to Theodore, who is lying on the water with his friends. Theodore picks up Ten Cents and hugs him while their friends approach him. The seven of them notice a large opening in the water, with Zebedee-returned to normal-lying at the bottom of it.
Theodore tells Zebedee the he never be able to rule Bigg City Port and that he has shown eveyone who he really is. Zebedee, reduced to tears, apologizes to everyone for what he's done. Theodore goes on to say that the magic of friendship exists everywhere, ot just Bigg City Port, and Zebedee can either seek it out or "forever be alone". Zebedee explains he doesn't know anything about friendship, to which points to his friends and says they can teach him.
As Ten Cents cheers the tugs on, The Harbor Master walks up to give Theodore his stack back, announcing that what everyone had seen that night was exemplary of how a prince should act. Pearl then extends her rope to Theodore, asking him for a dance. The scene cuts to the harbor once more, with the ships dancing to a reprise of This is Our Big Night. Pearl joins Theodore in a very equine dance before the Photographer takes a group picture of Theodore, his friends, and Ten Cents.
Theodore embraces his friends in the harbor courtyard and asks them to look out for Zebedee. As he asksthis, The Dispatcher gave Zebedee a crane barge, with Philip and Filmore followering barge of bricks in order to repair the wall. Theodore tells his friends that although they had only known each other a short time, he miss them dearly. Ten Cents compliments Theodore on his stackon the way to the portal, and the two finally step through. The moon rise to its peak to cover over the center star and with a flash of moonlight, the portal closes behind them, causing Theodore's friends to lose their stacks, tow ropes, and added numbers. Hank attempts to follow Theodore and Ten Cents through the portal, only to smack into a solid surface.
Back in Bigg City Port, Theodore's friends and the captains wait patiently for his return. Theodore emerges through the portal, teetering on his bow as he is once again a quadruped, and drops down to all hulls. His friends run to greet him, congratulating him on his return and the retrieval of his stack. Captain Star asks about Zebedee, and Theodore replies that he's been left in good "ropes". As a confused Big Mac and Top Hat look at each other, Ten Cents comes through the portal shortly after. Theodore's friends sail through the harbor with him bombard him with question, but Theodore tells them he's too tired from all the dancing, eliciting a shocked reaction to them. Theodore bumps into the same female tug he'd bumped into before his journey begin, mirrioring his encounter with Pearl in the Big Harbor world. Theodore asks who the female tug is, and Coast Guard explains that she's a new member of the star fleets named Wicki. Theodore's friends immediately pick up that Theodore may have a crush on her and playfully tease him, and Warrior-much like his Big Harbor counterpart had manage to guess Wicki's exact actions from Theodore's time in the other world.
"Totally reminds you of a pilot boat you met in the other world who played guitar, was in a band, and helped prove you didn't destroy all the decorations for a big dance, so you could still run a prince for the big dance, and then asked you to dance at that dance?! Right?"
After a surprised reaction from Theodore and Warrior explaining that it was "just a hunch", the scene transitions from a confident Theodore and a happy Ten Cents to an upward internal to external view of the Bigg City Port into the sky. The scene fades to black and the credits roll.