June 5, 2012
Based on the song of the same name, Yellow Submarine (1968) was not a film that the Beatles were keen on making. They were unhappy with how Help! (1965) had turned out as well as their self-produced television special Magical Mystery Tour (1967). However, they were contracted to make a third film for United Artists and felt that an animated film would be an easy way to do it, cheekily filming a cameo that appeared at the end of the final product. Yellow Submarine went on to become a box office hit and is now regarded as an animated classic.
We are introduced to Pepperland, an idyllic if not psychedelic-looking paradise where everyone lives in harmony. However, this existence is threatened by the music-hating Blue Meanies who attack Pepperland and immobilize most of its population, draining it of color. Old Fred (voiced by Percival) manages to escape in the Yellow Submarine and travels through a surreal landscape with animation that would anticipate Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python. So we see the submersible traverse cobblestone roadways and pass by groups of European football players and politicians. Old Fred tracks down and recruits Ringo (Angelis) in Liverpool to help and he, in turn, enlists the rest of the Beatles: John (Clive), George (Angelis) and Paul (Hughes) to help combat the Blue Meanies.
Yellow Submarine is a very experimental animated film that pushes the boundaries even more so than Fantasia (1940). It is clearly a product of its time as it mixes photographs with animation in a highly unconventional way that reflects the experimental phase that the Beatles were going through. The film resembles a 90-minute acid trip where the Beatles are, at one point, transformed into little kids and then old men.
Several sequences serve as visual representations of classic Beatles songs. The band didn’t actually supply the voices of themselves in the film, just their singing ones, of course. Over the course of the film, they roll out one gem after another – “Yellow Submarine”, “When I’m Sixty-Four”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Nowhere Man”, and so on. The film also utilizes several different styles of animation, which only enhances the trippy atmosphere.
Yellow Submarine is the film you want to buy to get friends and family into the Beatles with mind-blowing animation for the adults and the sing-a-long aspects for kids (and adults). As per the convention of musicals, the songs take priority over the story but feature themes and imagery that pays tribute to the “love generation” of the 1960s. Usually, when a film is said to be a product of its times this is a nice way of saying it is dated but Yellow Submarine has done so in a good way. It works so well because it is a snapshot of its times and the Beatles music is timeless, just waiting to be rediscovered by future generations.
For this new Blu-Ray release, Yellow Submarine has been beautiful restored in stunning 4K digital resolution all of which was done by hand, frame by frame due to the delicate nature of the hand-drawn artwork. The end result is a flawless transfer.
There is an audio commentary by production supervisor John Coates with additional comments by art director Heinz Edelmann. Coates takes us through the genesis of the film. He had worked on the Beatles T.V. show and was approached to do a film. The band was apprehensive about an animated film for fear of being Disney-fied. Because of their fame, Coates couldn’t get them into the studio to do the voices for their characters and cast sound-a-likes instead. He comes across as a little dry at times but takes us through the fascinating process of making Yellow Submarine.
“Mod Odyssey” is a brief making of featurette made at the time of the film’s release. For a promotional reel, it is surprisingly informative.
Also included is the original theatrical trailer.
There are storyboards for three sequences split-screened with their corresponding scene to see how one differed from the other.
There are the “Original Pencil Drawings” for the All You Need Is Love sequence. It gives you an idea of how they wanted it to look right down to the colors that were to be used.
“Behind the Scenes Photos” were taken during a visit by the Beatles to the animation studio where the film was being made.
Paul Angelis, who did the voices of Ringo and Chief Blue Meanie, is interviewed. He talks about how he approached doing the voices and separating each one of the Beatles so that they were distinctive.
Also interviewed is John Clive, voice of John. He talks about where he was when Lennon died and how it affected his daughter.
Key animator David Livesey is interviewed. He talks about how he translated the character designs into animation, like how they moved for example.
There is an interview with Heinz Edelmann’s assistant Millicent McMillan. She talks about designing the Blue Meanies.
There is an interview with Jack Stokes, animation director. He talks about meeting the Beatles and his impressions of them.
Finally, there is an interview with Erich Segal, one of the film’s writers. He talks about how he got involved in the project.