Saturday, February 25, 2012

Stubs - Yellow Submarine

YELLOW SUBMARINE (1968) Starring: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. Voices by: John Clive, Paul Angelis, Geoffrey Hughes and Lance Percival. Directed by George Dunning. Written by Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn and Erich Segal. Produced by Al Brodax. Songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. Music by George Martin. Run Time: 89 minutes. Color. UK. Music, Comedy, Adventure, Animated

Of all the Beatles films, this one had the least involvement from the group. Based on the song “Yellow Submarine” released in 1966 as the double A-sided single with “Eleanor Rigby” both off the group’s Revolver album, the film began production in 1967. It wasn’t until after the group saw the completed work that they agreed to appear in the live-action cameo shown at the end of the film.

The roots for this project go back to the beginnings of Beatlemania. In 1964, the Beatles manager Brian Epstein was approached by Al Brodax, a cartoon producer who wanted to make an American TV cartoon series based on the group and their songs. While not enthusiastic about the idea, Epstein didn’t see any harm and agreed to do it and promised that the Beatles would cooperate with an animated feature, should the TV series be successful. The series ran for three seasons on ABC TV and in 1966, Brodax reminded Epstein of his promise. Neither Epstein nor the group was really excited about an animated film, but thought it would fulfill their commitment to UA for a third film.

Yellow Submarine has roots in the Beatles Cartoon series.
The story revolves around the magical Pepperland, a psychedelic playground that is attacked by Blue Meanies and their assorted co-horts. The Blue Meanies drain the color from Pepperland, and capture the protectors of Pepperland, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in a bubble. In his last action, the Lord Mayor sends Old Fred, a sailor, off in a Yellow Submarine in order to get help.

Old Fred takes the submarine to Liverpool where he encounters an aimless Ringo, who is wandering the streets. After agreeing to help Fred, Ringo gathers his mates and the five take off for Pepperland. On the way they must navigate through the Sea of Time, the Sea of Science, the Sea of Monsters, the Sea of Nothing, the Sea of Heads and the Sea of Holes, which turns into the Sea of Green. In the Sea of Nothing, they encounter Jeremy Hilary Boob, the Nowhere Man whom the Beatles let join them onboard the submarine.

The Beatles and Jeremy Hilary Boob in the Sea of Holes.
After landing in Pepperland, the Beatles see that the landscape has been turned into miserable wasteland. The group dresses like Sgt. Pepper’s band and go to steal instruments from the high tower where the Blue Meanies have stored all the instruments they’ve stolen. They almost get away with it, but Ringo accidentally steps on a bagpipe. With the alarm sounded, the Beatles flee, retrenching themselves and sing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, which sends the Blue Meanies into retreat. The chief Blue Meanie retaliates, sending Glove after them, but John defeats it by singing “All You Need is Love.” The residents of Pepperland, revitalized, take up arms against the Blue Meanies and chase them back to the Blue Mountains from whence they came. The color is restored to Pepperland and the thorns turn into flowers.

The Blue Meanies.
Ringo frees the original Sgt. Pepper band by using a hole, from the Sea of Holes, to allow them to escape from the bubble they’ve been imprisoned in. There are some further skirmishes with the Blue Meanies, including their multi-headed dog, but as is always the case, the Beatles are victorious. When the chief Blue Meanie tries to kill Jeremy, he is instead transformed. When John offers friendship, the chief Blue Meanie has a change of heart.

With everyone singing and happy, the movie changes to the live-action appearance of the Beatles. When John sights “newer and bluer meanies in the vicinity of this theater”, the group sings a reprise of “All Together Now” to ward them off.

The Beatles make a brief appearance at the end of Yellow Submarine.
The animation for Yellow Submarine was markedly different from what had come before. The film’s art director, Heinz Edelmann, had been a pioneer in the psychedelic style. There was a prominent use of photographic images as backgrounds, vibrant colors and there was no effort made to completely feel the frame with animated images. The film reminds many of the art work popularized by Peter Max, though he had nothing to do with the film. Many characters were created for the film that had nothing do with the Beatles or their songs. Included amongst them are the Blue Meanies, the Apple Droppers, the multi-headed dog, the Lord Mayor, Old/Young Fred and Jeremy.

An example of some of the animation from Yellow Submarine.
The animated Beatles were based on the Beatles in their 1967 promotional film for their single “Strawberry Fields Forever.” And while Beatles music is obviously prominent throughout, only four songs were original to the movie, though not necessarily were written for it. The soundtrack gave the Beatles a chance to use songs that they mostly had sitting around: “Only A Northern Song” George’s ode to then Beatles music publisher Northern Songs; “It’s All Too Much”, another Harrison song which dates from the Pepper sessions; “Hey Bulldog” which dates from earlier in the year before the group’s sojourn to India; and “All Together Now” recorded during the Magical Mystery Tour sessions.

The animated Beatles with the Lord Mayor of Pepperland.
The soundtrack includes snippets of songs from several Beatle albums, including 1965’s Rubber Soul: “Think for Yourself” and “Nowhere Man”; 1966’s Revolver: “Yellow Submarine”, “Eleanor Rigby” and “Love You To”; 1967’s Sgt. Pepper: “Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “With a Little Help From My Friends” and “When I’m Sixty Four” as well as the single “All You Need Is Love” and its B-side “Baby You’re a Rich Man”. George Martin composed the score music that was featured on the B-side of the original soundtrack album released after the film’s release. A digitally remastered soundtrack featuring only Beatles songs was released in 1999 to coincide with the release of the film on DVD. However, it was the original soundtrack that got the digital remaster treatment in 2009.

The film proved to be quite popular and spawned a second wave of Beatles-related merchandise and memorabilia, the first since the old days of Beatlemania. There was even more merchandise created when the film was finally released on DVD.

In many ways it’s hard to call Yellow Submarine a Beatles film; they did not do the voices or have anything to do with the production. However, it is still infused with their spirit and is based on their music. It is worth noting that this is the last time a happy Beatles group would be featured on celluloid.

For other Beatles films, see our Beatles Film Review Hub:

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