Synopsis: Join the greatest band of all time for a mind-blowing voyage you won’t soon forget. Heralded as “a cartoon landmark” (San Francisco Examiner), this visually stunning odyssey turned animation upside-down with its irreverent style and innovative techniques.
Once upon a time…or maybe twice, the unearthly paradise of Pepperland was taken over by the evil Blue Meanies. All looked hopeless…until the Fab Four sailed in to save the day with humor, music and, of course, their yellow submarine.
Yellow Submarine 6.75
eyelights: the trippy animation style and visuals.
eyesores: the non-plot.
“Hey, would you believe me if I told you I was being followed by a yellow submarine?”
Welcome to Pepperland, a trippy place with a saccharine string section. In Pepperland, everyone is happy and having a good time. However, the Blue Meanies, a silly race of creatures who never say “yes”, resent and attack this magical land, with canons shooting blue rays, giants dropping large green apples on people and big blue gloves (with eyes and teeth) chasing their prey. Thankfully, Old Fred escapes by taking a yellow submarine parked at the top of an Aztec-style pyramid. He will go out for help.
He will get The Beatles.
‘Yellow Submarine’ is an animated fantasy musical based on The Beatles’ music. Released in 1968, it was intended to fulfill The Beatles’ contract with United Artists, with whom they had signed for three films. Disappointed with the result of ‘Help!‘, their previous endeavour, the group wasn’t that keen to star in another motion picture and, thus, felt that going the animated route was an acceptable alternative. Although their animated avatars would be voiced by other actors, they would make a cameo.
The picture was a smash hit at the time and remains a favourite with fans of animation, psychedelia and The Beatles’ music. It’s essentially a series a random, surrealistic animated segments tied together loosely by the songs. Each segment is inspired by its song and includes lots of pop culture references (including some Beatles ones, naturally). It’s a trip that was made on drugs for people on drugs: ‘Yellow Submarine’ is very hard to describe coherently as it’s rather stream-of-consciousness.
The plot is very thin: After the old sailor finds The Beatles (in a strange sequence that has the submarine stalking Ringo until he gets home), they then hop on board, go through time, at first getting younger and then getting older. Then Ringo inexplicably ejects himself of the pilot’s seat and the others must find him in an alien landscape full of bizarre creatures, after which they go through a sea of holes into Pepperland. Once there, they disguise themselves and play music to drive away the Blue Meanies.
Oh, and they free the original Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and convert the Blue Meanies in the process.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Fab Four.
Although the story could be told in less than half an hour, the film stretches onward to 87 minutes, fueled by The Beatles’ songs. Most of the songs are played in full and are backed by the weirdo animation. Thankfully, the tracks that were chosen for the movie’s soundtrack were some of The Beatles’ best, including the titular track, “All You Need is Love”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”, “Nowhere Man”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, “When I’m Sixty-Four” and others.
But then there are the new tracks, one of which (“Only a Northern Song”) was an outtake from the band’s ‘Sgt. Pepper’ sessions. They are all rather lackluster in comparison to most of The Beatles’ output (even ‘Magical Mystery Tour‘), feeling like throwaways or fillers. Thankfully, George Martin was on hand to produce orchestral arrangements of the band’s songs for the rest of the soundtrack. These are arguably the most interesting new tracks of the film, even though they are essentially covers.
The picture wraps up with a short black and white bit showing the actual Beatles trying hard to have fun, and failing miserably at faking their enthusiasm. This very much sums up The Beatles’ involvement with the picture and part of ‘Yellow Submarine’ itself, which is playful and sometimes silly, but self-consciously so. It’s a terrific picture for maybe 20-30 minutes, but its rambling nature becomes tedious over time. It’s best watched in small doses, or perhaps while in a feverish state.
No matter what is suggested in the picture, some things are Beatles proof.
Nota bene: the MGM DVD (which is now out of print) was released with an isolated soundtrack option, allowing the viewer to play the film with only the music. Having been remixed from its original elements into a delightful 5.1 surround track, it’s probably the highest resolution version of this soundtrack available. Although I won’t watch the picture very often, I may just play this soundtrack frequently enough. Despite my reservations about the film itself, that I highly recommend.
Date of viewing: April 26, 2015