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I should love Yellow Submarine. I'm a baby boomer (or at least I was
born at the very tail end of the baby boom "generation"). I love the
Beatles' music. I love surrealism. I love animation. Heck, I'm even an
artist who paints primarily cartoonish, surreal works in bright colors.
I'm a fan of the dada aesthetic. I like intentional silliness,
absurdity and nonsense. In elementary school, I was obsessed with
Edward Lear's Book of Nonsense. I'm still obsessed with Alice in
Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Charlie and the Chocolate factory and so
on. When I was a kid in the early 1970s, I can still vividly recall
watching Yellow Submarine on broadcast television (I can't imagine NBC,
ABC or CBS showing this during a prime time slot now) and being
entranced by it. But I'm not sure if I've watched Yellow Submarine
since then, and this time, it just didn't click with me.
The story, which initially grew out of the lyrics of Yellow Submarine before incorporating ideas from other Beatles songs, begins in Pepperland, which is supposedly located deep beneath the sea, even though nothing there appears wet or underwater. Everything is fine in Pepperland at first, but it's not long before the neighboring Blue Meanies decide to attack Pepperland (it could have been that they just lived in another section--maybe the "ghetto" of Pepperland), primarily with green apple "bombs", which has the result of "freezing" the Pepperland citizens and most importantly stopping their music. Fred (Lance Percival) manages to avoid the apple bombs--he's one of the only persons who remains unscathed, and upon the advice of the Mayor (Dick Emery), he sets off in Pepperland's Yellow Submarine to search for help in fighting the Blue Meanies. He ends up in Liverpool, and runs into Ringo first. Ringo recruits the rest of the Beatles, and they begin a series of misadventures as they work their way towards Pepperland in the Yellow Submarine to see what they can do.
The animation is interesting conceptually. It's strongly psychedelic, of course, which means that it has a surrealist, dreamlike, hallucinatory logic behind it. The colors are bright and garish (which is a good quality to me). Although the animation is nicely varied stylistically, it often resembles a cross between a Peter Max painting and Joan Miro's work from the late 1920s on, with elements of Roger Dean landscapes thrown in for good measure (the Dean element probably wasn't an influence but an example of synchrony unless Dean happened to work on the film some--he was in London, in art school, in 1967).
Given those characteristics, it's no surprise that I love the conceptual basis. However, the realization isn't quite so successful. The main sticking point for me, technically, was that I couldn't get over the glaringly obvious shortcuts continually taken to lessen the workload. There are segments that are just still pictures with maybe one tiny element animated. A lot of the animation consists of repeating segments. The "Nowhere Man" sequence is half-animated, the other half of the song is the first part run in reverse. Pieces of animation reappear throughout the film. Some scenes are just still pictures on a multi-plane system and motion arises only from the planes and camera moving at different rates and angles. Way too much of the film has the feel of super-low-budget Saturday morning cartoons.
On the other hand, even that wouldn't have to sink the film. I'm a big Scooby-Doo fan and the cut-rate animation style from the early years actually has a kind of quirky charm to me.
The problem was more a combination of factors. In Scooby-Doo, the focus is on characterization and story. The discount animation style plays second banana. Yellow Submarine doesn't have much in the way of characterization or a coherent, gripping story. The dialogue is purposefully nonsensical--often it's just a string of arbitrary puns, and The Beatles (whose dialogue is voiced by others) mostly mumble. Even some of the other characters are relatively unintelligible. Instead, we're asked to engage with the film on the more psychedelic level, based largely on the visuals. But the visuals weren't executed well enough to work for me, so I mostly found myself doing three things: thinking "Hey, this stuff is simple enough that I can figure out some basic animation techniques by watching it", intermittently watching my DVD counter while I wondered how long the film would go on, and waiting for the next Beatles song.
The Beatles songs in the film are great, of course. Without them, I surely would have given the film an "F" (a 4 or below). The animation for the songs can even work occasionally, at least until you get to the laborious 1 64 count on "When I'm 64", which was like watching my DVD player's clock take over the television screen. If Yellow Submarine were just some loosely tied together music video I might have given it a higher score. A majority of the frames work as drawings/paintings for me, and I actually like quite a bit of the Blue Meanies animation, but on the whole, the film just didn't click. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for it. Maybe next time.
George Harrison said it best after seeing 'Yellow Submarine' and commenting that while it was entertaining that it really wasn't like them at all. But if you like to support your version of the Beatle myth, this film should certainly achieve that. Frankly, if you really wanted to see the Beatles 'as they were', see 'Let It Be'. Anyway, 'Yellow Submarine' provides fuel for the utopia we all hoped life could be back then. Love, love, love. I can't argue against the churlish who deny all things Beatles. I played this movie for my kids having discovered a copy laying 'or lying' about. They had a passing notion of the Beatles but they all loved this film and immediately wanted to see it again. Obviously they had never seen anything quite like this - because nothing has been done like this since. It was pretty spectacular in '68 and still bodes well today. Naturally the music is still incredibly fresh sounding. Magic! Well, the Beatles had little to do with the film other than the tunes and their all-too brief cameo at the end. But the momentum of what to expect from this gang propelled it into the stratosphere in '68. It doesn't explain why this is still loved by a generation who haven't got a clue. Quite possibly, it's a pretty darn good trip.
If there ever was a movie that was transporting experience, I think
this was it. Right from the get go, you know that it's not your
ordinary animated movie. The style of the Beatles is well captured in
this movie. You need to remember that this was made in the '60s, the
psychedelic era, and the art and color are all that in this movie. The
movie tried to be far out as possible artistically ( Maybe trying to
out do Peter Max. Do you remember him ?) and audiences expected that
because the movie was about the Beatles.
I recommend people to watch this movie because it's a reminder how ordinary our culture have become over the past 40 years. We've actually regressed (yes, regressed) culture wise, and made ourselves less willing to experiment. There was a time when culture tried to be more open minded and less petty (there were casualties along the way like any frontier), and not put so much emphasis on our self importance. As such a reminder, this movie stands out in its importance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Even though The Beatles don't do the voices in "Yellow Submarine," (They do a cameo at the end instead), the animated masterpiece is still a wonder to watch and still holds up nearly 40 years after it was first released. The Fab Four are recruited by Young Fred to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies and their army. The animation is dated by today's CGI/computer standards, but it's still a mind trip. It's interesting how the music of The Beatles is incorporated in the film (Jeremy Hillary Boob, PhD being the "Nowhere Man")and lines that are connected with their songs (When they are in the Sea Of Holes, John mentions that it reminds him of Blackburn, Lancashier, a reference to "A Day In The Life"). It's a film suitable for all ages and die-hard Beatles fans would want this in their collection.
In his fab book "The Beatles Forever," the late Nicholas Schaffner
called "Yellow Submarine" a "last flower of the Beatles' Summer of
Love" and went on to describe it as "a classic example of a myth's
capacity for self-perpetuation without the participation or even
encouragement of the gods themselves."
Indeed. The Beatles don't so much as provide the voices for their animated counterparts, but "Yellow Submarine," like the music that inspired it, has not only endured but gained in stature. Why? The plot is a barely-there concoction of some mystical never-never land being taken over by goofy baddies and requiring the rescue of four well-known lads from Liverpool. Most of the songs we see performed don't really advance the plot the way they should in musicals. The animation is often hectic or weird; Pixar-spoiled eyes may glaze over at much of what they see.
Yet it all still packs a punch, because of its daft combination of surrealism and humor. Tone, too, like the early scene where we see the citizenry of an English city (London or Liverpool, not clear which) going through their gray daily rituals, mimicked absurdly, at times quite affectingly, in a series of set-piece animations performed with photographs of real people to the song "Eleanor Rigby," a perfect marriage of sound and scene that sets the bar for the rest of the film. [Embarrassing personal admission: I always get a lump in my throat whenever I see that man bending down to pet the little dog that leans forward to reach him, the two never quite touching.]
Of course, the only thing missing from that is humor and the Beatles, both of which follow quickly when we see Ringo pursued by a yellow submarine (A suggestion to this effect to producer Al Brodax by John Lennon was apparently the seed of the film). The submarine captain, sole escapee from the now-Blue-Meanie-overrun domain of Pepperland, located many leagues under the sea, has come to enlist the help of some folks who can provide the only weapon Blue Meanies can't face: Music.
Some say the film suffers from the fact the Beatles don't do the voices. I used to think that, too. But the actual voice actors do an extremely good job, not so much approximating how each of the band members sounded but how they all sounded together, throwing up a veritable medley of puns and witticisms with breezy nonchalance. By this point, the real Beatles were drifting away from the state of togetherness they presented so effortlessly in their earlier movies, "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" Yes, this would have made more sense than shooting "Magical Mystery Tour" or following a bogus holy man to India, but would the real lads have put as much energy and passion to their performance as the voice actors did? I doubt it.
What makes "Yellow Submarine" works is that it is a bit of a piffle, taking itself very lightly but invested with a certain deeper intelligence, in terms of its art scheme, composition, and dialogue, that reveals itself with multiple viewings. And there's so much eye candy and overall fun that one readily goes back to watch it over and over again: "Look, a school of whales." "They look a little old for school."
"Yellow Submarine" represented a great advance on several fronts, particularly animation (finding something kids and adults could both admire was supposed to be impossible, even at Disney) and the art of the music video. The "Eleanor Rigby" sequence is arresting, but there's other brilliant adaptations here showcasing "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (rotoscoped dancers that move hypnotically to the melody), "All Together Now," and, most amusingly, "When I'm 64." The DVD released in the U.S. in 1998 restored a sequence us Americans never got to see before, where the Beatles dodge a multi-headed beast to the tune of one of the group's most obscure compositions, the raucous "Hey Bulldog." It's another highlight.
Though it has evolved from entertainment into a cultural touchstone today, "Yellow Submarine" remains an enjoyable, engaging, one-of-a-kind film. Sociologists will do well to study it, and after they've gone to bed, their children will probably sneak down to watch it for themselves. The Beatles' self-perpetuating legacy lives on.
How to describe this movie, in a word? "Psychedelic!" The performance of
classic Beatle songs like "Eleanor Rigby," "Nowhere Man," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "All You Need is Love," "When I'm Sixty-Four," and "Sgt. Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band," as well as the famous title tune, bring this madcap journey through the subconscious to incredible life. The addition of four new songs bring back memories for me of those long summer car trips listening to
the Fab Four on tape. The magical world of Pepperland, land of music and
beauty, is that precious happy state of mind we all try to reach. The future of all that is good is threatened, however, by the invasion of the Blue Meanies, a race of happiness-hating beings, representing that depression that threatens our
own peace. And who can save the world of happiness from the slings and
arrows of sadness? Why, John, Paul, George and Ringo, of course! This
beautifully metaphorical movie brings the Beatles out of the hoakiness of Help and Hard Day's Night while keeping the Marx Bros. style of the Beatles' comedic talents: Ringo, the simple, woe-is-me comic relief, George, the detached,
mystical hippy style meditator, John, the intelligent, smirking boy, and Paul, the happy-go-lucky stage-performer. The addition of the little "Nowhere Man" is a welcome addition, representing the silliness of the continuing search for
knowledge while isolating oneself from the rest of the world. I, for one, was surprised to find that these were not the actual Beatles' voices speaking. They sound so much like them! But, fear not! The Fab Four show up in person to bid us goodbye, and telling us to keep singing to chase away our everpresent blue meanies! So, just don't think that these aren't the real Beatles speaking, they are wonderful with their crisp, refreshing British humor in the style of such geniuses as Lewis Carrol and Oscar Wilde. And finally, the animation! So fantastic,
surreal and colorful you can't get it all the first time you see it! If you are a Beatles fan, see this movie!
I think Yellow Submarine is one of the best movie ever! This is a real cartoon! Not like Walt Disney's Anastassia ! Ok, it's very cute, but it's not GOOD! In Anastassia, or almost every WD's movie you watch 10 minutes of the movie, and you know the whole story! Plus, in Yellow submarine, There's very good songs!
Yellow Submarine, directed by George Dunning (with the animation directed by
Tom Halley and Heinz Edelmann), can be seen thirty-five years later as a
film, for the most part, for two audiences: children, especially the little
ones learning about life through cartoons and movies, will probably be
pulled into the story of the blue meanies who destroy Pepperland, and how
Captain Fred is sent out to bring the fab four to fight back and restore the
land, while taking in the sights on the adventure. That the movie has lush,
striking colors and visuals, a range of originality (if I had seen it when I
was a kid I could compare the experience to that of seeing Toy Story when it
was first released), and includes musical interludes with some of the finest
songs the Beatles produced in that period, the movie works very well for the
parents as well as the kids. Such songs include the title song, "Lucy in
the Sky with Diamonds", "When I'm Sixty-Four", and "Nowhere Man", which are
great numbers, and "Eleanor Rigby" taking the cake.
But that brings me to the other audience, the one that remembers seeing the film for the first time in its initial release- perhaps under the influence of certain substances- and those in this generation who discover it for the first time and are NOT children. Since Yellow Submarine is as much a musical/fantasy vehicle for the Beatles as it is a trippy, abstract art-film (in the later category it's a gem), it could be frustrating to those in the audience who find the animation TOO experimental and, shall I say, 60-ish. And those who love the animation may not like the Beatles. Overall, Yellow Submarine is a success, for the young hippie at heart or the old one wanting to re-live the experience of 1968, and children may be delighted (or turned off, depends on how much they've been affected by more recent animated pieces). A
When the Beatles started doing songs like "Yellow submarine" and "Bull dog",
this film most definitely reflected those songs.
There is such an imagination in this film, a flying hand, a boxing dinosaur, insane-looking animals, spinning tops, too much!!! It does seem like the animators were on drugs. But somehow, they made the film this fun film just like A Hard Day's night! It is a film to experience really.
The Beatles do not voice themselves but the actors who do did a brilliant job, and the films they say do capture the other Beatles films. Besides, there is an appearance from the real Beatles.....
"Lucy in the sky with Diamonds" was a great scene and some other songs are cool too though you do find they just play a song at anything (when they all turn old, they sing "When I'm sixty-four"!.
So see it, see it, see it, even if you may be way over your head.
"Once upon a time, or maybe twice....."
So begins a psychedelic piece of experimental film for kids. Cool songs, witty (and some purposely corny) jokes, and the Lead Meanie (yikes) make for a real fun movie with amazing animation and The Beatles! Rent it.
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