Yellow Submarine is a 1968 British animated musical fantasy comedy film inspired by the music of The Beatles.
The film was directed by animation producer George Dunning, and produced by United Artists and King Features Syndicate. Initial press reports stated that the Beatles themselves would provide their own character voices, however, aside from composing and performing the songs, the real Beatles participated only in the closing scene of the film, while their cartoon counterparts were voiced by other actors.
The film received a widely positive reception from critics and audiences alike. It is also credited with bringing more interest in animation as a serious art form. Time commented that it "turned into a smash hit, delighting adolescents and esthetes alike."
Plot[edit | edit source]
At the beginning of the story, Pepperland is introduced by a narrator as a cheerful music-loving paradise under the sea, protected by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The titular Yellow Submarine rests on a somewhat Aztec-like pyramid on a hill. At the edge of the land is a range of high blue mountains.
The land falls under a surprise attack by the music-hating Blue Meanies (who live in or beyond the blue mountains), who seal the band inside a music-proof blue glass globe, make the Pepperlanders immobile as statues by shooting arrows and throwing loads of big green apples upon them (a curious reference to the Apple Records music label), and drain the countryside of colour. The attack starts with magical projectiles fired from big artillery stationed in the blue mountains.
In the last minute before his own capture, Pepperland's elderly Lord Mayor sends Old Fred, an ageing sailor (whom the mayor calls "Young Fred"), to get help; he runs to the Yellow Submarine and takes off in it ("Yellow Submarine"). Old Fred travels to Liverpool(whose scene is set by "Eleanor Rigby"), where he follows the depressed and aimless Ringo and persuades him to return to Pepperland with him. Ringo collects his "mates" John, George, and finally Paul in The Pier, a house-like building on the top of a hill. The four are introduced with accompanying characterisation: Ringo wanders aimlessly around Liverpool, being pursued by the titular Submarine; John appears with literary fanfare, as Frankenstein's monster who drinks a potion and turns into himself; George appears in a surreal, sitar-themed area (with the sitar intro to "Love You To" as his theme) that plays on his championing oftranscendental meditation; and Paul appears as a "modern Mozart." The five journey back to Pepperland in the yellow submarine. As they start learning to operate the submarine, they sing "All Together Now," after which they pass through several regions on their way to Pepperland:
- Sea of Time – where time flows both forwards and backwards to the tune of "When I'm Sixty-Four." At one point, the submarine passes itself as it loops through time.
- Sea of Science – where they sing "Only a Northern Song." Just before the song finishes, they pick up a monster.
- Sea of Monsters – The monster, probably a baby one, is ejected into a sea inhabited by huge fantastic monsters. Ringo presses the panic button on the submarine, ejecting him from the submarine into the sea, where he is riding one of the monsters, who tosses him around, and with the threat of Native American-like creatures, resulting in John pressing another button on the submarine, sending the US Cavalry to successfully defeat the Native Americans, rescuing Ringo. It is also where a monstrous "vacuum cleaner beast" sucks up all loose objects and people and then the entire landscape and finally itself, popping the submarine into a strange empty void.
- Sea of Nothing – This blank region is where they meet Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D., a short pudgy creature with a painted clown face and cotton tail, but a highly studious and helpful ally to the Beatles, who sing "Nowhere Man" in reference to him. As they leave, however, Jeremy starts crying and Ringo, taking pity, invites him to join them aboard the submarine.
- Foothills of the Headlands – where they are separated from the submarine (and Old Fred) and where John sings "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Pepper (foreshadowing that Pepperland is yet to come) causes the beings in the Headlands to sneeze, blowing the Beatles & Jeremy into the...
- Sea of Holes – where Jeremy is kidnapped by one of the Blue Meanies patrolling the outskirts of Pepperland. Here, Ringo thoroughly investigates a hole and puts it into his pocket, a move that will be significant in the final stage of the story. When Ringo jumps onto a green hole, it turns into the Sea of Green and they arrive in Pepperland (moments before Old Fred and the Submarine return).
Reunited with Old Fred and the submarine, they look upon the landscape: a sorry sight. The beautiful flowers have become thorns, the once-happy landscape now a barren wasteland. Everyone is immobilised and made miserable by the evil Blue Meanies, only able to move when permitted (such as when the Meanies feel like bullying them). The Beatles, after defeating some apple-bonkers, dress up as Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and steal some instruments (their own instruments were lost in the Sea of Monsters) from the warehouse where the Meanies impounded "all things that maketh music." The four are discovered at the last second (Ringo accidentally steps on a bagpipe) and a clown Meanie sounds the alarm, causing the Beatles to flee hastily from the Meanies' vicious multi-headed (and multi-bodied) dog. Once in the clear, the four "rally the land to rebellion," singing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," eventually forcing the Blue Meanies to retreat. The Chief Blue Meanie retaliates, sending out his chief enforcer, the Dreadful Flying Glove, but John easily defeats it by singing "All You Need is Love." Pepperland is restored to colour and its flowers re-bloom, as the residents, empowered by the Beatles' music, rise up and take up arms (flowers) against the Meanies, who are fleeing headlong back to the blue border mountains where they came from. The original Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are released (thanks to the hole carried in Ringo's pocket from the Sea of Holes) and Ringo rescues Jeremy. The Beatles then have a rematch with the four-headed Meanie dog, singing "Hey Bulldog," with the Beatles victorious once again (This scene was in the UK version). The Blue Meanies are forced to retreat, and the Chief Blue Meanie tries to save face by killing Jeremy, but Jeremy performs some "transformation magic" on him causing the Meanie to sadly concede defeat. John extends an offer of friendship, and the Chief Blue Meanie has a change of heart (partly due to the "transformation magic" performed by Jeremy) and accepts. An enormous party ensues, where everyone sings "It's All Too Much" with everyone living happily ever after.
At the end, we see the real Beatles in live-action, having returned home, playfully showing off their souvenirs: George has the submarine's motor, Paul has "a little 'LOVE'" and Ringo still has half a hole in his pocket (having supposedly given the other half to Jeremy, which Paul offers to fix "to keep his mind from wandering," a reference to "Fixing a Hole"). Looking through a telescope, John announces that "newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theatre" and claims there is only one way to go out: "Singing!" The quartet obliges with a short reprise of "All Together Now," which ends with translations of the song's title in various languages appearing in sequence on the screen, which concludes with the words "Released through United Artists" on the bottom-right-hand-corner of the screen.
Voice cast[edit | edit source]
- John Clive – John
- Geoff Hughes – Paul
- Peter Batten – George (uncredited)
- Paul Angelis – Ringo / Chief Blue Meanie / George / Narrator
- Dick Emery – Jeremy Hillary Boob / Lord Mayor / Max
- Lance Percival – "Young/Old" Fred
According to the special features section of the Yellow Submarine DVD, Peter Batten provided the voice of George for the first half of the film. Batten was discovered to be adeserter from the British Army in Germany (the British Army of the Rhine) and was arrested during recording. His lines were finished by Paul Angelis (the voice of Ringo Starr in the film).
Percival also provided the voices of Paul and Ringo for the ABC TV cartoon series The Beatles.
Production[edit | edit source]
Development[edit | edit source]
The original story was written by Lee Minoff, based on the song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and the screenplay penned by four collaborators including Erich Segal. The George Harrison character's recurring line "It's all in the mind" is taken from The Goon Show.
The Beatles were not enthusiastic about participating in a motion picture. They were displeased with their second feature film Help!, and were discouraged by the disastrous reception of their self-produced TV special Magical Mystery Tour. They did, however, see an animated film as a favourable way to complete their commitment to United Artists for a third film. Ultimately, because of their relatively small roles and the fact it was animated, United Artists still considered them to owe another film; Let It Be would be the third film to complete their contract with the studio.
The Beatles make a live-action cameo appearance in the final scene, which was filmed on 25 January 1968 prior to the band's trip to India. This was to fulfill their contractual obligation of actually appearing in the film. The cameo was originally intended to feature a post-production psychedelic background and effects, but because of time and budget constraints, a blank, black background remained in the final film. While Starr and McCartney still looked the same as their animated counterparts, Lennon and Harrison's physical appearances had changed by the time the cameo was shot. Both were clean-shaven, and Lennon had begun to grow his hair longer with accompanying lamb chop sideburns.
As with many motion picture musicals, the music takes precedence over the actual plot, and most of the story is a series of set-pieces designed to present Beatles music set to various images, in a form reminiscent of Walt Disney's Fantasia (and foreshadowing the rise of music videos and MTV thirteen years later). Nonetheless, the film still presents a modern-day fairy tale that caters to the ideals of the "love generation".
The dialogue is littered with puns, double entendres, and Beatles in-jokes. In the DVD commentary track production supervisor John Coates states that many of these lines were written by Liverpudlian poet Roger McGough.
The imagery, character names, and vocalisations include numerous in-jokes, such as the character Max being blue and having a German accent, possibly being a reference to the 1966 film The Blue Max, who also refers to escaping to Argentina, as some Nazis had done.
In the DVD commentary track, production supervisor John Coates states that the Meanies were always intended to be coloured blue. However, Millicent McMillan recalls that the Blue Meanies were originally supposed to be red, or even purple, but when Heinz Edelmann's assistant accidentally changed the colours, the film's characters took on a different meaning. Coates acknowledges in the commentary that the "Are you Bluish? You don't look Bluish" joke in the film is a pun on the then-contemporary expression "you don't look Jewish", but that it was not intended to be derogatory.
Animation[edit | edit source]
The Beatles' animated personas were based on their appearance in the promotional film for the song "Strawberry Fields Forever," with the exception of Paul being without his moustache. The film also includes several references to songs not included in the soundtrack, including "A Day in the Life" where the lyrics are referenced in the "Sea of Holes" scene, as well as the orchestral breaks earlier in the film, also from "A Day in the Life."
National and foreign animators were assembled by TVC. Bob Balser and Jack Stokes were animation directors. Charlie Jenkins, one of the film's key creative directors, was responsible for the entire "Eleanor Rigby" sequence, as well as the submarine travel from Liverpool, through London, to splashdown. Jenkins also was responsible for "Only a Northern Song" in the Sea of Science, plus much of the multi-image sequences. A large crew of skilled animators, including (in alphabetical order) Alan Bell, Ron Campbell, John Challis, Hester Coblentz, Geoff Collins, Rich Cox, Duane Crowther, Tony Cuthbert, Malcolm Draper, Paul Driessen, Cam Ford, Norm Drew, Tom Halley, Dick Horne, Arthur Humberstone, Dennis Hunt, Dianne Jackson, Anne Jolliffe, Dave Livesey, Reg Lodge, Geoff Loynes, Lawrence Moorcroft, Ted Percival, Mike Pocock, and Gerald Potterton, were responsible for bringing the animated Beatles to life. The background work was executed by artists under the direction of Alison De Vere and Millicent McMillan who were both Background Supervisors. Ted Lewis and Chris Miles were responsible for Animation Clean Up.
George Dunning, who also worked on the Beatles cartoon series, was the overall director for the film, supervising over 200 artists for 11 months. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was George Dunning's idea, which he turned over to Bill Sewell, who delivered more than thirty minutes of rotoscoped images. By that time, George Dunning was not available, and Bob Balser, with the help of Arne Gustafson, edited the material to its sequence length in the film.
The animation of Yellow Submarine has sometimes falsely been attributed to the famous psychedelic pop art artist of the era, Peter Max; but the film's art director was Heinz Edelmann. Edelmann, along with his contemporary Milton Glaser, pioneered the psychedelic style for which Max would later become famous, but according to Edelmann and producer Al Brodax, as quoted in the book Inside the Yellow Submarine by Hieronimus and Cortner, Max had nothing to do with the production of Yellow Submarine.[page needed]
The film's style, created by creative director Heinz Edelmann, contrasts greatly with the efforts of Disney Feature Animation and other animated films previously released by Hollywood up until the time. The film uses a style of limited animation. It also paved the way for Terry Gilliam's animations for Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python's Flying Circus, as well as the Schoolhouse Rock vignettes for ABC and similar looking animation in early seasons of Sesame Street and The Electric Company.
Though it is disputed whether Peter Max had anything to do with it, he makes this claim in a 2012 interview in Westchester Magazine: "I was very, very close friends with The Beatles, and they were going to make a movie. I remember getting a call from John, saying they wanted me to do it. So I designed it. And then I flew to Europe and found out that they wanted me to stay in Europe for seventeen months and make the whole film. I said, ‘I can’t.’ I had a fifteen-month-old boy and my wife was going to give birth to another kid in four or five months, and I was not going to stay away for a whole year. There was an artist in Europe, in Düsseldorf, Germany, named Heinz Edelmann, who called himself ‘the German Peter Max.’ I called him and gave him the opportunity to do the film. When I met him and he gave me his card that said ‘Heinz Edelmann: The German Peter Max,’ I said, ‘Heinz, I don’t mind if you copy my work, but please don’t copy it exactly and please take my name off of your card.’" The film's mise en scène has also been compared to 20th Century German draftsman and outsider artist Friedrich Schröder Sonnenstern, whose paintings were considered by many to have been nurtured by psychosis.
Music[edit | edit source]
In addition to the existing title song "Yellow Submarine," several complete or excerpted songs, four previously unreleased, were used in the film. They included "All Together Now", (a football-crowd favourite), "It's All Too Much" (a George Harrison composition), "Baby, You're a Rich Man" (the first song recorded specifically for this film, but which made its first appearance as the B-side to the "All You Need Is Love" single), "Only a Northern Song," a Harrison song originally recorded during sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (the partial inspiration for this film), and "Hey Bulldog," a John Lennon piano romp (this song was originally included only in the European theatrical release, but restored for the US theatrical reissue in 1999). Most of the "new" songs used on the soundtrack album were rejected from other projects, being not considered of high enough quality for appearance on a "studio" Beatles album.
The film's instrumental music was an orchestral score composed and arranged by George Martin. One of the film's cues, heard after the main title credits, was originally recorded during sessions for "Good Night" (an album track for The Beatles, aka the White Album) and would have been used as the introduction to Ringo's composition "Don't Pass Me By," also on the White Album; it was later released as "A Beginning" on the Anthology 3 album.
Musical numbers[edit | edit source]
- All tracks written by Lennon–McCartney except where noted.
- Track start and end time is indicated in hrs.mins.secs. These are approximated because the songs are embedded in the film plot and cannot be strictly separated.
- 0:21-2:15: "Introduction Story" music by George Martin
- 7:55-10:40: "Yellow Submarine"
- 10:40-13:30: "Eleanor Rigby"
- 19:00-19:55: "Love You To" (George Harrison) (excerpt, played during George's entrance)
- 22:30-23:05: "A Day in the Life" (excerpt, orchestral swell, starting as the Submarine takes off)
- 23:02-23:08: "Dramatic impact 6"
- 23:25-25:55: "All Together Now"
- 28:20-31:15: "When I'm Sixty-Four"
- 31:30-34:30: "Only a Northern Song" (Harrison)
- 43:15-46:15: "Nowhere Man"
- 48:00-51:30: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"
- 54:30-54:50: "Sea of Green" (a short vocal excerpt when Ringo finds the green hole that leads to Pepperland)
- 56:15-56:25: "Think for Yourself" (Harrison) (short excerpt, a line is sung a cappella to revive the Lord Mayor)
- 1:06:35-1:08:50: "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"
- 1:08:50-1:09:05: "With a Little Help from My Friends" (short excerpt, directly following "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" without interruption, just as on the 1967 album of the same name)
- 1:11:45-1:15:05: "All You Need Is Love"
- 1:16:30-1:16:40: "Baby, You're a Rich Man" (excerpt, played as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are, thanks to Ringo's "hole in his pocket," set free from the anti-music bubble, the recording of the song is expanded for the American-released version, and the scene with the expansion of the recording of the song leads to a scene that replaces the "Hey Bulldog" sequence due to the latter sequence being "anti-climactic").
- 1:17:25-1:21:00: "Hey Bulldog" Originally shown only in Europe before the film's 1999 restoration.
- 1:24:15-1:27:15: "It's All Too Much" (Harrison)
- 1:27:15-1:29:00: "All Together Now" (accompanied by images of the real Beatles singing, numbers and letters, and "All Together Now" translated in various languages)
- First soundtrack album
Main article: Yellow Submarine (album)
The original soundtrack album comprised the four original Beatles songs, two other Beatles songs, and orchestral pieces by George Martin.
The orchestral pieces were also used in the short NASA Apollo 9 mission film, which NASA made for every mission.
- Second soundtrack album
Main article: Yellow Submarine Songtrack
Another soundtrack was released in 1999, which contained all of The Beatles' songs from the film except "A Day in the Life."
Reception[edit | edit source]
The film was distributed worldwide by United Artists in two versions. Released in the midst of the psychedelic pop culture of the 1960s, Yellow Submarine was a box-office hit, drawing in crowds both for its lush, wildly creative images, and its soundtrack of Beatles songs. The version shown in Europe included an extra musical number, "Hey Bulldog," heard in the final third of the film. For the US version, the number was replaced with alternative animation due to time constraints. It was felt that at the time, American audiences would grow tired from the length of the film. Of all the Beatles films released by UA, this had been the only one UA retained the rights to, leading up to its purchase by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1981. In 2005, Sony Pictures Entertainment led a consortium that purchased MGM and UA. SPE had handled theatrical distribution for MGM until 2012. Conversely, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment was responsible for home video distribution when the most recent home video release went out of print.
In The Beatles Anthology, the surviving Beatles, including Harrison, all admitted that they truly liked the film; regarding their initial non-participation, Harrison, who considered it a "classic," later admitted that he preferred that the group did not provide their own voices, feeling that the professional voice actors captured a certain "cartoonish" element far more effectively than they might have done themselves. Ringo also revealed that for years he was approached by children and asked "Why did you press the button?," referring to when his character curiously pressed the panic button ejecting him from the submarine into the sea of monsters. Lennon also implied that his son, Sean, first realised his father had been a Beatle because of the film. After seeing Yellow Submarine at a friend's house at the end of the 1970s, Sean came home asking why his father was a cartoon.
As of 2013, the Internet Movie Database gave it a "MovieMeter" score of 7.2 out of 10, meaning "favourable." Yellow Submarine currently holds a 96% percent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews.
Home media[edit | edit source]
With the dawn of the home-video era came an opportunity to release Yellow Submarine on VHS and LaserDisc. However, it was held up for some years due to music-rights issues that UA had to clear in order for the film to be issued on video by what was then MGM/UA Home Video in 1987. This was presented in its US theatrical release (without the "Hey Bulldog" scene), with a simulated stereo mix of the film's original mono soundtrack. After a couple of years, the video was pulled from release, and for many years copies of the initial home video pressing were considered collectibles.
On 14 September 1999, then-rights holders MGM and Apple re-issued the film using restoration techniques of the time, the sound remixed to Dolby 5.1, and the film re-edited to its European theatrical version with the "Hey Bulldog" number restored. This version (released through MGM Home Entertainment) has since gone out of print as the rights fully reverted to Apple Corps.
On 20 March 2012, Apple Corps Ltd. announced that the film has been restored by hand for DVD and Blu-ray release on 28 May 2012 (29 May 2012 in North America), later delayed one week to 4 June 2012 (5 June 2012 in North America). In a released statement, the company stated: "The film's soundtrack album will be reissued on CD on the same date. The film has been restored in 4K digital resolution for the first time all done by hand, frame by frame."
Apple Corps Ltd. had specialists work for four months to individually clean each frame of the 1968 surreal tale by hand. The company said that they chose not to use automated software because of the delicate nature of the hand-drawn artwork. In addition to the DVD and Blu-Ray re-release, the restored version also received a limited theatrical run in May 2012.
Soundtrack[edit | edit source]
On 13 September 1999, United Artists and Apple Records digitally remixed the audio of the film for a highly successful theatrical and home video re-release. Though the visuals were not digitally restored, a new transfer was done after cleaning the original film negative and rejuvenating the color. A soundtrack album for this version was also released, which featured the first extensive digital stereo remixes of Beatles material.
The previous DVD also featured a "soundtrack only" version, in which the dialogue is removed, leaving only the music and the songs. As aforementioned, the MGM disc is out of print and the film's rights have reverted to Apple who reissued the film in June 2012 on DVD and Blu-ray.
Awards[edit | edit source]
- 1970 Grammy Award for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or a Television Special (nominated)
- 1969 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation (nominated)
- 1968 New York Film Critics Circle Awards Special Award
In popular culture[edit | edit source]
The film's poster contains John Lennon flashing one of the first known instances of devil horns in Rock 'n' Roll. It has popularized the sign that has since been used by many bands. However, it may have been the poster artist's misinterpretation of the sign for "I love you."
In The Simpsons episode "Last Exit to Springfield," Lisa Simpson, under anaesthetic, has a dream sequence highly reminiscent of the film.
The Powerpuff Girls episode "Mime for a Change" starts out with a rainbow similar to the one marking the gateway into Pepperland. Furthermore, Mr. Mime, when he robs Townville of its color, also renders the citizens immobile and silent, same as the Meanies' weapons and the green apples from the Green Apple Bonkers. And the girls, when they sing a lovely rock song about love, restore the color and life back into Townsville, same as the Beatles doing likewise singing Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and All You Need Is Love. Old Fred and the Beatles as seen in the film also appeared in the episode "Meet the Beat-Alls."
In the opening sequence of the third Futurama movie, Bender's Game, the Planet Express ship flies into the giant television screen and, rather than crashing and breaking it as in the show's usual opening, it gets absorbed into the screen and travels through an opening sequence that parodies the Yellow Submarine's journey in the film.
In the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Dewey Cox meets The Beatles in a tent with Jai Guru Deva Om and is offered to take an LSD trip with them. They start dreaming and end up in scenes of the film.