5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Yellow Submarine has resurfaced on DVD and Blue Ray disc. Meticulously restored frame-by-frame, the revamped version is a magical mystery tour for the eyes. The colors pop with the brilliance of a good acid trip. The Pepperland landscape is a playful rainbow of textures in constant motion where vacuum-mouthed monsters suck up the scenery, electric fish play and a yellow submarine can fly.
For those who've never taken a ride in the Yellow Submarine, the bulk of the story is set in Pepperland, a colorful fantasyland where the residents wile away the hours playing music. Their idyllic existence is shattered when their nasty neighbors, the Blue Meanies attack. They're led by a shrill-voiced chief badly in need of Ritalin who asks the leading question "Are you blue-ish?" (Watch out if you're not!)
The Blue Meanies drain the color from the landscape and seal the citizens in a sound proof bubble that keeps them from playing their beloved music. Just before he's bonked into immobility by the Apple Bonkers (some of the Blue Meanies many outlandish henchmen) the Mayor sends old Fred off in a Yellow Submarine to find someone who can free them from the Blue Meanies oppression. Fred ends up in Liverpool, where he enlists the help of the Beatles. It's no small coincidence the Beatles look like the members of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pepperland's most revered heroes. As they make their way back to Pepperland, Fred and the Fab Four navigate the submarine through a wondrous and treacherous ocean. They travel back and forth in time, encountering exotic monsters and meeting the "Nowhere Man," Jeremy Boob. Their mission, to defeat the Blue Meanies and their minions, and to restore music and color to Pepperland and show their foes that "All You Need is Love," is the type of imaginative daydream we all aspire to have.
To be honest, the Beatles had little to do with the film. Yellow Submarine was created by art director Heinz Edelman, director George Dunning and an army of more than 200 artists, animators and writers who knew how to do justice to the Fab Four's image. The Beatles hated the corny cartoon series shown in America produced by Al Bordax so much they refused to give their permission to release it in England and feared Yellow Submarine would be more of the same. They were also still smarting from the relentless thumbs down drubbing critics had given their self-produced Magical Mystery Tour TV special. The group agreed to lend their name to Yellow Submarine in order to fulfill a contractual obligation, but remained so skeptical about the project they didn't even provide their own voices and didn't agree to make an appearance in the flesh until the film was nearly finished. So Yellow Submarine is a lot like the Beatle cartoon series engineered by Al Bordax - fake. But it's done in the spirit of Hard Day's Night and Help -- and we all know how good those flicks were.
Having the Beatles' music on hand is like having them there anyway. Five new songs were written for the film: Paul's peppy "All Together Now," George's transcendental "It's All Too Much" and "Only a Northern Song," and John's snarky "Hey Bulldog" and "Baby You're a Rich Man" (which ended up on "Magical Mystery Tour" soundtrack.) The group cherry picked a virtual album's worth of greatest hits to flesh out the Peter Max-like pop art imagery, including "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "When I'm Sixty-Four," "Nowhere Man," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "All You Need is Love." Through the music you get a glimpse at their personalities - John's cynicism barks loud and clear in "Hey Bulldog"; Ringo's carefree charm comes across in the title track; George's mysticism weaves its spell in "It's All Too Much" and Paul the prodigy is on display in "Eleanor Rigby".
Extra Meat for Your Sub
Yellow Sub's extra features are ship shape - including commentary by producer John Coates, who reveals the difficulty of finding an actor suitable to play George Harrison. (Peter Batten, the first actor to voice George, turned out to be a deserter from the British Army and was arrested midway through the production.)
"Mod Odyssey the Making of..." delves into the film's assortment of outrageous satirical creatures and who or what they represent. Other treats include storyboard sequences, original pencil drawings and photos from the Fab Four's visit to the animation studio in November 1967.
Interviews with members of the cast and the production team are rife with insider information. John Clive, who voiced John Lennon, chokes back his emotions as he relates the story of spending fifteen minutes on the phone with his seven year-old daughter (who'd heard about John Lennon's murder) that although John was dead that didn't mean he was dead too. John Stokes, the film's animation director, talks about bringing his daughter to the premiere and his less than favorable impression of John. George was the only Beatle who acknowledged his daughter and her giddy admiration for the "quiet Beatle" made her think "the sun shone out of his bottom."
Yellow Submarine was written from a child's innocent point of view, but c'mon, this is the Beatles. Everything they did appealed to everyone, from kids who were teething to seniors without teeth and Yellow Submarine is no exception. All aboard!