Friday, December 18, 2015

A Movie Gift To You: Yellow Submarine

(This post is part of the "Movie Gift To You" Blogathon hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog)

There is perhaps no bigger time for gift giving than the Yuletide. Indeed, the retail industry actually thrives upon the holidays like they do no other time of year. I don't know if most people are like me, but I prefer to receive gifts that have some meaning to me and prefer to give gifts to those in my life that have some meaning for them. Of course, as a classic film buff ultimately the gifts that have meaning for me and many of my friends as well tend to be movies. 

For at least one person (probably more) in my life the classic animated movie Yellow Submarine would be the perfect gift. For those of you who have never seen the film, Yellow Submarine is an animated film featuring the music of The Beatles. The plot is fairly simple. The "unearthly paradise" of Pepperland is besieged by the Blue Meanies, a group of creatures who hate anything happy, especially music. With Pepperland's resident guardians, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, taken out of action, Old Fred (voiced by Lance Percival) is sent forth to find someone to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies. The individuals Old Fred recruits for the job are none other than The Beatles, who just happen to have a striking resemblance to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As might be expected, the film features several of The Beatles' classic songs, from "Nowhere Man" to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band"

While Yellow Submarine would make a great gift for many of my friends, I have one very dear friend for whom it would be ideal. Like myself she is an Anglophile (although she is Italian) and particularly loves the era of Swinging London (including the Mod subculture). Not surprisingly she is just as much of a fan of The Beatles and other British Invasion bands as I am (she got me The Who Sell Out for Christmas).  She also happens to be an animation fan, everything from anime to the classic Disney movies. That makes Yellow Submarine the perfect film for her.

Today Yellow Submarine is regarded by many as one of the greatest animated films of all time. That having been said, it emerged from a most unexpected source. In 1965 King Features Syndicate produced the Saturday morning cartoon The Beatles, which aired on ABC from 1965 to 1969. While the cartoon was a hit with youngsters, The Beatles did not particularly care for the cartoon at the time. John Lennon himself complained that it made them look like "the bloody Flintstones."

Eventually King Features' head of motion picture and television development at the time, Al Brodax, proposed producing an animated feature based on The Beatles' songs, suggesting to the band's manager Brian Epstein that the film could satisfy The Beatles' agreement with United Artists for a third film after A Hard Days Night and Help!. Once he had the rights to do the film, Al Broadax hired TVC London to produce the feature itself. Yellow Submarine was directed by the late, great George Dunning of TVC London, and Jack Stokes of TVC London served as its animation director. Al Brodax would have simply been happy with a feature film version of the Saturday morning cartoon, but the film that emerged was ultimately very different. While The Beatles utilised the extremely limited animation common to Saturday morning cartoons of the time, Yellow Submarine is perhaps better described as stylised, full animation. What is more, Yellow Submarine was a bold departure from previous animated cartoons. It was the first animated feature to draw upon the Pop Art of the day, psychedelia, Op Art, and many other modern artistic styles. It was also the first animated film with a rock soundtrack and the first animated feature with characters based upon real people (The Beatles).

Of course, given how they viewed the Saturday morning cartoon, The Beatles were initially not very enthusiastic about Yellow Submarine. Even if their busy schedules had permitted them to do so, The Beatles probably would not have provided their own voices for the film (in the film John Clive voiced John, Geoff Hughes voiced Paul, Peter Batten voiced George, and Paul Angelis voiced Ringo). The Beatles changed their minds after seeing rushes from Yellow Submarine and even agreed to make a live-action cameo at the end of the film. 

Yellow Submarine did fairly well at the box office in the United Kingdom when it was released on July 17 1968 in the United Kingdom. It did even better in the United States, where it was released on November 13 1968 and became a box office hit. On both sides of The Pond it received largely sterling reviews from critics. Since then  it has since become regarded as a classic. In fact, Time magazine included it in their list of "The 25 All-Time Best Animated Films". The film boasts an impressive a 96% percent rating on the web site Rotten Tomatoes.

For my dear friend who loves The Beatles and classic animation, Yellow Submarine would make a nearly perfect gift. What is more, in many respects Yellow Submarine is a perfect film for the holiday season. While it is true the film appears to be set in the summer and has makes no mention of Christmas at all, the movie's themes fit the holidays quite well. After all, here is a film where The Beatles triumph over evil not through any sort of violence, but through the sheer power of music and, of course, love (which is all you need, as the song says...). Not only is Yellow Submarine then the perfect gift for any Beatles fan who also loves animation, but it is also in many respects perfect holiday viewing.

1 comment:

Steve Bailey said...

Terrific review! I was 11 years old when I first saw this movie (on its network-TV premiere), and I've been crazy about it ever since. You covered all of the fine points, including its quite checkered history. Thanks so much for contributing this to the blogathon!