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Yellow Submarine (1968) ~ Review

March 17, 2010

Directed by: George Dunning

Starring (the voices of): Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, Lance Percival, Peter Belton

Screenplay by: Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, Erich Segal, Roger McGough

UK/ US; 90 minutes; Colour; Certificate: U


Yes, it’s the cartoon cornucopia tour de force that is 1968’s Yellow Submarine. You’d quickly suss me out as a bad liar if I tried to convince you I’m not a big fan of The Fabs – and, hot on the heels of that, you’d probably discover this very flick has worked its way into my heart too; in a big way.

And, also in a big way, methinks time hasn’t been kind to this film, unlike the bona fide (ie because they star them) Beatles films A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, this ‘un seems to have faded a bit from mainstream memory. Yes, it’s animated; yes, it features vocal talent doing The Fabs’ voices; and, yes, it doesn’t feature outstanding original songs. But, for me, none of that matters, because Yellow Submarine is a gem; an undeniable sparkling, 24-carat diamond that wouldn’t look out of place mong those floating in the sky alongside Lucy.

Produced in the wake of The Fabs’ uber-famous Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, this movie takes its inspiration, style and tone very much from this fondly recalled, friendly-hippy Beatles era, rather than from their darker, earthier and rockier White Album era, which, ironically, came in during the year of the film’s release. Take, for instance, the Beatles characters – fun-lovin’ and colourfully dressed, moptoppy, hippy types. Take the story – The Fabs are enlisted by a yellow submarine-driving chap named Fred from the green and pleasant Pepperland to save his home from the meany Blue Meanies. Take the tunes that, ahem, pepper the movie – so many of the mid- to late-’60s faves are here. And take, too, the sublimely glorious animation style so obviously and finely inspired by Peter Blake’s seminal cover art for the Sgt Pepper album.

Actually, one might argue that the best thing about Yellow Submarine is its animation. It works brilliantly alongside the numerous musical interludes; many of which would shame music videos from any era – in particular, the Eleanor Rigby, Nowhere Man and All You Need Is Love sequences are great, great standouts. But, for me, the animation works inherently well with everything else in the film – the wacky, witty script that far more than nods to old Beatles favourite Alice in Wonderland; the voice talents including Dick Emery and Lance Percival; and the childish, innocence, but also drug-informed tone of the whole thing.

Indeed, you could say Yellow Submarine is a cross between a fairly traditional kids’ film and ’60s art-house curiosity. But, if it is then, these two approaches work and blend wonderfully well together in my book. It may be too cute and tries too hard to encapsulate the Fabs for some, it may be way too off-kilter and psychedelic for others (it’s very psychedelic, at times like The Magic Roundabout on acid), but neither of these things bother me – I just enjoyed it too much for them to. So pull up the anchor, down periscope and full-speed ahead to Pepperland, for that’s where it’s at – or I’m a Nowhere Man myself!


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