Yellow Submarine

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Yellow Submarine
"Written around the songs as it is, the film makes good use of them and they add to rather than distracting from the narrative."

All you need is love, they say. But actually, if your land is under attack from Blue Meanies and the band on which you depend for that loving feeling has been imprisoned, you might also need to travel through strange seas to find four young Liverpudlians who can help. This is the set-up for Yellow Submarine, the Beatles film that barely featured the actual Beatles but has stood the test of time far better than those that did. The accidental offspring of contract disputes, production errors, military blunders and mid-20th Century social conservatism, it emerged as a landmark piece of psychedelia, one long joyous trip also much loved by children and studded with great songs. Even after all these intervening decades, there is very little like it.

Prior to their submarine adventure, the Beatles had expressed dissatisfaction with the quality of their second film, Help! Script writing duties had briefly been given to the playwright Joe Orton, but when one producer observed that in order to be in bed with the same girl in a key scene, the Beatles would also have to be in bed with each other - one wonders what else he expected from Orton - this arrangement was swiftly withdrawn. An animated film was suggested as a solution. Because their voices would be provided by actors, the Beatles, who were keen to go off on tour, wouldn't even need to be present for most of the film, appearing only for a live action musical number at the end. Further complications ensued when one of the voice actors was arrested for military desertion part-way through recording, but another filled in, and the exuberant imagination of a large animation team working with what were then cutting edge techniques ensured that, despite all these difficulties, the result would make a positive impression.

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The diversity of the animation and the way it's brought together in the service of a coherent (albeit sometimes nonsensical) story is at the heart of the film's success. The Beatle characters, based on the animation from the Beatles TV series, are presented in a downbeat way that has fun with their image but doesn't make them especially compelling protagonists, so it's up to the music and imagery to keep things entertaining. Fortunately it's up to the job. Deliberately naive artistic styles depict bizarre landscapes even in the mundane world of Liverpool itself, and once we set off aboard the yellow submarine we encounter increasingly bizarre landscapes full of strange creatures before taking a trip into the rotoscoped world of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. We learn what it's like to be eaten alive by a monster which then eats itself, meet a real Nowhere Man in the blank white Sea Of Nothing and have fun with more holes than it takes to fill the Albert Hall. That's all before the playful glamour of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the final conflict with the Meanies, include vicious little Max and the sinister, unforgettable Glove.

Today, many viewers assume that the Blue Meanies were meant to represent the Conservative Party; at the time of release, however, they were much more ambiguous figures, summing up the qualities of many groups opposed to youth culture and the experimental drug use that was a big part of it. Their determination to drain the colour out of the world makes them highly transferable villains, and Paul Vangelis' vocal work gives them an edge of genuine creepiness. Although the film is a bit slow in the early stages, it picks up the pace once we head out to sea and meeting the Meanies provides a suitably dramatic climax.

Written around the songs as it is, the film makes good use of them and they add to rather than distracting from the narrative. There's plenty of appeal here for lovers of the Beatles' music and a real sense of fun that invites audiences of all ages and levels of sobriety to kick back and have a good time.

Reviewed on: 05 Jul 2018
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Four Liverpool lads take a trip on a Yellow Submarine to save Pepperland from the Blue Meanies.
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Director: George Dunning

Writer: Lee Minoff, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, Erich Segal, Roger McGough

Starring: The Beatles, Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, Lance Percival, Peter Batten, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, The Beatles, Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery

Year: 1968

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: UK, US

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