“Are you, uh, Blueish? You don’t look Blueish…”
The Scoop: 1968 G, directed by George Dunning and starring the Beatles, Paul Angelis, John Clive, Dick Emery, Geoffrey Hughes, Lance Percival and Peter Batten.
Tagline: It’s all in the mind, y’know.
Summary Capsule: Beatles + animation + goodness only knows what else = weird, wild wonderfulness. Groovy, baby.
Deneb’s rating: 4.8 gigantic green apples out of five.
Deneb’s review: Ah, the Beatles. Who doesn’t like the Beatles? Even if they’re not precisely your musical cup of tea, I’ve never yet met someone who didn’t at least appreciate them. Sure, we’ve perhaps been a bit over-exposed at this point, what with all the books and documentaries and parodies and whatnot, but even so, the Lads from Liverpool are just as relevant nowadays as they’ve ever been.
And that’s now. Back then – yowza. They were on everything from people’s minds to their lunchboxes to their TV sets – and on the big screen, too. Yes, movies – good movies, believe it or not (and in an era where the current standard for such things amounts to nauseatingly self-congratulatory pap, that may indeed be hard to believe). And one of those movies was… well, never mind the fugue I had in mind; this one defies fugues. It’s Yellow Submarine; it’s the only animated Beatles movie ever made, let’s get into it.
The film begins in a magical land beneath the sea – not as in wet and watery, though; no, this is more like Shangri-La (although considerably more British). It is known as Pepperland, and a wonderful place it is indeed – love (particularly a love of music) is the core value around which it is based, and all its inhabitants live lives of peace, happiness and tranquility.
Unfortunately, every place has enemies, and this one is no exception. Lurking on its mountainous fringes is a group of malevolent malcontents – the Blue Meanies. These creatures hate love, and positivity, and most especially music. In short, they hate everything that Pepperland stands for – and wouldn’t you know it, they’re just now massing for an attack. Catching everyone by surprise, they quickly overrun the place, and replace its color and joy with gray-blue misery.
Looks like everything is doomed – or is it? You see, set in a place of honor at the center of the small country is a rather unusual vehicle, a bright yellow submarine of strange design. It is the only way to navigate through the seas above to reach the outside world. As such, a nautical sort of character by the name of Old Fred is sent out with but one mission: bring back help, and save Pepperland!
So off he goes, and ends up in the middle of Liverpool, where, wouldn’t you know it, he encounters Ringo Starr, who in this version of things lives together with his bandmates in their… er… somewhat unusual house. The Pepperlander quickly manages to persuade the four to come back with him, because hey – nothing else to do.
Thus begins their journey, through a theoretically underwater phantasmagoria of bizarreness. They pass through, among others, the Sea of Time, the Sea of Monsters, and the Sea of Nothing, encountering various adventures along the way. But once they finally do reach Pepperland, what can even the Beatles do against an army of fanatical music-haters? Well… it may be easier than you think.
Let’s not beat around the bush – Yellow Submarine is terrific stuff. It is something like the platonic ideal of the ‘60’s encapsulated in movie form – everything that people tend to look back on with fondness about the era, the idealism, the color, the willingness to think outside the box in strange and unusual ways, and, of course, the music. This is a movie that truly believes that yeah, all you need is love. It’s about as benign as is humanly possible – even the villains, though they are villainous and need to be stopped, are not truly all that bad when you get to know them. It’s just so basically optimistic that it can’t help but make one smile.
That’s a personal impression, though – objectively speaking, what is it that makes YS so… itself? Well, to start with, it doesn’t actually have very much to do with the Beatles, and despite the fact that it is theoretically their movie, that is very much a good thing.
See, here’s the issue – though them wacky Bug-band boys ultimately had more interesting careers than most, there’s only so much that can be done with a rock band when it comes to centering a movie around them, especially when it’s one like the Beatles that defined the term ‘screaming hordes of fans’. If you’re trying to appeal to that kind of audience, you can’t very well not depict their heroes as anything but squeaky-clean, vaguely abstracted versions of themselves; there’s no chance of getting into the gritty ins and outs of such a band, the pressures of fame, etc. The fans want their heroes as perfect, or nearly so, and by gum you will provide them with that interpretation, or your movie will flop harder than an off-balance giant.
Within those limits, therefore, what more was left? They’d made the semi-realistic concert/tour movie (A Hard Day’s Night), the ‘wacky adventures’ movie (Help!), the stream-of-consciousness artistic road movie (Magical Mystery Tour) – the boys themselves were just about tapped out. Therefore, the makers of Yellow Submarine made the wise decision to not make the movie about them – it’s not even really about their music, although that is obviously a prominent element. It’s more that they took some thematic material suggested to them by said music, then spun it out into their own unique creation. And it is unique. Very, very unique.
This is going to wind up being a somewhat short review, because a lot of the movie is literally indescribable; you’ve got to see it for yourself. Suffice it to say, however, that YS is, beyond a doubt, one of the most colorful, surreal, artistically exuberant films ever made. Its visuals are off the freaking charts, and the audibles ain’t bad, either – one could, indeed, refer to it as the best and longest music video in history.
Which is not (and when has this ever been the case?) to say that it is perfect, however. Although there is a plot, and a good one, there are segments where it gets bogged down a bit in one after another musical number – none of which are bad, or unwelcome, but one does kind of wish they’d get back to telling the story. And while I (and many others) think that the animation is overall terrific, there’s no denying that it lacks the slickly professional appearance that, say, most Disney flicks possess. It was made on a shoestring, and for all its quality, it does show it.
Also, a bone of contention amongst many Beatles fans has been the fact that the Beatles themselves weren’t actually involved with a lot of the film – instead, their characters were voiced by professional voice actors (although the genuine article do make an appearance at one point). They do a pretty decent job of imitating the Fab Four’s Liverpudlian tones, but the only people who sounded exactly like the real Beatles were the real Beatles, and these guys clearly aren’t them. Instead, they’re the animated Beatles, imperfect copies of the real thing. Some people apparently take issue with that.
Not me, though. If anything, I think the band’s depiction is one of the things that makes the movie. You couldn’t really say they have much character here, at least beyond the basics – Ringo is kind of hapless and everymannish, John is the oddball wise man, Paul is the smooth dude, and George is… kind of a wisecracker, I guess – but it’s the delivery that really sells it. These guys take everything completely in stride, immediately have something to say about whatever it is – generally involving some sort of wordplay/pun/non sequitur – and do so in such a profoundly deadpan way that they make even the most stridently hallucinatory encounters seem… well, not normal, exactly, but semi-reasonable, at any rate. (Which is a pretty decent creative decision, if you think about it – with stuff this weird, it’s either straight-faced or it’s ‘Bwuh?’, and the latter could get very annoying.)
No, the distinctiveness in this one belongs to the villains – and what villains! The Blue Meanies have got to be some of the most iconically weird antagonists of animation or film in general. What with their wooly bodies, six-fingered hands, and penchant for Mickey Mouse hats (yes, really), they stand out, to say the least – and that’s not even including the various sub-varieties, such as the Bonkers, Butterfly Stompers, and Snapping Turks. (And the Dreadful Flying Glove, of course. Mustn’t forget the Dreadful Flying Glove.)
It would be a misnomer to say that any of them have what might be termed hidden depths – they just really hate music and nice things – but one worth mentioning is the Chief Blue Meanie (along with his hapless sidekick, Max). This guy is crazy even by the standards of the people he leads – he’s essentially bipolar, switching from cooing affection to screaming fits of hysterics at the drop of a hat. He doesn’t so much chew the scenery as chop it to bits with an oversized pair of dentures and then masticate it like a cow. ‘Over the top’ is putting it mildly.
Finally, one would be remiss if one failed to mention Jeremy Hilary Boob, a strange little creature that the Beatles encounter on their way to Pepperland. He’s an enthusiastically intellectual fellow with a penchant for rhyming and… well, there’s not much more I can say about him without getting into semi-spoilers. He doesn’t affect the plot very much, but he’s certainly one of the movie’s more endearingly memorable characters.
Really, what more is there to be said about Yellow Submarine? Do I recommend it? Heck yeah! It won’t appeal to absolutely everybody, but what ever has? It will appeal to children, music lovers, appreciators of crazy visuals, ‘60’s nostalgia buffs, Beatles fans, people who like oddball British humor, animation aficionados, and a fair smattering of just about everyone else. If you’re fairly certain you don’t fall into any of those categories, fair enough, but don’t you owe it to yourself to find out if you do?
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve been hearing distressingly newer and bluer noises outside the window. Perhaps there’s something in my pocket that will help resolve the situation…
- Peter Batten was initially cast as the voice of George. However, it turned out that he was a deserter from the British Army, and was arrested before he had recorded more than half his lines. Paul Angelis, who played Ringo, provided the rest of George’s lines, and was officially credited for voicing both characters.
- In their initial conception, the Meanies were actually visualized as red or purple – blue only crept into the equation due to an accidental color change by the assistant art director.
- Ringo sports a ring on one hand with a large red jewel. This may well be a reference to Help!, where his possession of a similar ring drove the plot.
- According to John Lennon, his son, Sean, only realized his father was a member of the Beatles after he had seen the film, and asked his father why he was a cartoon.
- This movie has an insane amount of good quotes. Insane. Virtually every line of dialogue is quotable somehow; you think the quotes section is long now, you should have seen it before I culled it down.
Max: Yes, your Blueness.
Chief Blue Meanie: What?! We Meanies only take ‘No’ for an answer! Is that understood, Max?
Max: No, your Blueness!
Chief Blue Meanie: Tha-a-at’s better.
Jeremy Hilary Boob (repeated line): Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo –
So little time, so much to know!
Ringo: Liverpool can be a lonely place on a Saturday night – and this is only Thursday morning.
George: Do you speak English?
Jeremy Hilary Boob: Old English, Middle, a dialect pure –
Paul: Well, do you speak English?
Jeremy Hilary Boob: You know, I’m not sure!
Chief Blue Meanie: Ob-blue-terate them.
Old Fred: Oh, bless you!
Ringo: Should I sneeze?
Jeremy Hilary Boob: Left to the nostril, right uppercut,
Right to the eyebrow and left to the gut!
Paul: It’s blue glass.
Ringo: It must be from Kentucky.
Chief Blue Meanie: A thing of beauty; ha-ha-hee-hee – destroy it forever!
Paul: Senile delinquents!
Blue Meanie: Are you, uh, Blueish? You don’t look Blueish…
Ringo: Hey, there’s a Cyclops!
Paul: Can’t be; he’s got two eyes.
Ringo: Well, must be a Bicyclops.
John: There’s another one.
Ringo: Whole ‘Cyclopedia.
Lord Mayor: Four scores and thirty-two words ago, our forefathers…
Old Fred: A quartet?
Lord Mayor: And four mothers…
Old Fred: Another quartet?
Chief Blue Meanie: Go, Glove – point, and having pointed, pounce!
Paul: It’s a pair of kinky boot-beasts!
Jeremy Hilary Boob: Logsign, clogsign, big thingumabob!
Ringo: I’d jump into the River Mersey, but it looks like rain.
Old Fred: By Neptune’s knickerbockers!
Jeremy Hilary Boob: If I spoke prose, you’d all find out
I don’t know what I talk about.
George: Yes, dey do look very nice, don’t they?
Ringo: Yes, dey do.
John: They do, though, don’t they?
George: Yes, dey do.
Ringo: Don’t dey, dough?
Chief Blue Meanie: My… dear… friend… Let us not forget… that heaven is blue… (Beat) TOMORROW THE WORLD!
John: Go, glove! Lovely glove!
Old Fred: Hey, what would your friends be doin’ here?
Old Fred: Displaying what?
Ringo: Displayin’ around.
George: Hey – he looks wrong.
Paul: He doesn’t look at all well.
George: In fact, he’s horrible.
John: He’s so ugly.
All: Really ugly.
Max: Here, your Blueness, have some nasty medicine.
Old Fred: H for hurry, E for urgent, L for love me, and P for p-p-p-p-please… help!
Ringo: I’ve got a hole in me pocket.
Jeremy Hilary Boob: Yes! Ah, ‘Yes’ is a word with a glorious ring,
A true universal euphonious thing!
Engenders embracing and chasing of blues –
The very best word for the whole world to use!
George: Is there a matter you’d like to take up? Or down?
John: OK, you guys; it’s shrinking time in Pepperland.
Old Fred: You’ve got to steer clear!
Ringo: Steer clear?
Old Fred: Yes, steer, clear?
Ringo: Yes, dear.
Chief Blue Meanie: You’re advancing the wrong way! Retreat backwards!
Paul: We’re being swallowed!
George: What should we do?
John: Serve tea.
Old Fred: Frankenstein?
Ringo: Oh yeah, I used to go out with his sister.
Old Fred: His sister?
Ringo: Yeah, Phyllis.
Paul: Beatles to battle! Charge!
If you liked this movie, try these:
- The Point
- A Hard Day’s Night