Yellow Submarine is a psychedelic blast from the past
A weird thing about being an adult is that individual pieces of media, whether they be films, songs, or anything else, don’t seem to ever mean as much to me now as when I was a child. There’s a lot of reasonable explanations for this because our emotions are based on gaining more life experience as opposed to media, and we’ve been exposed to so much more that it is difficult for any one thing to stand out. But the things we love as small children have a tendency to stick with us, even in ways we don’t always realize.
Lots of kids who grew up in the 80s and 90s have stories about VHS tapes they wore out, and for me it was the 1968 Beatles’ Yellow Submarine. Having the chance to see it on the big screen as part of its 50th Anniversary re-release, I was reminded of how much of me comes from the film.
I was a big Beatles fan when I was a small child. My family and I listened to them every Sunday on WMGK’s (or maybe it was WOGL) “Breakfast with the Beatles.” They also used to mix in some solo and Wings material, which led me to interpret their careers backwards. It made sense to me that they had formed the Beatles after doing their own material, like a supergroup. When my mom corrected me, and explained they had broken up 15 years before I was even born, I was devastated.
My other main exposure besides the radio was Yellow Submarine. I’ve never gotten the details from my mom around why she chose to play it for me, but I was hooked immediately. What looks like a haze of chemical-induced visions to an adult looks like unbridled imagination to a child’s eyes.
And regardless of the psychochemical state of the filmmakers and animators during its production, that sense of imagination still comes through. A low-budget animated film that was completed in less than a year still managed to be hugely influential. The animation techniques in this film were later used by Terry Gilliam in his Monty Python work, as well as in Schoolhouse Rock.
The film uses these varied techniques to tell a simple story. The Blue Meanies have attacked the peaceful, music-loving Pepperland, and Young Fred (Lance Percival) is dispatched to find help. He recruits The Beatles (voiced by John Clive, Geoffrey Hughes, Peter Batten and Paul Angelis as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, respectively) to sail across the seven seas (the ocean, then the Seas of Time, Science, Monsters, Nothing, Holes, and Green) to help fight the Meanies with the power of music. To boot, they even look close to Pepperland’s biggest stars: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Each stop along the way introduces a musical number, a new character or two, and some kind of strangeness. The film has a vignette feel, and by the time the Fab Four arrive in Pepperland, it is easy to forget what the point of it all is. But the film has a few simple messages: “All you need is love,” and the power of music brings people together in the face of threats, whether they be physical or ideological.
It’s a great message for 2018, and because the songs introduced in the film are pretty deep cuts, one might walk out singing a new song, which is really impressive for a 50-year old movie starring the biggest band of all time.
The other thing I love about the film is that it doesn't try to fit in to any one tone or sensibility, but one thing that unites the film is its obsession with puns. Besides fitting right in with my dad's family's sense of humor, I feel like Yellow Submarine also taught me to appreciate puns. A few choice ones:
Ringo: Hey, I wonder what'll happen if I pull this lever? Old Fred: Oh, you mustn't do that now. Ringo: Can't help it. I'm a born "Liver-pooler."
Ringo: Liverpool can be a lonely place on a Saturday night, and this is only Thursday morning.
Later I'd learn this did mostly fit with the Beatles' overall sensibilities, and I enjoy the playful nature of the film overall, not taking itself too seriously. Puns make up a large part of the film's dialogue, as does the many references to Beatles music.
I can't recommend it enough in general (it is streaming on Amazon Prime right now), but especially seeing it theatrically if you can.
Yellow Submarine is playing locally: