Yellow Submarine is a 1968 animated film based on the music of the Beatles. It is also the title for the soundtrack album to the feature film, released as part of the Beatles' music catalogue. The film was directed by British animation producer George Dunning, and produced by United Artists and King Features Syndicate. The Beatles themselves appear only in the closing scene of the film.
Pepperland is a cheerful music-loving utopia located "80,000 leagues under the sea", and is named after and protected by Sgt. Pepper of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band fame. It is attacked by the music-hating Blue Meanies who seal the Band inside a musicproof sphere, then turn the Pepperlanders into statues and drain the country itself of colour. Pepperland's Lord Mayor assigns the task of finding help to the inappropriately-nicknamed "Young Fred", who escapes in the titular vessel in the nick of time. Travelling to Liverpool, Fred begs for help from the depressed and aimless Ringo Starr, who agrees and rounds up his three mates: Paul McCartney, John Lennon and George Harrison. The five of them journey back to Pepperland in the submarine, passing through: The Sea of Time (where they go forward and backward in time and sing "When I'm 64"), The Sea of Science (where they sing "Only a Northern Song"), The Sea of Monsters (where the dreaded "vacuum flask" beast sucks up the entire landscape and then itself), the Sea of Nothing (where they pick up a rather helpful "nowhere man" named Jeremy Hilary Boob, Ph.D. and sing the song of the same name), the foothills of the "Headlands"(sea of heads) (where they get separated from the submarine and John sings "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"), and finally The Sea of Holes (where Jeremy is kidnapped by the Blue Meanies). When Ringo jumps on to a green hole (the Sea of Green ), they arrive in Pepperland. Reunited with Fred and the submarine, they imitate Sgt. Pepper's band, and "rally the land to rebellion". Jeremy is rescued, colour and flowers rebloom, and Pepperland is restored. In the end, the heroes make peace with the Meanies, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Released at the height of the psychedelic pop culture period of the 1960s, the movie Yellow Submarine was a box-office hit, drawing in crowds both for its lush, wildly creative images, and its soundtrack of Beatles songs. The original story was written by Lee Minoff, based on the song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and the screenplay penned by four collaborators including Erich Segal.
As with most motion picture musicals, the music takes precedence over the actual plot, and most of the story is a series of set-pieces designed to present Beatles music set to various images, in a form reminiscent of Walt Disney's Fantasia (and foreshadowing the rise of music videos and MTV fifteen years later). Nonetheless, the movie still presents an entertaining modern-day fairy tale that caters to the ideals of the "love generation".
The dialogue is littered with puns, double entendres, and Beatles in-jokes, many scripted by Roger McGough. "Blue Meanies" was actually a slang term for the police, although many viewers will have missed this (see List of slang terms for police officers). (In the DVD commentary track, Production Supervisor John Coates contradicts this, claiming that "blue" was actually a pun on "Jew," reflecting not any anti-Semitisim on the part of the filmmakers but rather a commentary on what had been typical casting of Jews as villains.) Additionally, the Beatles appearance in the film was actually based on their music video "Strawberry Fields Forever", with the exception of Paul without his mustache. The film also includes several references to songs not included in the soundtrack, including "A Day in the Life" where the lyrics are referenced in the "sea of holes" scene.
The movie's style contrasts greatly with the efforts of The Walt Disney Company (hence the "blue meanies" wear Mickey Mouse ears) and other animated films previously released by Hollywood up until the time. The film uses a style of limited animation that deliberately defies reality and paints a landscape that could never exist in the real world; something that appealed greatly to the escapists of the 1960s (see also Fantastic Planet).
The animation of Yellow Submarine has sometimes falsely been attributed to the famous psychedelic pop art artist of the era Peter Max; the film's artwork was in fact overseen by Heinz Edelmann. Edelmann, along with his contemporary Milton Glaser, pioneered the psychedelic style for which Max would later become famous, but according to Edelmann and producer Al Brodax, as quoted in the book Inside the Yellow Submarine by Robert Hieronimus and Laura Cortner (2002) (ISBN 0-87349-360-5), Max had nothing to do with the production of Yellow Submarine.
In addition to the existing title song "Yellow Submarine," five new songs were commissioned for the movie: "All Together Now" (a soccer-crowd favorite); "It's All Too Much" (a George Harrison composition); "Baby You're A Rich Man", a song that made its public debut as the "All You Need Is Love" single B-side; "Only A Northern Song" a low-key Harrison track originally recorded during sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (the partial inspiration for this film); and "Hey Bulldog", a John Lennon piano romp echoing of "Lady Madonna", which was recorded at the same time, but used as an A-Side (this song was originally included only in the European theatrical release, but restored for the U.S. theatrical reissue in 1999).
The film's incidental music was an orchestral score composed and arranged by George Martin. One of the film's cues, heard after the main title credits, was originally recorded as the introduction to "Don't Pass Me By", Ringo's composition for The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) (it would later appear as "A Beginning" on Volume 3 of The Beatles Anthology CD).
The Beatles themselves were not enthusiastic in participating in a motion picture at the time. They had not enjoyed the production of their second feature film Help!, and had just produced and starred in the disastrous TV special Magical Mystery Tour. They did, however, see an animated film as a favorable way to complete their commitment to United Artists for a third film. Voice actors were hired to imitate the Fab Four's voices in the film. However, the Beatles were impressed after seeing a rough cut of the film, and agreed to make a live-action cameo appearance in the final scene. The cameo was originally intended to feature a post-production psychedelic background, but due to time and budget constraints a blank background remained in the final film.
In 1999, United Artists and Apple Records digitally restored the audio of the film for theatrical and home video re-release. Though the visuals were not digitally restored, a new transfer was done after cleaning the original film negative and rejuvenating the color. A soundtrack album was also released, which featured the first extensive digital stereo remixes of Beatles material to be released.
The film was also re-edited to its original European theatrical release version, with the "Hey, Bulldog!" number restored (whereas the U.S. version deleted this song and replaced it with alternate animation).
The DVD that was released also featured a "soundtrack only" version, in which the dialogue is removed, leaving only the music and the songs.