John, Paul, George, and Ringo are summoned to save Pepperland from the music-hating Blue Meanies in the 1968 psychedelic, surreal animated favorite, Yellow Submarine, being rereleased in theaters July 9 in a sparkling, newly restored 4K version with 5.1 Stereo Surround Sound. The Beatles’ fourth movie, following the dynamic duo of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! and the television disaster Magical Mystery Tour, was based on the Fab Four’s 1965–67 Saturday morning cartoon series and the 1966 song “Yellow Submarine,” which appeared on side one of Revolver. The chief Blue Meanie (voiced by Paul Angelis), with his ever-faithful right-hand man, Max (Dick Emery), by his side, declares war on music, sending his troops, including the Apple Bonkers, Clowns, Snapping Turks, and Dreadful Flying Glove, to attack Pepperland, trapping the band in an opaque sphere and turning the residents into stagnant, colorless beings. Only Old Fred (Lance Percival), newly appointed lord admiral by the mayor (Emery), escapes, taking off in an unusual yellow submarine and rounding up John Lennon (John Clive), Paul McCartney (Geoffrey Hughes), George Harrison (Peter Batten and Angelis), and Ringo Starr (Angelis) to try to save the day against the fascist Blue Meanies, who only take no for an answer.
The film mainly comprises set pieces, in varied animation styles, built around such Beatles songs as “Eleanor Rigby,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Nowhere Man,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “All Together Now,” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” as the Mop Tops are joined by the brilliant but strange Jeremy Hillary Boob (Emery) on their dangerous mission, which is like an acid trip gone loco. Of course, that doesn’t preclude them from sharing silly little jokes, puns, and double entendres along the way as they reference war, soccer, loneliness (“Nothing ever happens to me. I feel like an old splintered drumstick,” Ringo opines), monsters, the art of Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico, Apple Records, famous celebrities, cartoon villains, Albert Einstein’s time-space continuum theory, and other Beatles songs. There are comic scenes in a grand, door-filled hallway and in an expanse of black holes. And of course, there’s an endless parade of great music, including “Hey Bulldog,” which was deleted from the original US release.
Sure, a lot of it doesn’t make any sense, but when was the last time you sat down and really listened to such gems as “Only a Northern Song” and “It’s All Too Much”? More than two hundred animators — whose faces can be seen in the “Eleanor Rigby” scene — worked on the project, which was written by Lee Minoff, Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, and Erich Segal — yes, the author of Love Story — with dialogue enhancement by Liverpool poet Roger McGough and lead animation by Robert Balser and Jack Stokes under the creative direction by Heinz Edelmann. The Beatles, who occasionally made script suggestions but mostly stayed in the background, make an appearance at the end as themselves, not in cartoon form, perhaps to satisfy their movie contract, but they still seem to be having fun, as you will too. And remember, as George says, “It’s all in the mind.” The fiftieth-anniversary restoration of Yellow Sumbarine will be playing at IFC Center, Landmark at 57 West, the Beekman, the Alamo Drafthouse, Kew Gardens Cinemas, Williamsburg Cinemas, and other theaters in the tristate area. Oh, and by the way, “Are you bluish? You don’t look bluish.”