No film has made a more significant impact on my life than “Yellow Submarine.” I first saw this animated classic in a television broadcast when I was 10 year old. Up until that time, I only knew of animation from the Disney and Warner Bros. output – and the shock of the psychedelic imagery in “Yellow Submarine” accompanying the imaginative Beatles soundtrack opened my mind to the endless creative possibilities of the cinematic medium. After watching “Yellow Submarine” for that first time, I never looked at films the same way again – and my love of exploring the filmmaking process was born.
Fast-forward to today and I’ve seen “Yellow Submarine” for what might be the thousandth time in a new DVD release. But, actually, this new latest viewing is the closest that I’ve come to seeing it for the first time – this version was digitally restored in 4K by hand, going frame by frame to clean up the 1968 imagery. In this new offering, the film’s vibrant colors take on a remarkably bold freshness that was absent in previous home entertainment releases and television broadcasts.
If the film’s mod trappings seem locked in a specific (and increasingly distant) era, its playful wit remains timeless. The underwater kingdoms visited by the Fab Four in their lemon-colored craft includes a fish with human arms that swims the breast stroke, a octopus colony that spews multicolored ink in joyful geyser-worthy bursts, and an omnivorous beast whose vacuum snout captures everything – including the rear scenery of the sequence, leaving the screen with stark white emptiness. (The beast vacuums its tail and, in quick order, devours itself out of existence!)
The Beatles’ classic songs are also provided with appropriately innovative interpretations. Sometimes the animation is strikingly daring and artistic – the dehumanizing routines of urban life in “Eleanor Rigby,” the pop art circus of dancing girls and acrobatic equines in “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” – and sometimes the artwork is just pure playfulness, especially in the sing-along joy of “All Together Now” and “When I’m 64.”
For a film rooted in the concept of violence – the aggressive conquest of pacifist Pepperland by the gun-toting, bomb-throwing Blue Meanies – “Yellow Submarine” has very little in the way of actual pain and suffering. Indeed, hurt feelings are the harshest emotion to turn up, and those tearful moments are quickly remedied by the spirit of camaraderie offered in the Beatles’ tunes and through their animated alter egos (with voices provided by talent soundalikes).
The inevitable liberation of Pepperland with the message “All You Need is Love” is suffixed with a forgive-and-forget message for the defeated Meanies to come live peacefully alongside the Pepperland population. Some people might see the notion of making love and not war as being dated. Actually, that message has never been more cogent and relevant – for all of its groovy fun, “Yellow Submarine” offers a subliminal reminder that the power of love never goes out of fashion.