Yellow Submarine is a 1968 British animated musical fantasy film based on the music of The Beatles.
The film was directed by animation producer George Dunning, and produced by United Artists (UA) and King Features Syndicate. Initial press reports stated that the Beatles themselves would provide their own character voices, however, aside from composing and performing the songs, the real Beatles participated only in the closing scene of the film, while their cartoon counterparts were voiced by other actors.
The film received a widely positive reception from critics and audiences alike. It is also credited with bringing more interest in animation as a serious art form. Time commented that it "turned into a smash hit, delighting adolescents and esthetes alike".
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. The George Harrison character's recurring line "It's all in the mind" is taken from The Goon Show.
The Beatles were not enthusiastic about participating in a motion picture. They were displeased with their second feature film Help!, and were discouraged by the disastrous reception of their self-produced TV special Magical Mystery Tour. They did, however, see an animated film as a favourable way to complete their commitment to United Artists for a third film. (Ultimately, due to their relatively small roles and the fact it was animated, United Artists still considered them to owe another film; Let It Be would be the third film to complete their contract with the studio.)
The Beatles make a live-action cameo appearance in the final scene, which was filmed on 25 January 1968 prior to the band's trip to India. This was to fulfill their contract of actually appearing in the film. The cameo was originally intended to feature a post-production psychedelic background and effects, but due to time and budget constraints, a blank, black background remained in the final film. While Starr and McCartney still looked the same as their animated counterparts, Lennon and Harrison's physical appearances had changed by the time the cameo was shot. Both were clean-shaven, and Lennon had begun to grow his hair longer with accompanying lamb chop sideburns.
As with many 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 thirteen years later). Nonetheless, the film still presents a 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 poet Roger McGough.
The imagery, character names, and vocalisations include numerous in-jokes, such as the character Max being blue and having a German accent, possibly being a reference to the 1966 film The Blue Max, who also refers to escaping to Argentina, as some Nazis had done.
In the DVD commentary track, production supervisor John Coates adds an additional perspective, stating that "blue" was a play on "Jew", not as a reflection of any anti-Semitism on the part of the filmmakers, but rather as a commentary on the stereotypical casting of Jews as villains.There is also a scene where a Blue Meanie questions some disguised Beatles, asking, "Are you Bluish? You don't look Bluish..." However, Millicent McMillan recalls that the Blue Meanies were originally supposed to be red, or even purple, but when Heinz Edelmann's assistant accidentally changed the colours, the film's characters took on a different meaning.
The Beatles' animated personas were based on their appearance in the promotional film for the song "Strawberry Fields Forever", with the exception of Paul being without his moustache. 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, as well as the orchestral breaks earlier in the film, also from "A Day in the Life".
National and foreign animators were assembled by TVC. Bob Balser and Jack Stokes were animation directors. Charlie Jenkins, one of the film's key creative directors, was responsible for the entire "Eleanor Rigby" sequence, as well as the submarine travel from Liverpool, through London, to splashdown. Jenkins also was responsible for "Only a Northern Song" in the Sea of Science, plus much of the multi-image sequences. A large crew of skilled animators, including (in alphabetical order) Alan Ball, Ron Campbell, John Challis, Hester Coblentz, Geoff Collins, Rich Cox, Duane Crowther, Tony Cuthbert, Malcolm Draper, Paul Driessen, Cam Ford, Norm Drew, Tom Halley, Dick Horne, Arthur Humberstone, Dennis Hunt, Diane Jackson, Anne Jolliffe, Dave Livesey, Reg Lodge, Geoff Loynes, Lawrence Moorcroft, Ted Percival, Mike Pocock and Gerald Potterton was responsible for bringing the animated Beatles to life. The background work was executed by artists under the direction of Alison De Vere and Millicent McMillan who were both Background Supervisors. Ted Lewis and Chris Miles were responsible for Animation Clean Up.
George Dunning, who also worked on the Beatles cartoon series, was the overall director for the film, supervising over 200 artists for 11 months. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was George Dunning's idea, which he turned over to Bill Sewell, who delivered more than thirty minutes of rotoscoped images. By that time, George Dunning was not available, and Bob Balser, with the help of Arne Gustafson, edited the material to its sequence length in the film.
The animation of Yellow Submarine has sometimes falsely been attributed to the famous psychedelic pop art artist of the era, Peter Max; but the film's art director was 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 Hieronimus and Cortner, Max had nothing to do with the production of Yellow Submarine.
The film's style, created by creative director Heinz Edelmann, contrasts greatly with the efforts of Disney Feature Animation and other animated films previously released by Hollywood up until the time. The film uses a style of limited animation. It also paved the way for Terry Gilliam's animations for Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python (note particularly the cut-out animation made of colorised b/w photographs for the Eleanor Rigby sequence which bears a great resemblance to Gilliam's animations due to utilizing this same technique).
In addition to the existing title song "Yellow Submarine", several complete or excerpted songs, four previously unreleased, were used in the film. They included "All Together Now", (a football-crowd favourite); "It's All Too Much" (a George Harrison composition); "Baby, You're a Rich Man" (the first song recorded specifically for this film, but which made its first appearance as the B-side to the "All You Need Is Love" single);"Only a Northern Song", a Harrison song 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 (this song was originally included only in the European theatrical release, but restored for the US theatrical reissue in 1999). Most of the "new" songs used on the soundtrack album were rejected from other projects, being not considered of high enough quality for appearance on a "studio" Beatles album.
The film's instrumental 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 during sessions for "Good Night" (an album track for The Beatles, aka the White Album) and would have been used as the introduction to Ringo's composition "Don't Pass Me By", also on the White Album; it was later released as "A Beginning" on the Anthology 3 album.