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There’s real charm and genuine archival interest in this rerelease of Yellow Submarine, the Beatles’ animation from 1968 – lovingly restored, frame by frame, so that the colours pop and throb the way they did at the time.
However, honesty forces me to say that when I first saw this on TV as a kid, I secretly felt that it was one of those things that grownups sternly decide children ought to like. And on seeing it again in 2018, I feel that, for all its attractions and sporadic inspirational outbursts, this well-meaning Ringo-oriented entertainment is not exactly in the top rank of Beatle achievements. There is a little bit of disposable and flabby whimsy, and between the songs, it often appears to be treading water graphically. Yet when a Beatles standard crashes on to the soundtrack, the whole thing snaps into shape and becomes something fiercer, more interesting, and more adult. This is especially true for the superb rendering of Eleanor Rigby at the beginning, particularly the eerie juxtaposition of Liverpool and Everton players in red and blue, shivering and jittering surreally. The grownupness of image and music there has power.
Afterwards we’re back to the stuff aimed approximately at children, and despite tracks such as Yellow Submarine and All Together Now, there is an uneasy and unresolved disconnect between the U-certificate songs and the darker material: my feeling is that the sublimely innocent and childlike quality of the Beatles’ music only works in those songs designed for adults.
The story itself is a Lewis Carroll-ish adventure: the jolly inhabitants of Pepperland are threatened by the nasty, music-hating Blue Meanies. They take refuge in a yellow submarine and ask for help from a local group, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (the “Beatles” are not named), in their traditional ceremonial uniforms. The Beatles sing in their own voices (and appear as themselves in a brief live-action coda) but when addressing their lugubrious dialogue to each other, their animated avatars are voiced by actors. The wacky know-it-all figure Jeremy Hillary Boob, who fixes their submarine motor and becomes the doleful hero of the song Nowhere Man, is voiced by Dick Emery. There are stretches of visual panache and one or two great gags. A Pepperland refugee screams “Help!” and Ringo drolly replies that, no, he doesn’t need any just now, thanks.
Then as now, Yellow Submarine is a diverting novelty. Apart from anything, it’s an amazing Sixties time-capsule.
Source: The Guardian
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