Reality is beautifully out of joint in The Beatles’ 1968 animated film Yellow Submarine, which augmented the typical cartoonist’s palette with photography, rotoscoping and 3-D sequences.
The pioneering movie, which finds the Fab Four sailing the seas of science, time and nothingness in hopes of saving a utopian world from a bunch of oppressive haters called the Blue Meanies, serves as a great example of a genre that gave animators free rein to explore the outer reaches of psychedelia.
Once unforgivably out of print but screening now at theaters and available now as a digitally restored DVD, Blu-ray and iTunes download, Yellow Submarine was directed by George Dunning and produced by Al Brodax, who had spent the previous three years helming madcap cartoon series The Beatles.
Yellow Submarine appealed to toon-happy kids as well as adults tripping on cannabis, LSD and expanding liberties. It quickly became, as its chief illustrator Heinz Edelmann explains in the painstakingly remastered film’s audio commentary, the first non-Disney animated feature that didn’t pull its studio down with it. “The history of animation up until then was the history of studios folding under the weight of an animated feature,” said Edelmann, who died in 2009.
Yellow Submarine also opened the doors of perception for many of the animated psychedelic experiments. Even The Beatles, who were descending into bitter dissolution and didn’t even record their voices for the film, were ultimately swayed by its animated ambition. And they weren’t alone.
“As a fan of animation and as a filmmaker, I tip my hat to the artists of Yellow Submarine,” Disney and Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter writes in an essay accompanying a bonus 16-page booklet, which shares space with the making-of documentary “Mod Odyssey,” cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes photos, collectible stickers and more. “[Their] revolutionary work helped pave the way for the fantastically diverse world of animation that we all enjoy today.”