[box cover]

Yellow Submarine

MGM Home Entertainment

Starring the voices of Paul Angelis, Geoffrey Hughes, John Clive,
Petter Batten, Dick Emery, and Lance Percival

Written by Al Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn,
Lee Minoff, and Erich Segal

Directed by George Dunning

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

"I've got a hole in me pocket."

— Ringo Starr, Yellow Submarine

Yellow Submarine is the spirit of the '60s compressed into 90 minutes of movie magic. I can't think of any other film, before or since, that so completely encapsulates the era in which it was made. For that reason alone, George Dunning's animated musical odyssey would be worth seeing even if it didn't happen to be utterly charming in its own right — a rock and roll Fantasia, if you will.

The plot is ridiculous enough to suit the story's offbeat narrative style. When the benevolent citizens of Pepperland find themselves threatened with impending invasion by the Blue Meanies, a force determined to destroy all joy and music, they send the bumbling Captain Fred (voiced by Lance Percival) away in a magical submarine to find help. Fred, a kindly but incompetent soul, manages to convince Britain's greatest band, The Beatles, to come to Pepperland and help save his beloved utopia from extinction. Along the way, lots of groanably bad puns will be spoken, much silliness will ensue, and some of pop music's loveliest melodies will tumble forth from your speakers.

Yellow Submarine owes much of its charm to the screenplay's sparkling wit and self-deprecating sense of humor (the animated John Lennon, upon learning of Pepperland's most famous musical act, says "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? They couldn't be much with a name like that."). However, success can never be explained so easily. Yellow Submarine was a product of psychedelia and flower-power (Author Ken Kesey: "They say [Yellow Submarine] looks better when you're stoned. Of course, that's true of any movie..."), and it champions these concepts in a production that entertains viewers of all ages. But while that may explain why they film received overwhelmingly positive reviews at the time of its release, it can't account for the movie's continued popularity. It has not aged in the same way as the mediocre Magical Mystery Tour. Part of the reason is the movie's vibrant animation style, which is still as fresh today as it was 31 years ago. A combination of traditional animation and clip-art montage, Yellow Submarine pioneered a new visual style, one which animators — most notably Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame — would take to the next level in the years that followed.

In fact, Yellow Submarine was so startlingly original and endearing that it won the hearts of the film's four toughest critics: The Beatles themselves. The group, initially hesitant about the project (so much so that they refused to provide the voices for their animated personas), were so charmed with the final result that they eagerly agreed to appear in the live-action finale.

Yellow Submarine, long unavailable on home video due to a snafu over the soundtrack rights, has been reissued in a glorious new DVD edition, boasting digitally remastered picture and sound and enough special-edition content to keep fans of the Fab Four occupied for hours. Leave it to The Beatles to once again push the technological envelope.

Thanks to the exquisite remastering job, this new reissue actually contains a sharper picture and brighter colors than the original 1968 negative. In fact, this package is, bar none, one of the best looking DVDs I have ever encountered. The colors are so bright and beautiful, the images so sharp, that one can almost get lost in the picture. Just for the sake of comparison, I dug out my VHS copy of the mid-'80s release of the film and compared a number of sequences. The differences were astonishing. The picture from the previous reissue, which had always seemed satisfactory to me in the past, revealed only a fraction of the color depth and resolution of the new release. The best analogy I can think of: looking at the world through sunglasses, then removing them. The difference is that striking.

True Beatlephiles will probably be most excited about the first ever stereo mix of the film's score and the inclusion of the rare "Hey Bulldog" sequence; this edition boasts the first American release of this footage, although it was present in British theatrical prints. The remixed soundtrack, painstakingly supervised by George Harrison and Ringo Starr, marks the first stereo release of many of these songs, and the first ever 5.1 Dolby Digital appearance of any Beatles music. And since the DVD version offers an isolated music track, the listener can enjoy those exquisite harmonies in surround sound without the intrusion of dialogue. Other DVD features include the theatrical trailer, an extensive documentary on the making of the film, new interviews with many of the voice actors, storyboards, a fascinating audio commentary track from the movie's production supervisor, and many other goodies.

Watching Yellow Submarine is like opening a time capsule in your living room, allowing fans of pop-culture an opportunity to study one of animation's crowning achievements. It's also proof that, when handled with care, animation not only reproduces well on DVD, but it can boggle the mind with its clarity. Yellow Submarine is often silly, but it endears itself with the strength of its convictions. When the flower-power anthem "All You Need is Love" explodes from your speakers during the film's climax, you'll probably find yourself agreeing with the sentiment, if only for a few fleeting moments.

— Joe Barlow

Get it at Reel.com

Back to Review Index

Back to Quick Reviews

Back to Main Page

© 2000, The DVD Journal