This post is part of The Beatles Film Blogathon, hosted by Steve at Movie Movie Blog Blog. Steve is holding this blogathon in honor of Ringo Starr’s 75th birthday (July 7) and his recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Read the other posts in this blogathon HERE!
Happy Birthday, Ringo, even though nothing ever happens to you!
That’s a reference to Yellow Submarine, the animated surrealistic fantasy based on Beatles music.
The last few posts I’ve written about movies that have brought up memories of my childhood. Yellow Submarine also belongs in that category.
My mom hated children’s movies when I was a kid. She refused to take us to see them. We BEGGED to see The Sound of Music, but for some reason she wouldn’t cave to our incessant requests.
(I’m convinced the only reason I got to see Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory in a movie theater is because my friend’s mother invited a bunch of neighborhood kids to go along with her kids.)
To be fair, it was not exactly a Golden Age of children’s movies–the late 60s was one of Disney’s low points, and Hollywood was in a flux due to the death throes of the studio system. Gritty, adult movies were the order of the day and few were concerned with providing entertainment for little kids.
So Mom would take us to see what she wanted to see. To this day, I have never forgiven her for taking me to see 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was nine years old. That was just mean of her, in my opinion. Seriously, I still feel like I’m going to break out into hives every time I think of that movie. It’s a miracle it didn’t turn me off Kubrick for life.
Somewhere around 1968, my mom’s taste in music underwent a big change. It seemed as though one day my parents were listening to Tom Jones and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and the next, it was The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and all the other big rock groups of the day.
But she especially loved The Beatles. So the minute Yellow Submarine hit the theaters, she took us to see it.
My sister and I hated it.
My mother was perplexed. “But it’s a cartoon! I thought you would love it!”
Well, that’s kind of the point. It’s not a cartoon. It’s a surrealistic fantasy that is really meant for adults.
In fact, rewatching it again for this event, it made me think about how long I’ve felt that animation is an underused format for ALL kinds of movies, not just children’s movies. This is a perfect example of how animation can be so much more.
(Not that I’m knocking animation made for children. Unlike my mom, I don’t have that prejudice against children’s movies.)
Yellow Submarine was hardly the first animated film made for adults (they’ve been around since pre-code days) but it was seminal in how it presaged the rise of the music video.
The movie is based on the 1966 song Yellow Submarine, written by Paul McCartney specifically for Ringo Starr to sing. (Ironically, McCartney has been quoted as calling it a “children’s song”–and when I was a kid, it was a popular song to sing in summer camp.)
Many people erroneously attribute the animation style to pop artist Peter Max. Max claims he was asked by John Lennon to design the film, but he couldn’t due family obligations. He also claims he was the one who called German artist Heinz Edelman to take his place, though this has been disputed.
The “limited animation” visual style of the film was very influential, particularly on Terry Gilliam’s work on Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The story was written by Lee Minoff (Erich Segal, who wrote Love Story, is also credited as a writer on the film). A utopian society that exists at the bottom of the sea, Pepperland, is suddenly attacked by hordes of Blue Meanies, who despise music. A mariner named Old Fred escapes in the Yellow Submarine and journeys to Liverpool. He encounters Ringo, who before Old Fred appeared was complaining that nothing ever happens to him. The two of them persuade John, George, and Paul to return to Pepperland.
The embark on a long and perilous journey through several seas–The Sea of Time, The Sea of Science, The Sea of Monsters, The Sea of Nothing, Foothills and Headlands, and The Sea of Holes.
In the Sea of Nothing they encounter Jeremy, an odd but very intelligent (and slightly pedantic) creature. He goes with them to Pepperland.
They arrive in Pepperland, where everyone has been immobilized by the Blue Meanies. Finding the instruments that belonged to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, they rally the populace to rebel. Armed with music and Jeremy’s cleverness, they finally defeat the Meanies. They offer friendship to the Meanies, and everyone lives happily ever after.
The Beatles did not do the voice acting in the movie. In fact, they were unenthusiastic about the project because they weren’t entirely thrilled with how Help! came out. However, they were contractually obligated to appear in the film, so a short live-action epilogue featuring all four of them was added to the end of the movie.
(This did not satisfy the studio, which insisted they still owed them a movie. They did not fulfill the contract until Let It Be was released.)
The combination of the (for the time) unique “limited” animation style and The Beatles music resulted in a big hit. Even The Beatles eventually came around, as each admitted later that they love the film.
I’ve come around, too. The superb use of animation, the variety of comic styles, and, yes, that glorious music that was played in our house all through my childhood and teens–it’s fantastical AND fantastic.
And it’s nice that something FINALLY happened to Ringo.