Coming right at the wrong time, it’s taken 40 years for this animated gem to make the grade, but it was worth the wait. It was 1968, and the mantra “All You Need is Love” might have been a very hard pill to swallow (forgive that one) in a year of heartbreaking political assassinations, worldwide ethnic and racial violence, and the Tet Offensive.
Directed by George Dunning and designed by Heinz Edelman, Yellow Submarine was an attempt to use animation for what many purists saw as its primary reason for being: metamorphosis and sheer wonder. The music was The Beatles (the spoken dialogue was not), and many of Western Europe’s finest animators lent their talents to the project. The simplistic message of the film—that love could conquer all—fell on jaded ears at the time, and the project was seen as an ambitious but ultimately flawed bit of Beatle self-promotion.
The minimal plot involves The Beatles being brought to Pepperland to fight the Blue Meanies, bringing music and love to heal the land. But it’s not the plot that matters here; it’s the artwork and animation that make the film. Among many, two sequences—“Eleanor Rigby” and “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”—are worth watching as marvelous examples of various modes of animation, including manipulation of still photos, xerography, straight ahead pen and ink animation, and rotoscoping (tracing over a projected image, frame by frame).
My 8-year-old has fallen for The Beatles thanks to this film, and that may be testament enough.