By Jack Mariano
Yellow Submarine is a 1968 British animated musical fantasy film based on the music of The Beatles.
The film was directed by animation producer George Dunning, and produced by United Artists (UA) and King Features Syndicate. Initial press reports stated that the Beatles themselves would provide their own character voices, however, aside from composing and performing the songs, the real Beatles participated only in the closing scene of the film, while their cartoon counterparts were voiced by other actors.
The film received a widely positive reception from critics and audiences alike. It is also credited with bringing more interest in animation as a serious art form. Time commented that it “turned into a smash hit, delighting adolescents and esthetes alike”.
At the beginning of the story, Pepperland is introduced by a narrator as a cheerful music-loving paradise under the sea, protected by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The titular Yellow Submarine rests on a somewhat Aztec-like pyramid on a hill. At the edge of the land is a range of high blue mountains.
The land falls under a surprise attack by the music-hating Blue Meanies (who live in or beyond the blue mountains), who seal the band inside a music-proof bubble, make the Pepperlanders immobile as statues by shooting arrows and throwing loads of big green apples upon them (a curious reference to the Apple Records music label), and drain the countryside of color. The attack starts with magical projectiles fired from big artillery stationed in the blue mountains.
In the last minute before his own capture, Pepperland’s elderly Lord Mayor sends Old Fred, a sailor (whom the mayor calls “Young Fred”), to get help; he runs to the Yellow Submarine and takes off in it (“Yellow Submarine”). Old Fred travels to Liverpool (whose scene is set by “Eleanor Rigby”), where he follows the depressed and aimless Ringo and persuades him to return to Pepperland with him. Ringo collects his “mates” John, George, and finally Paul. The four are introduced with accompanying characterization: Ringo wanders aimlessly around Liverpool, at one point claiming that he has no imagination; John appears with literary fanfare, as Frankenstein’s monster who drinks a potion and turns into himself; George appears in a surreal, sitar-themed area (with the sitar intro to “Love You To” as his theme) that plays on his championing of transcendental meditation; and Paul appears as a “modern Mozart”. The five journey back to Pepperland in the yellow submarine. As they start learning to operate the submarine, they sing “All Together Now”, after which they pass through several regions on their way to Pepperland:
- Sea of Time – where time flows both forwards and backwards to the tune of “⦁ When I’m Sixty-Four”. At one point, the submarine passes itself as it loops through time.
- Sea of Science – where they sing “⦁ Only a Northern Song”
- Sea of Monsters – where Ringo presses the panic button on the submarine, ejecting him from the submarine into the sea, where he is riding one of the monsters, who tosses him around, and with the threat of Native American-like creatures, resulting in John pressing another button on the submarine, sending the U.S. Cavalry to successfully defeat the Indians, rescuing Ringo. It is also where a monstrous “vacuum cleaner beast” sucks up all loose objects and people and then the entire landscape and finally itself, freeing them.
- Sea of Nothing – where they meet ⦁ Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D., a short pudgy creature with a painted clown face and cotton tail, but a highly studious and helpful ally to the Beatles, who sing “⦁ Nowhere Man” in reference to him. As they leave, however, Jeremy starts crying and Ringo, taking pity, invites him to join them aboard the submarine.
- Foothills of the Headlands – where they are separated from the submarine (and Old Fred) and where John sings “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
- Finally, the Sea of Holes – where Jeremy is kidnapped by one of the Blue Meanies patrolling the outskirts of Pepperland. Here Ringo thoroughly investigates a hole and puts it into his pocket, a move that will be significant in the final stage of the story. Jeremy is abducted by a Blue Meanie who has made his way into that zone. When Ringo jumps on to a green hole, it turns into the Sea of Green and they arrive in Pepperland (moments before Old Fred and the Submarine return).
Reunited with Old Fred and the submarine, they look upon the landscape: a sorry sight. The beautiful flowers have become thorns, the once happy landscape now a barren wasteland. Everyone is immobilized and made miserable by the evil Blue Meanies, only able to move when permitted (such as when the Meanies feel like bullying them). The Beatles, after defeating some apple-bonkers, dress up as Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and steal some instruments (their own instruments were lost in the Sea of Monsters) from the tall tower where the Meanies impounded them. The four are discovered at the last second (Ringo accidentally steps on a bagpipe) and a clown Meanie sounds the alarm, causing the Beatles to flee hastily from the Meanies’ vicious multi-headed (and multi-bodied) dog. Once in the clear, the four “rally the land to rebellion”, singing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”, eventually forcing the Blue Meanies to retreat. The Chief Blue Meanie retaliates, sending out his chief enforcer, the Dreadful Flying Glove, but John easily defeats it by singing “All You Need is Love”. Pepperland is restored to color and its flowers re-bloom, as the residents, empowered by the Beatles’ music, rise up and take up arms (flowers) against the Meanies, who are fleeing headlong back to the blue border mountains where they came from. The original Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Bnd are released (thanks to the hole carried in Ringo’s pocket from the Sea of Holes) and Ringo rescues Jeremy.
The Beatles then have a rematch with the four-headed Meanie dog, singing “Hey Bulldog”, with the Beatles victorious once again (This scene was in the UK version). The Blue Meanies are forced to retreat, and the Chief Blue Meanie tries to save face by killing Jeremy, but Jeremy performs some “transformation magic” on him causing the Meanie to sadly concede defeat. John extends an offer of friendship, and the Chief Blue Meanie has a change of heart (partly due to the “transformation magic” performed by Jeremy) and accepts. An enormous party ensues, where everyone sings “It’s All Too Much” with everyone living happily ever after.
At the end, the animation is replaced by live-action with the real Beatles, having returned home, playfully showing off their souvenirs: George has the submarine’s motor, Paul has “a little ‘LOVE'” and Ringo still has half a hole in his pocket (having supposedly given the other half to Jeremy, which Paul offers to fix “to keep his mind from wandering”, a reference to “Fixing a Hole”). Looking through a telescope, John announces that “newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theater” and claims there is only one way to go out: “Singing!”. The quartet obliges with a short reprise of “All Together Now”, which ends with translations of the song’s title in various languages appearing in sequence on the screen.
The Yellow Submarine – Ringo Starr on lead vocals.
All Together Now – Paul McCartney on lead vocals
Only A Northern Song – George Harrison on lead vocals.
Think for Yourself” (Harrison) (short excerpt, a line is sung a cappella to revive the Lord Mayor)