Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Yellow Submarine

The sensory overload I experienced while watching 1968's YELLOW SUBMARINE is of the favorable sort; a nearly non-stop gape of wonder like that experienced by a child on Christmas Morn. I've suffered the unpleasant kind enough times, a good example being when I had to sit at the Boca Raton Mall one Christmas season because the optokinetic motion of consumers shuffling by, the vertically scrolling advertisement boards, and the din of noise overwhelmed me beyond tolerance. I felt something similar while in a huge, tourist-filled chapel in France, necessitating me to sit in a pew and not even think about looking up for several minutes. Maybe I shouldn't attempt any raves.

Everyone has heard The Beatles' famous title tune, a natural, infectious sing-along loaded with commentary, like much of their later output. In the lads' catalogue of the later '60s, simple odes to love gave way to more spiritual and political musings. Though I always thought "Savoy Truffle" was about toxic relationships. Apparently George Harrison intended a face value read: it is indeed about how sweets can damage your teeth. As much as I love to probe the mysteries of poetry (and I recall my 10th grade English teacher having us dissect the lyrics of "Fool on the Hill"), I also love when artists deflate the potential self-importance of subtext and interpretation.

But what of this trippy, wondrously colorful animated film, featuring our merry band as they fight a group called the Blue Meanies, music hating cretins who attack the peaceful Pepperland? As the plot goes, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, protectors of the city, and all of Pepperland's citizens are frozen into statues by the killjoy Meanies, who drain the countryside of life and colour and individuality. Before he goes catatonic, The Mayor sends an old sailor who commandeers the title vehicle to seek outside assistance, eventually finding the Fab Four in Liverpool.

The odyssey back to Pepperland is filled with encounters with sea monsters, a serious, studious clown, and The Sea of Holes. There is endlessly quotable dialogue throughout the film. Highly witty wordplay, often distinguished by puns and Beatles song in-jokes. Their sublime music ingeniously accompanies and narrates each adventure. Tunes such as "Eleanor Rigby", "When I'm Sixty-four", "Nowhere Man", and one of my favorites, "Hey Bulldog", which was apparently missing from the original American release. 

The striking style of animation, the result of the work of a vast team (including Gerald Potterton, who would later direct HEAVY METAL), is known as "limited animation", which in essence allows fewer illustrations between frames of film, yet with smooth, seamless transitions, whether objects of interest are stationary or in motion. The illustrations are distortions of artistic realism. Smears of reality. Some abstraction. Really unique. I entirely drank it in. As jaded as I am with "cartoons", YELLOW SUBMARINE for me was like watching the art form reinvented.

But does it all reek of a vanity project? John, Paul, George, and Ringo did not lend their voices to their cartoon counterparts and were not involved in the creative process at all (apparently they were less than enthusiastic about their previous filmic outing HELP!) But it's reported that when they saw the amazing kaleidoscope of this film they were thrilled, and even agreed to appear in the final (live action) scene.

Animation buffs and Beatles fans without question need to check out YELLOW SUBMARINE, though unless you're a Meanie yourself,  I can hardly imagine anyone not enjoying this all too rarely seen delight.

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