Even amid the current advances in animation and technology-driven art, The Beatles' classic full-length animated film Yellow Submarine remains an iconic cinematic achievement. The movie was more than just evocative of the era in which it was created and the band it was a vehicle for. It actually helped define the late ’60s and the most interesting characteristics of the group itself: the meaningful lyrics (which made statements about the world while maintaining a sense of wonder and whimsy) and the band members' quirky personas and relationships.
Yellow Submarine may evoke the psychedelic splendor of the late ’60s but it has proven timeless in terms of popularity (just like The Beatles themselves). The mix of eye candy and catchy music (remixed for the new release) will please kids, millennials and old folks who grew up with The Beatles. It's truly a visual feast, a vibrant pastiche of pop and Op art (short for “optical art,” known for its eye-popping, optical illusion–driven patterns and abstract use of color lines to create depth and movement), collage stylings, and classic Saturday morning cartoon caricatures interacting amidst vibrant, swirling psychedelic imagery, odd objects and creatures.
For its 50th anniversary this week (marked by a slew of theatrical screenings across the globe), we look back and reveal some unknown facts about the film that brought a classic rock song to life and made everyone who saw it want to sail up to the sun and live beneath the waves.
1. Famous ’60s artist Peter Max had nothing to do with the film … or did he?
According to Max, he actually did. In several interviews, the still-living legend has said that he got a call from John Lennon, who told him the band wanted him to work on the film. Max claims he designed it, then flew to Europe and found out that he'd need to stay in Europe for 17 months till completion. He declined and German artist Heinz Edelmann got the job instead. According to Max, he told Edelmann he didn't mind if he copied his style but asked him to change things up as much as possible. Edelmann has stated Max's claims are untrue, as has the film's producer, Al Brodax, but there is no denying that Max's style is evoked in the cosmic backdrops and colorful characters.
2. The Beatles did not voice their characters.
They are heard on the soundtrack, of course, and at the end of movie, but throughout the fantastical tale, actors portray John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The Beatles, in various interviews, have all expressed regret about not participating fully (they were extremely busy at the time, apparently). Thinking about this fact does put a bit of a damper on the experience of watching the movie, especially for Beatles fans, so we suggest you don't (think about it, that is). Let your thoughts be taken away by the story and simulations, which fits because a theme in the movie concerns the band meeting a different version of themselves.
3. Yellow Submarine (the song) had a “Mellow” man helping out on lyrics.
Sensual folk singer Donovan (father of actors Ione Skye and Donovan Leitch) had a huge hit with the song “Mellow Yellow” in 1967, but before that, his good friend Paul McCartney came by his apartment for lyrical inspiration on another yellow tune. It may seem as if there was some sort of obsession with the color yellow, but Dono's contribution concerned a couple of other colors. His lyrics, according to numerous interviews, were: “sky of blue, sea of green.”
4. There will not be a remake.
Walt Disney Pictures and director Robert Zemeckis were in talks to make a 3-D computer-animated remake of Yellow Submarine in 2009, but thankfully it didn't happen. Even with California-based Beatles tribute band The Fab Four cast to do the motion-capture performance, it surely would have been subpar, as so many remakes and reimaginings are. Disney abandoned the project in 2011.
5. Yellow Submarine is more vibrant than ever!
The film has been rescanned to 4K resolution for its theatrical cut, as it was for its still available Blu-ray and DVD release in 2012, making it brighter and more visually stimulating than ever. Scenes that had been shortened have been reinstated in their entirety, sequences have been corrected and other changes made for the U.S. market have been put back, such as an entire section for the Lennon sung “Hey Bulldog” (never seen in the American theatrical version). With new mixes added by Abbey Road engineer Peter Cobbin, the Yellow Submarine experience promises to submerge music and animation fans — a half-century after it was created — like never before.