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YELLOW SUBMARINE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Director:  George Dunning
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Mono
Video:  Widescreen 1.66:1
Studio:  MGM/UA
Features:  See Review
Length:  90 Minutes
Release Date:  September 14, 1999

Film ***1/2

A joyful day for Beatles fans everywhere was the date the animated classic Yellow Submarine was finally re-released on home video after having been on moratorium for far too long.  Even VHS collectors get to enjoy this funny, irreverent classic, but for we DVD aficionados, we get the movie…and a whole lot more.

The Beatles were under contract to deliver a third motion picture, which none of them were keen on.  The idea of an animated film was one way to allow them limited involvement, and though the “cartoon” concept was not particularly appealing to them, they greenlighted the project.  None of the members provided his own voice, but they did pen a few new tunes for the picture, to go along with the many popular classics offered, including the title track.

In the end, however, the Beatles were impressed with the results…so much so that they decided to film a live action epilogue to go with the movie.  It’s easy to see why the lads were enthused.  Yellow Submarine is a terrifically imaginative movie, and one that has carved out a small niche for itself in animation and pop culture history.

The art involved is as close to the spirit of Dada as a film can get.  The media that make up the images include standard ink drawings, pencil sketches, tracings, watercolors, and even some live action.  The results are cheerfully chaotic and charming.  Thrown in the mix are a lively script, filled with puns and witticisms that might be attributed to everything from Lewis Carroll to Sigmund Freud.  Sample dialogue:

JOHN:  It’s a school of whales.
GEORGE:  They look too big for school.
PAUL:  University, then.
RINGO:  University of Wales?

And who could ever forget the songs.  Many classic Beatles tunes are featured, from “Nowhere Man” to “Eleanor Rigby” to “All You Need is Love”.  And a few new songs were offered by the boys as well:  “All Together Now”, “Only a Northern Song”, “It’s All Too Much”, and for the first time, “Hey Bulldog” has been restored to the film.

Oh, and there’s a story as well, about how the gallant lads from Liverpool have to defend Pepperland against the music hating Blue Meanies.  Lightweight stuff, but trust me, you don’t watch this film for anything other than the spirited animation and great songs.

Video ***

Thankfully, MGM offers a good, though non-anamorphic transfer to this animated classic.  For the most part, the results are good, with excellent coloring and sharp, crisp images…sky of blue, sea of green, indeed.  In a few darker scenes, though, and with the live action ending, there is a bit of noticeable grain, but not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the film.  It looks better than previous VHS versions. 

Audio ****

The soundtrack, however, is very remarkable.  Clean and bright, and newly mixed for 5.1 (original mono also available), these songs have never sounded so good…not even on CD.  A thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.

Features ***1/2

I would have been happy enough just to own the film on DVD, but MGM has assembled a very nice features package to go with it.  There’s a commentary track with Heinz Edelmann, the production designer, a short documentary, a trailer, some storyboard comparisons including two unused sequences, original pencil sketches, interviews, behind the scenes photos, and a music only track that allows you to enjoy the songs of the Beatles and George Martin’s terrific score.  Oh, and play around with the submarine on the main menu screen for some irreverent fun.

Summary:

Yellow Submarine is a fun, imaginative trip with rock’s most legendary group.  The spirit of the animation and music will no doubt please you time and time again.  It’s a delightful experience on a terrific DVD.  We hope you will enjoy the show!