Animation Cel-ebration
July 21, 2023 posted by Michael Lyons

Magical Musical Tour: The 55th Anniversary of “Yellow Submarine”

When Yellow Submarine was restored in 1999, film critic Roger Ebert reflected and observed in his review that the film was “…arriving like a time capsule from the flower power era, with a graphic look that fuses Peter Max, Rene Magritte, and M.C. Escher. To borrow another useful cliché from the 1960s, it blossoms like eye candy on the screen, and with 11 songs by the Beatles, it certainly has the best music track of any animated film.”

A perfect summation of this iconic film that has cut across genres and fanbases since its debut in 1968 and celebrates its 55th anniversary this year.

A fantasy of the highest caliber, Yellow Submarine tells the tale of the peaceful people of Pepperland being invaded by the villainous Blue Meanies, who hate music and launch bombs that leave everything frozen and colorless.

Old Fred, conductor of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, manages to flee in the titular submarine, and enlist the help of the Beatles, to defeat the Blue Meanies.

Yellow Submarine came about when the Beatles agreed to the film to satisfy a three-picture deal they had with United Artists. The Fab Four make a live-action appearance at the end of the film, but other than their popular songs that are featured, John, Paul, George, and Ringo did not voice their animated counterparts.

Director George Dunning and his team of artists – many held over from London’s TVC studio, which had produced the Saturday morning Beatles cartoons – created a mesmerizing film filled with a cascade of colors and distinctive art direction by illustrator and designer Heinz Edelmann that has become instantly recognizable and iconic.

Among the highlights: the giant Flying Glove, with its sneering face and smoke billowing behind it; the innocent Boob, with his smiling, mask-like face, short, stumpy body, and rabbit-like tail, who befriends the Beatles, and the Apple Corps, giants who drop oversized apples on their victims.

This bizarre collection of characters exists in a world that blends traditional animation with photography and rotoscoping, such as in the musical sequence “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

It’s one of the many Beatles songs in Yellow Submarine that now serve as a soundtrack for multiple generations.

Some of the others include the title song, “Nowhere Man,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “All Together Now,” “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and “All You Need is Love.” The last is a joyous sequence, where the lyrics and the word “Love” continually appear, hypnotically, in the sky.

Yellow Submarine opened on July 17, 1968, in the United Kingdom and November 13 of the same year in the United States. The film was embraced not just by critics but by audiences, who, as Ebert recalled, were already viewing Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (released the same year) in a unique way where they would “…lay, or lie, flat on their backs on the floor in front of the screen, observing Kubrick’s time-space journey from a skewed perspective – while, as the saying went, they were stoned out of their gourds.”

Yellow Submarine was greeted in the same psychedelic manner, becoming one of the great “head movies” of the era.

The movie has also had a tremendous legacy and inspired many, including director Robert Zemeckis, who planned a remake of Yellow Submarine using the same motion capture technology used in his hit holiday film, The Polar Express. Thankfully, the remake was abandoned after Zemeckis’ studio ImageMovers Digital was closed.

This is probably for the best as Yellow Submarine deserves to, and does, stand on its own.

As Leonard Maltin said of Yellow Submarine in his book, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons: “For the first time since Disney’s earliest hits, grown-ups and young adults paid admission to see a cartoon feature in theatres. Naturally, it was The Beatles’ name that brought most people in, but it was the filmmaker’s imagination that made them stay – and return to see it again.”


  • There’s a lot to discuss about this film and its ephemera – there’s the inclusion of “Hey Bulldog” in the UK release that was cut in the original US theater run (only to be restored for all future re-releases); the 2000 Yellow Submarine Adventure simulator ride; the Gold Key comic that included unique scenes like an appearance by Lovely Rita, Meter Maid; and the influence it seemed to have on pop culture for years on end with its psychedelic art style…

  • When Yellow Submarine was in production and in the news, I was 17-18. And I had seriously low expectations, for a couple reasons.

    I loathed the Saturday-morning Beatle cartoons (feel free to disagree). I still do.

    I also noticed producer Al Brodax’s name attached to YS. His name was also attached to the even-worse 60s TV Popeye cartoons (again, feel free to disagree).

    There was no reason for me to think that YS would be good on any level.

    Boy, was I wrong. Hell, the Beatles were wrong! YS is a timeless tour de force of animation, music, imagination, creativity. I still watch it to this day. And for once, the Right Thing happened: NO SEQUEL.

    Yellow Submarine is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

    • Disney was going to remake it in 2008 for a 2013 release. It never happened, because MARS NEEDS MOMS flopped.
      Thank goodness!

  • My mentor Duane Crowther did about 7 minutes of the animation on YS farmed out from TVC London, working with director George Dunning. He animated at Fred Calvert Productions in Studio City, with the wonderful Kimi Calvert as his clean up and assistant animator. I got to help just a little on some Jeremy scenes, including one where he is dancing in long shot with his arm rotating 360 degrees, and a few scenes where he is causing roses to grow on the Chief’s furry coat. Duane did a great shot of the Blue Meanies carrying the Chief in on a stretcher/howdah. My friend Robert Alvarez did some work on this stuff too. Hard to believe it was 55 years ago. Duane played Beatles music all day long on his stereo tape player to establish the mood.

    • I look back on the time I spent working on Yellow Submarine at Fred Calvert’s as a special place in my career. My memories are of working on the “splotching” sequence when the Blue Meanies start growing roses on their bodies. Mark forgot to mention Ron Campbell was also animating on the film at Calvert’s studio. From what I have heard it was because Campbell had worked on the T.V. series that he was contacted by TVC do work on the film. I believe that is how Duane got involved. Those were fun times and I feel lucky that I was in the right place at the right time.

      • Mark and Robert, thank you so much for sharing your personal stories about the film!

  • My favorite sequence was and is “Eleanor Rigby”.

    I remember a wave of TV commercials that aped various moments and effects from “Yellow Submarine”, much as a later generation of ads would ape music videos.

  • I wish YS would be rereleased to theaters soon. I didn’t see it till it aired on CBS as a movie special. We never caught it in a theatre for two reasons. None of us youngsters were old enough to drive yet and we had to depend on our parents to take us to the movies. Mom and Dad would have refused to take us to YS and sit through it because (A) it was a cartoon feature and to them, cartoon equalled “Little kid audience” (I was 13 and my sister was 14 then), and (B) the Beatles were in it and there was no way my parents would sit through a film starring “those creeps who all need haircuts and play that old dinga-dinga noise instead of music”. As a result, I missed out on the experience of seeing it on the big screen with an audience. Thanks for nothing, you two squares!

  • Who would have thought Al Brodax would parlay those limited animation Popeye cartoons into this? Disney retaliated by reissuing “Fantasia” with psychedelic poster art.

    • Disney also re-released its animated “Alice in Wonderland” with a 60s-flavored poster, even though it had already run on the TV show a couple of times.

  • I was a little too young to see “Yellow Submarine” upon its initial release. (As it happens, though, my family did go to see “2001” that year. I fell asleep. I wasn’t stoned; I was seven.) So I first saw it when it was broadcast on TV in the early 1970s. Curiously, it was my father who really wanted to see it, even though he was hardly a devotee of rock and roll music. Much of the movie reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s animation for “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, which had just begun to be shown in the U.S. I figured that was just the way it was done in England.

    The television screens of the time, and the home video release that came out in the following decade, really didn’t do the film justice, and I’ve always regretted that I never had the chance to view it at the cinema. Come to think of it, the only Beatles movie I ever saw on the big screen is the one that was made for television, “Magical Mystery Tour”.

    I highly recommend Jim Korkis’s two articles about “Yellow Submarine” that were posted in his Animation Anecdotes column on Cartoon Research a few years ago. The Beatles tag just above the Comments section will direct you to them. I miss Jim.

    • Paul, Agreed! Those articles, like all of Jim’s are so richly detailed. We really do miss him. I spoke with Jim by phone this afternoon and he was in admirably good spirits. It was nice to speak with him and let him know how much we all miss him and his work!

  • Man, I feel like an animated reject. I just can’t into Yellow Submariner. I’ve tried several times – but I just can’t sit through it. I like the style well enough. I even like “The Point” and other similar themed art styles. But Y.S just doesn’t turn my crank.

  • saw it again at library in 1985. should be shown more often. Polar Express is seen outside at park districts and holidays several times a year.

  • I missed seeing it in the theater in 1968 because my newborn brother fell ill and, since we were Down The Shore for the summer (Ventnor NJ) with my father back in Philly, my mother couldn’t take us. I’ve never fully forgiven my brother for this. 😀

    I had to settle for occasional TV broadcasts until the TLA Cinema ran it as a double feature with “Let It Be” back in the 80s. The print was probably original and quite beatup and faded, but…Wow.

    I concur. Re-release it to theaters! 😉

  • Gerald Potterton was one of the animators. Three years earlier he directed Buster Keaton in a memorable Canadian short, “The Railrodder.”

  • I was one of the animators on Yellow Sub, and making it it was the most enjoyable year of my life! Buy the two books written by Dr Bob Hieronymous – they’ll tell you all you need to know about the making of the film….

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