Cult Movie: Yellow Submarine is second best slice of Beatles cinematic weirdness

Czech animator Heinz Edelmann delivers a kind of dreamy, psychedelic version of the band as filtered through pop art and Lewis Carroll
Ralph McLean

YELLOW Submarine is 50 years old. As the Apple machine groans into gear once again and attempts to squeeze every last penny out of Beatles buffs to mark that significant birthday (fancy a seven-inch anniversary picture disc of the title track? Yours for the princely sum of just £15 last time I looked) it's worth reminding ourselves of the movie itself one more time.

The Beatles made five films in their short decade at the very toppermost of the poppermost. With Yellow Submarine their actual involvement was so minimal, amounting to little more than a hastily knocked together live cameo before the end credits and a general endorsement of the concept, you'd be hard pushed to call it “made” by the Fab Four at all but it still captured something quite magical all the same.

Viewed against the band's other forays into film – the hyperventilating Beatlemania buoyancy of A Hard Day's Night (64), the colourful, indulgent surrealism of Help! (65), the acid-drenched Ken Kesey-inspired car crash that was Magical Mystery Tour (67) and the dour, defeated last days of Rome that has left Let It Be (1970), destined to languish in the vaults for as long as McCartney and co are still on this Earth – Yellow Submarine can occasionally be dismissed as the poor relation, a contract-filling kiddies film with little to recommend it.

Such opinions are piffle. It may not make it to the top spot of Beatles movies – that's got to be Richard Lester's manic masterpiece A Hard Day's Night – but it's easily the second best slice of cinematic weirdness to bear the Beatles name in the 1960s.

Odd, woozy and stuffed with innumerable moments of madcap genius and solid gold Beatle melodic magic, it's a masterful trip into an underwater world of animation that still holds up remarkably well today.

Czech animator Heinz Edelmann delivers a kind of dreamy, psychedelic version of the band as filtered through pop art and Lewis Carroll and director George Dunning moulds the simple tale of the band saving Pepperland from the big, bad Blue Meanies into something truly beautiful that still holds the power to dazzle, bewilder and amuse in equal measure.

George Martin's score sets the tone perfectly for a film that's lost in a twilight world between childhood nightmare and adult nostalgia. The world of Pepperland is captured in all its trippy excess and the beautifully animated set pieces are a hallucinogenic delight. When Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds or Eleanor Rigby fire up on the screen in all their extravagant glory it's impossible not to be impressed with the sheer level of invention and visual flare on show.

The Fabs and attendant characters are voiced by the likes of Lance Percival, Geoffrey Hughes and Dick Emery (with the dialogue given a tasty tweak of Scouse sarcasm by Liverpool poet Roger McGough) and the result is pure animation heaven.

Do yourself a favour and reacquaint yourself with it today.

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