LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Beatles’ classic 1968 animated film “Yellow Submarine” has been relaunched on Blu-ray and iTunes for the first time, as well as on DVD, and this remastered version brings fresh details on how the original came together.
The movie, featuring cartoons of The Fab Four battling the evil Blue Meanies and their army of odd monsters in the mythical, peaceful world of Pepperland, had been released on DVD in 1999 but that is out of circulation.
Almost as intriguing as the tale told in the film and its restoration is the story of how the milestone in experimental, psychedelic animation was made - especially since The Beatles originally wanted little to do with it, several of the original makers told Reuters.
The group had a three-picture deal with United Artists and the first two, “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) and “Help!” (1965), were worldwide hits. But by 1967, the quartet had had enough.
Al Brodax, producer of a popular Saturday morning animated Beatles cartoon on ABC, convinced United Artists and Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein to let him produce an animated theatrical film to satisfy the contract.
“I volunteered the third film,” Brodax told Reuters. “All The Beatles had to do was contribute four new songs.”
But The Beatles disliked the TV show featuring slapstick comedy and cartoonish versions of the group, and initially had no interest in a film, its makers said.
“The Beatles hated the TV series,” the movie’s animation director Bob Balser told Reuters. “It had never been shown in England - they wouldn’t allow it. And they figured ‘Yellow Submarine’ was going to be more of the same.”
Bob Hieronimus, author of “Inside The Yellow Submarine: The Making of The Beatles Animated Classic” (www.21stCenturyRadio.com), claims director George Dunning brought in top new animation talent for the film.
Many fans have mistakenly attributed the unique design of the film to pop artist Peter Max because his style was reminiscent of the look of the characters in “Yellow Submarine.”
But in reality, it was German Heinz Edelman who came up with much of the look of the film - The Beatles figures, the Blue Meanies, the backgrounds and the film’s many odd characters.
“He designed an amazing array of characters from the Blue Meanies and their army. He really enjoyed creating all their interesting weapons,” said original production supervisor John Coates. Jack Mendelsohn, one of several writers on the film including author Erich Segal and poet Roger McGough, noted that Max had never gone out of his way to deny he wasn’t involved.
Indeed, once The Beatles saw the work coming out of the studio, and realized it was far from its TV predecessor, they embraced the project and eventually shot a live-action segment that appears at the tail end of the film.
Even though an outline and script were written by playwright Lee Minoff, much of the story was created by the animators. “I think there were about 20 writers on the film, but it was really a huge collaborative effort,” said Balser.
Edelman came up with the Blue Meanies battling The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper characters. “Heinz knew little about animation, which meant he had none of the limitations of thinking that animation people had,” Balser said.
The artists, recruited from schools worldwide, used a variety of innovative animation techniques, including bringing cartoon life to still photos (“Eleanor Rigby”), freeform rotoscoping and watercolor (“Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), and even an array of transparent tape to produce a kaleidoscopic effect for the film’s finale (“It’s All Too Much”).
Traditional cel animation was used, including for the film’s long-lost “Hey Bulldog” sequence. The song was a late addition and animated more in the style of the TV show. “Heinz hated, and so did I,” Balser said. “I took it out.”
Not seen in the original U.S. film release, and only briefly in England, the sequence has long been a curiosity to fans. It appears in the new release - as it did in the 1999 DVD.
For the new restoration, Hollywood-based Eque Inc used the film’s original camera negative, working painstakingly for months, one frame at a time, to digitally clean and restore over 130,000 frames of film, according to supervisor Paul Rutan, Jr.
“I think the thing that struck me the most was the incredible amount of detail that was in every frame. It blew me away,” he said. “We stayed away from using automation tools, which would have ruined all that detail. It’s all still there.”
Balser said that if the film were remade with today’s CGI techniques, it wouldn’t be the same. “What you see is the soul of people working on a film. It’s art.”
It’s also clearly a labor of love, which is reflected in the newly remastered version. And, as Hieronimus put it, “love can conquer even the bluest of Meanies.”
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Richard Chang