Classic Intel: Yellow Submarine - DVD Review

'The film’s style is a multifaceted artefact of late 1960s culture: Pepperland is a flower-powered utopia filled with rainbow-hued inhabitants; in contrast, Liverpool appears as a rough urban landscape drained of colour'

Within the history of the moving image, it’s hard to deny Yellow Submarine’s significance. Credited as one of the key works to elevate animation’s standing as a serious cinematic form as well as having notable cultural impact through George Dunning’s distinctive animated style, it has remained one of the most influential and recognisable animated feature films since its release close to half a century ago. But it’s important not to get swept away in the film’s historical worth – not to mention its soundtrack provided by a little-known four-piece called The Beatles – when considering its merits as a successful piece of cinema.

Dunning’s animated style has retained its charm over the decades, looking sharper and more vibrant than ever thanks to the painstaking restoration carried out frame by frame on Yellow Submarine completed just last year. The film’s style is a multifaceted artifact of late 1960s culture: Pepperland is a flower-powered utopia filled with rainbow-hued inhabitants; in contrast, Liverpool appears as a rough urban landscape drained of colour; and the “seas” that the Fab Four sail through on their journey in the eponymous xanthic vessel present a range of surreal settings embodying the era’s psychedelic subculture.

Structurally, Yellow Submarine is a musical first and foremost, with Beatles songs cropping up regularly throughout. Simply put, if you’re a Beatles fan then the soundtrack will be just your thing; equally, if you’re not a Beatlemaniac at the start of the film, that’s unlikely to have changed by the time the credits roll. For the casual Beatles listener however, there are enough of the group’s most famous tunes here for you to tap your feet and sing along to – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, All You Need Is Love and, of course, Yellow Submarine – with a pleasing dash of their less regularly played yet equally excellent songs, such as the infectiously simple All Together Now and piano-riff-driven Hey Bulldog.

The film’s integral connection to The Beatles’ music is however also key to its main shortcomings. Whilst several of the songs fit their placement in the film excellently, others feel somewhat crowbarred in, whilst others still have little or no connection to what is going on at all. Much of the film’s running time can be viewed as an extended music video for the songs featured, which is both entertaining and ahead of the film’s time, but by its very nature means the whole shebang lacks depth and structure.

Yellow Submarine’s plot is also incredibly episodic and simplistic, with the exaggeratedly cartoonish Blue Meanies’ invasion of Pepperland having barely any motivation other than the fact they’re the bad guys, so it’s what they should be doing. When you’re distracted by the soundtrack and animation the slightness of the story isn’t much of an issue, but there are also several times when the film becomes somewhat tedious, especially during the lengthier gaps between songs.

As a narrative piece, Yellow Submarine is fine, straightforward entertainment but never anything more thanks to Dunning’s direction being somewhat less impressive than his animation. The film is lifted by the artistic merit of its audial and visual aesthetic appeal, and it deserves the recognition it gets as a significant milestone in animation. There are also some cracking one-liners throughout the script to keep you amused when you’re not nodding your head along to a Beatles song. Yellow Submarine ends up as cinematic whimsy, enjoyable whilst you’re watching but unlikely to stay with you much after you’ve finished.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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