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MGM Studios DVD presents
Yellow Submarine (1968)

"Pepperland is a tickle of joy on the blue belly of the universe. It must be scratched."
- Blue Meanie

Review By: Robert Mandel   
Published: April 27, 2000

Stars: Paul Angelis, Geoffery Hughes
Other Stars: John Clive, Peter Batten, Dick Emery
Director: George Dunning

MPAA Rating: G
Run Time: 01H:28M:00S
Release Date: September 14, 1999
UPC: 027616750822
Genre: animation

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I'm not sure that MGM/United Artists could have planned the re-release of Yellow Submarine any better than to correspond with the current wave of retro nostalgia. I'm fairly certain that had the release come a few years back only Beatles and animation fans would have been interested in this post-modern, pop-art, psychedelic extravaganza, and its garish palette of obscenely sixties colors. But retro has brought this all back en vogue, (if you don't believe me check your local mall or look away from the DVD you're watching long enough to notice what your teenager is wearing out of the house).

In 1995 when Bruce Markoe, VP of feature post-production at MGM/UA, was looking for a movie to bring home to his daughter, he came across the 1987 Yellow Submarine laserdisc version.* Although it was an instant hit with his daughter, he realized how muddy the sound and video was. He then started the odyssey that became the Yellow Submarine DVD. After a year of legal dis-entanglement, and another year for the restoration and remixing of both the audio and film elements, the restored print was shown to the Beatles themselves. Despite having final right of refusal, they were all apparently pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

It was twenty thirty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play, they've been going in and out of style, but they were guaranteed to raise a smile.

How symmetrical life becomes at times, it was thirty years ago when Al Brodax, who produced the animated Beatles' television series, contacted the Beatles' manager, Brian Epstein, with the idea of creating a feature-length animated film based on the Lennon/McCartney song, Yellow Submarine. Line director and DVD commentator, John Coates, calls the endeavor both a "curiosity" and a "total miracle," since the project was one year from concept to production, and production was started without final storyboards or script and completed in just eleven months. Hidden away with a team of nearly 200 people, ranging from artists to housewives to college art students, Coates and art director Heinz Edelmann, orchestrated a strange, vibrant, and different approach to animation. Decidedly different from typical Disney fare, the creators opted instead "to do something of meaning for the 1960s; when people were feeling good about flower power and peace," says Coates. The Beatles, cautiously fearful of the project, were not actually involved in the creation of the film until the very late stages (no, it's not their voices). Surprised and pleased with the film, they not only tossed out their final right of refusal but also filmed the ending live action sequence.

It has been 20 years since the only time I ever saw Yellow Submarine, during a Chicago Beatlesfest at the Palmer house (the four of us pretenders stayed their the weekend, yahoo!) I don't remember much in terms of picture or audio quality (I'm sure it wasn't very good), except that it was loads of fun and filled with good music. Well, it still is. Much like the Lord Mayor of that musical villa 80,000 leagues under the sea, Pepperland, there are portions of Yellow Submarine that are a bit old and outdated. Still, the animation remains vibrant and imaginative, and most of all, playful. The Beatles were not just pretty boys who could sing a tune, they were vibrant and playful individuals always good for a bit of witty repartee, and I think the writers, captured the Fab Four fairly well.

"It's a truly mod world, where medium and message meld. The new art of the psychedelic sixties," raves the narrator of the included ancient featurette, A Mod Odyssey. It was Heinz Edelmann's decision to change the appearance of the film every five minutes, leading to the varied landscapes and textures. Drawing inspiration from Magritte and Escher (the hall of doors), to Lautrec and Warhol (Lucy in the Sky) to Peter Max (coloring and characters), Engelmann would sneak in after everyone was gone and correct their drawings when he felt they were going off target. He had very strong ideas about everything from the color scheme, to the square lines of the characters, to the fact that Ringo's character walked at 24 beats per second versus 32 for the others. Say what you want about the animation, how can you go wrong with an attack by Kinky Boot Beasts?

However, in the end, as it inspired the worker bees that penned, colored, and filmed this movie, it is the music that constitutes the underlying foundation for the film. On top of the songs the creators chose from the Sergeant Pepper's album, the Beatles contributed four original songs to the film: It's All Too Much, Only a Northern Song, Altogether Now, and, included for the first time in the U.S. version, Hey Bulldog.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: MGM presents The Beatles in animation via a non-anamorphic 1.66:1 original widescreen theatrical release ratio. Although the transfer is not without flaw, one cannot even begin to appreciate the restoration job performed on this animation classic without viewing either the trailer or the included short featurette, A Mod Odyssey. You would have thought the animation itself was done in murky waters, or that you were watching through a dirty fish tank, because the trailer and featurette are filled with a muted and muddy palette of grays, browns, greens, etc. There are no Blue Meanies in either. A featurette that included a comparison of the decayed original versus the newly restored version, and perhaps some footage of the process used in the restoration, might have made an interesting extra and tip of the hat to the restorers, as well.

On a 45" screen, the new colors rendered are bright and sharp and vivid. On a 19" screen the transfer is brilliant and mesmerizing, nearly 3D at times. I am sure it must be absolutely wonderful on a 16:9 screen; my only complaint here, of course, is the lack of an anamorphic transfer, which would have provided a 33% increase in resolution. Although most of the dirt, scratches, and nicks are gone, there remains a fair amount throughout the feature still. There are also bouts of graininess, dot crawl, and occasional flickering (the Eleanor Rigby sequence, for example), owing mostly to the age of the negative, I would think. In fact, the entire first reel had to be restored frame by frame. With all that out of the way, this is a restoration and transfer worthy of high praise to the folks at MGM. You should not be disappointed.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: MGM includes on this single-sided picture disc, both a fantastic remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, as well as an original mono track for the die hard "originalists." I chose the 5.1 mix, and it really is something special. Read the article linked below if you want to get the hard facts of the remaster, but I've got to tell you the down and dirty in layman's terms. The surround effects with the Flying Glove, the reverb and sub on the Kinky Boot Beast attack, the forward and rear sound placement during Yellow Submarine and Sergeant Pepper, the nice sweeping effect as Ringo climbs the hill to his home in the pier, and the Day in a Life musical transition—amongst many others—are like ear candy to a Beatles fan.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese with remote access
0 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Animator John Coates
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo gallery
  2. Original pencil drawings
  3. Menu easter eggs
  4. Snippet interviews with some cast and crew
  5. Trivia booklet
Extras Review: As for features, MGM has packed this DVD to the gills—and then some. The animated, interactive main menu offers up a brightly colored moving pinwheel into which the Yellow Submarine sails, while a snippet of the song plays and underwater sonar sounds plink off at intervals.

There are some hidden extras here as well. If you up-arrow to each of the animated Beatles and click they recite a line from the film. If you up-arrow again above each character a hyphen appears and when you click they recite another line or music plays. Then, if you arrow-up twice to the smokestacks and click, a chorus of Yellow Submarine plays. If you right-arrow to mid-tail of the ship and click, the Captain pops up and asks, "Won't you please help me?" If you left-arrow from the smokestacks and click on the right-most porthole, the Lord Mayor pops up and says, "You could pass for the originals." If you left-arrow to the next porthole and click, Jeremy the Boob appears reciting, "Ad hoc, ad loc and Quid Pro Quo, So little time, so much to know." One more left-arrow and click and the Captain appears and implores, "Sir, the Blue Meanies are coming!" Lastly, one more time to the left and the leader of Blue Meanie says, "I haven't laughed so much since Pompei." An amusing addition.

The other menus are animated and interactive as well. I found the scene selection menu a bit difficult to navigate, but there are a vast amount of scene cues, which is something I do really like. I hate having to go to one scene only to fast-forward or fast-reverse to get to the scene I really want. The more cues the better. As with the Beatles themselves, MGM was obviously aware of the international interest this disc would generate and has included four other additional language subtitles besides English: French, Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese. By the way, I'd like to reiterate that I absolutely love the inclusion of English subtitles. Besides making my life easier gathering quotes, I like to watch a movie with them on at least once, because I feel you discover a lot of missed dialogue when you are only processing the dialogue via your hearing sense. Try it, you'll be pleasantly surprised by how much you gain, and how much you've been missing.The isolated musical score and Beatles' songs in DD5.1is quite a treat, and fast becoming one of my favorite special features. I hope for further releases, MGM considers an on-disc index for this feature besides the one in the eight-page booklet, which would make this absolutely top notch, but is very cool as is, nonetheless. The original theatrical trailer is not just very hip, but, again, truly displays how much effort was required to restore this film.

MGM presents a massive amount of pre-production materials in several forms. First is a split-screen effect (without need of the DVD-ROM, thank you) whereby one can watch storyboard sequences compared to the actual animated footage of the "sea of monsters." Second are 118 pre-Heinz Edelmann storyboards for "battle of the monsters," which shows a more prehistoric look than Edelmann's surrealistic entries, and 64 slates of an unused BBC commissioned alternative ending storyboard sequence of the Beatles return to "Pepperland.") Third are 29 original pencil drawings for line and color tests in various scenes, 30 behind the scenes photos of a Beatles visit to the BBC animation studios in November 1967 which include shots of the commentator John Coates (page 29) and director George Dunning (page 30).

Also included are interesting and enlightening snippet interviews with the voice personnel Paul Angelis (Ringo and Blue Meanie leader) and John Clive (John), David Livesey (key animator), Millicent McMillan (assistant to Heinz Edelmann who claims to have suggested the color blue for the Meanies), Jack Stokes (animation director), and Erich Segal (co-writer). The aforementioned original seven-and-a-half minute making-of documentary Mod Odyssey, which seems to me more important as the original "featurette" without a premium channel home (Where was this broadcast?). Finally, there is the feature-length commentary by John Coates that is at times slow and a bit self-congratulatory, but invigorated by his observations, stories, and his obvious pride in and love of this film. My favorite relates back to the story I began earlier where Heinz Edelmann would sneak into the animation studio after everyone was gone and redraw the animator's effort for the day if it appeared to veer off course. Well, it seems he would so by climbing in and out of a window, and was at one point caught and detained by the local Bobbies!

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

As "Young" Fred seeks help from the Fab Four after the Blue Meanies have attacked Pepperland, I am transported back to my youth. I really had no choice but to be a Beatles fan—I had two older, flower-children sisters who forced fed me the great music of the Beatles and the sixties. So when I received this DVD, as an epilogue to the entire odyssey, I dragged my recently converted Beatles fan of a thirteen-year-old stepdaughter to watch this "old and outdated" animated story. She found it highly amusing and imaginative. That, my friends, is what makes a piece of art a classic, the endurance to reach out and touch those of consequent generations. We could do a lot worse than be showing this to our children. I think the messages of love, peace, togetherness, and our need for music, while certainly old, are most assuredly not outdated.

*Thanks to Steve Tannehill at http://www.dvdresource for the link to this nice article from which I paraphrased the tale of the pre-production of the DVD: http://www.mixonline.com/current/1999/features/09yellowsubmarine.html. Give the article a read if you want to get some of the technical details of the restoration.


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