Yellow Submarine (1968)

Wealthy, idealistic, and naive, the Beatles founded Apple Corporation in 1968 not merely as a recording studio, but as a haven for artists of all media. Unhappily, Apple wasn't well managed, and soon ran up such debts that the Beatles were forced to cede the rights to their own recordings.

The demise of both Apple and the Beatles was written on the wall in 1968. The Beatles, while still outstanding, may have lost the title of best British rock group. "Magical Mystery Tour", the new songs in "Yellow Submarine", and the weaker entries on their white album could not match the quality of "The Who Sell Out", the Rolling Stones' "Beggars Banquet", and the Kinks "Something Else."

But Apple was not yet rotten to the core in 1968. Apple's first two singles, "Hey Jude" and Mary Hopkins' McCartney-produced "Those Were the Days" were enormous hits. And Yellow Submarine, an animated feature, met with surprising approval from critics, who had a year earlier slammed the plotless "Magical Mystery Tour" telly special.

Yellow Submarine had little direct input by the Beatles, who approved the project in order to escape from a movie contract with United Artists. They despised the Saturday Morning cartoon version of the Beatles, and they probably expected more of the same. Only four new songs were offered, all quickies, two of them sung by the group's weakest singer, George Harrison.

But the four songs were still great, as were of course the older songs incorporated into the film. The Beatles' initial disinterest in the project was perhaps to its advantage, as the animators flourished in a creative environment not muddied by studio executives and distributors.

Yellow Submarine did not have lavish animation. The 'psychedelic' pop-art images are well-drawn and imaginative, but the depth of the older Disney feature cartoons is not present. The movie was also handicapped with Beatle impersonations, as the actual Fab Four had better things to do at the time (such as the 'White Album') than to lend their voices for a cartoon.

The Beatles do show up in a live-action wrap-up, by which time they had seen the rest of the film and were duly impressed. While not as great as either A Hard Day's Night or the underrated Help!, Yellow Submarine has no shortage of clever droll observations ("university of Whales") and marvelously surreal sequences.

The show is stolen by the bad guys, who look like mad, megalomaniac, and blue versions of Disney's Scrooge's Beanie Boys. Among the very curious villains are the Apple Bonkers, who are tall, slender, and robotic. They can drop an endless supply of big green apples on people to paralyze them. The irony is that the symbol of Apple Corporation was its big green apple, and it is used in Yellow Submarine as an instrument of terror.

After many years in obscurity and relative unavailability, Yellow Submarine is now on DVD. It has remastered stereo sound, and the weaker "Hey, Bulldog" scene deleted from the U.S. print has been restored. Excluding a pair of Disney-produced "Winnie the Pooh" shorts, Yellow Submarine is probably the best animated feature from the sixties. 1968 was an extremely turbulent year: RFK and MLK were assassinated, and the Vietnam War crested. But as was the case in 1939, quality films can emerge from troubled times.