Fab Four Restored
When did the Beatles become a big-screen cartoon of themselves? Maybe with 1964's live action A Hard Day's Night, in which the Fab Four played themselves in broad comedic brushstrokes. Yet the transition became literal four years later with Yellow Submarine, as significant a breach from their mop-top roots as anything from their recording studio. Treading a magical tightrope between psychedelic experiment and kid-friendly romp, this newly restored animated classic drops the band into Pepperland. It's a strange and sunny version of postwar England, replete with bandstands and picnics on the village green. But the evil Blue Meanies (who look suspiciously like British Bobbies) want to strip all positivity from the world. Even with the Beatles attached, this was a risky venture: Released while much of the media was still harrumphing about hedonistic hippies, its dissident political allegory was infused in Lee Minoff's plot. It went through multiple in-depth script rewrites, and its peculiarly English humor draws heavily from surrealist radio comedies like The Goon Show. 1967's The Magical Mystery Tour TV special was a critical flop and so panicked American producers they cut "Hey Bulldog" – one of the last true Lennon/McCartney collaborations – fearing it made the film too long for U.S. audiences. Yet audiences of all ages warmed to a film that added even more to the Beatles' myth. Don't credit the Liverpool legends too much: They were too busy recording The White Album to play themselves and left that task to a who's who of mid-Sixties British comedy actors. The film is really the masterwork of director George Dunning. He slaved away on the production line for ABC's Saturday morning animated Beatles show, yet there was little to hint at the enduring Bruegel-meets-pop-art world that he and chief designer Heinz Edelmann created here.
The newly restored Yellow Submarine screens Saturday, March 17, noon & 8:30pm, at the Paramount.