I love animation. Though it seems that most animators choose to animate objective reality. There’s nothing wrong with that, but Disney showed us with Fantasia (1940) that anything can be animated. Fantasia showed us abstract moving shapes and images that were strange but pleasant to behold. The only other movie I can think of that animates abstract art is Yellow Submarine (1968).
The tranquil paradise of Pepperland is protected by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by performing music. When the land falls under attack by The Blue Meanies, the band is trapped inside a music-proof bubble. The Blue Meanies continue the attack and in so doing drain Pepperland of color and joy. Captain Fred (Lance Percival) manages to escape in a yellow submarine and travels to Liverpool seeking help. He finds Ringo (Paul Angelis) aimlessly wandering around, whom he persuades to help save Pepperland. They round up Ringo’s “mates”, John (John Clive), George (Peter Batten), and Paul (Geoffrey Hughes). They set out for Pepperland in the yellow submarine, passing many strange and bizarre regions such as The Sea of Time, The Sea of Monsters, and The Sea of Nothing, where they meet another friend, Jeremy Hilary Boob, Ph.D (Dick Emery) Learning that The Blue Meanies are repelled by music, The Fab Four retaliates against Pepperland’s oppressors using classic titles by The Beatles.
I once had a Beatles themed birthday party where I served a 6-foot “Yellow Submarine” sandwich, we watched Yellow Submarine, and played The Beatles: Rock Band. As we watched the movie, my cousin asked, “Do you need to be high to get this movie?” I must respond with an empathic “No!” Yes, this movie is full of some of the strangest imagery I’ve ever seen in a movie, and I suspect that’s what confuses some viewers. We’re accustomed to seeing reality represented in movies, even animated features which quite literally could animate anything. Yellow Submarine takes a bold step by actually showing us anything; abstract art is shown in vivid color and it is quite eye-catching to behold. Recreational pharmaceuticals may alter your viewing of Yellow Submarine, but I don’t recommend it; I enjoyed the animation just fine without it.
Yellow Submarine is a landmark in the development of animation. Some of the abstract visuals and characters presented to us have influenced contemporary cartoons. The Chief Blue Meanie was a basis for The Gromble in Nickelodeon’s 1990’s cartoon series, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters as well as HIM in Cartoon Network’s series The Powerpuff Girls. I’ve seen The Sea of Holes represented in various cartoons like Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog, and probably influenced Valve Corporation’s hit video game Portal to some degree. Yellow Submarine is worth watching, if for no other reason than to see where other media drew their influence.
As a product of both the 1960’s and The Beatles, Yellow Submarine has a lot of 1960’s cultural influences, psychedelic animation aside. The aged Lord Mayor of Pepperland refuses to believe that The Blue Meanies would invade until they are upon him. His lack of understanding and acknowledgement of his surroundings represents the hippie views of the older generation. Jeremy represents the pseudo-intellectuals toiling away with their old values of science, literature, and art; he’s not is really up with the times and the “higher thinking” that the younger countercultural generation believed it brought. The Beatles bring salvation to Pepperland through their modern music and messages of love; a very hippie notion, indeed. The Blue Meanies, of course, representing war, hate, and bullying in general are generic villains, but are still influenced by 1960’s concepts and values.
Yellow Submarine is a totally weird, but fun animated movie that has had a great deal of cultural impact. It’s full of classic Beatles songs and groaner puns. This is a nice, clean movie that even the youngest of audiences could appreciate. The surrealist abstract art animation would probably dissuade some viewers, and understandably so. This movie is pretty unique as far as art direction goes. It’s so different even today, that I could easily understand some viewers thinking they would need to be high in order to appreciate the film (but again, I don’t recommend it). Having said that, I think the movie is worth seeing at least once if you can find a copy, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Most of my party guests didn’t care for it and wanted to return to playing Rock Band.
Take a look at the trailer to see what kind of surreal visuals you can expect in Yellow Submarine.
Can you think of another movie that use abstract art? What was it? Comment below and tell me what you thought.