The film was directed by animation producer George Dunning, and produced by United Artists and King Features Syndicate. Initial press reports stated that the Beatles themselves would provide their own character voices; however, aside from composing and performing the songs, the real Beatles participated only in the closing scene of the film, while their cartoon counterparts were voiced by other actors.
The film received a widely positive reception from critics and audiences alike. It is alsoCREDITED with bringing more interest in animation as a serious art form. Time commented that it "turned into a smash hit, delighting adolescents and esthetes alike".
At the beginning of the story, Pepperland is introduced by a narrator as a cheerful, music-loving paradise under the sea,PROTECTED by Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The titular Yellow Submarine rests on an Aztec-like pyramid on a hill. At the edge of the land is a range of high blue mountains.
The land falls under a surprise attack from the music-hating Blue Meanies, who live in or beyond the blue mountains. The attack starts with magical projectiles fired from big artillery stationed in the blue mountains. The Blue Meanies seal the band inside a music-proof blue glass globe, make the Pepperlanders immobile as statues by shooting arrows and throwing loads of big green apples upon them (a reference to the Apple Records music label), and drain the countryside of colour.
In the last minute before his capture, Pepperland's elderly Lord Mayor sends Old Fred, an ageing sailor (whom the mayor calls "Young Fred"), to get help; he runs to the Yellow Submarine and takes off in it ("Yellow Submarine"). Old Fred travels to Liverpool (whose scene is set by "Eleanor Rigby"), where he follows the depressed and aimless Ringo and persuades him to return to Pepperland with him. Ringo collects his "mates"John, George, and finally Paul in The Pier, a house-like building on the top of a hill. The four are introduced with accompanying characterisation: Ringo wanders aimlessly around Liverpool, being pursued by the titular Submarine; John appears with literary fanfare, as Frankenstein's monster who drinks a potion and turns into himself; George appears in a surreal, sitar-themed scene (with the sitar intro to "Love You To" as his theme) that plays on his championing of Transcendental Meditation; and Paul appears as a "modern Mozart". The five journey back to Pepperland in the yellow submarine. As they start learning to operate the submarine, they sing "All Together Now", after which they pass through several regions on their way to Pepperland:
Sea of Time – where time flows both forwards and backwards to the tune of "When I'm Sixty-Four". At one point, the submarine passes itself as it loops through time.
Sea of Science – where they sing "Only a Northern Song". Just before the song finishes, they pick up a monster.
Sea of Monsters – The monster is ejected into a sea inhabited by other weird monsters. Ringo presses the panic button on the submarine, ejecting him from the submarine and into the sea. He is seen riding one of the monsters, who tosses him around, and with the threat of Native American-like creatures, resulting in John pressing another button on the submarine, sending the US Cavalry to successfully defeat the Native Americans, rescuing Ringo. It is also where a monstrous "vacuumCLEANER beast" sucks up all loose objects and people and then the entire landscape and finally itself, popping the submarine into a strange empty void.
Sea of Nothing – This blank region is where they meet Jeremy Hillary Boob Ph.D.("Phud"), a short pudgy creature with a painted clown face and cotton tail, but a highly studious and helpful ally to the Beatles, who sing "Nowhere Man" in reference to him. As they leave, Ringo feels sorry for the "Nowhere Man" and invites him to join them aboard the submarine.
Foothills of the Headlands – Thanks to Jeremy, this is where he and the Beatles are separated from the Submarine (and Old Fred) and where John sings "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". Pepper (foreshadowing that Pepperland is yet to come) causes the beings in the Headlands to sneeze, blowing the Beatles and Jeremy into the…
Sea of Holes – Here, Jeremy is kidnapped by one of the Blue Meanies patrolling the outskirts of Pepperland. Ringo thoroughly investigates one of the endless number of holes and puts it into his pocket...a move that will be significant in the final stage of the story. While searching for Jeremy, Ringo jumps onto a green hole which turns the Sea of Holes into Sea of Green; from here, the group arrives in Pepperland, followed by Old Fred and the Submarine.
Reunited with Old Fred and the submarine, they look upon the landscape: a sorry sight. The beautiful flowers have become thorns, the once-happy landscape now a barren wasteland. Everyone is immobilised and made miserable by the evil Blue Meanies, only able to move when permitted (such as when the Meanies feel like bullying them). The Beatles, after defeating some apple-bonkers, dress up as Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and steal some instruments (their own instruments were lost in the Sea of Monsters) from the warehouse where the Meanies impounded "all things that maketh music". The four are discovered at the last second (Ringo accidentally steps on a bagpipe) and a clown Meanie sounds the alarm, causing the Beatles to flee hastily from the Meanies' vicious multi-headed (and multi-bodied) dog. Once in the clear, the four "rally the land to rebellion", singing "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band", eventually forcing the Blue Meanies to retreat. The Chief Blue Meanie retaliates, sending out his main enforcer, the Dreadful Flying Glove, but John easily defeats it by singing "All You Need is Love". Pepperland is restored to colour and its flowers re-bloom, as the residents, empowered by the Beatles' music, rise up and take up arms (flowers) against the Meanies, who are fleeing headlong back to the blue border mountains where they came from. The original Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are released (thanks to the hole carried in Ringo's pocket from the Sea of Holes) and Ringo rescues Jeremy. The Beatles then have a rematch with the four-headed Meanie dog, singing "Hey Bulldog", with the Beatles victorious once again (This scene was in the UK version). The Blue Meanies are forced to retreat, and the Chief Blue Meanie tries to save face by killing Jeremy, but Jeremy performs some "transformation magic" on him causing the Meanie to sadly concede defeat. John extends an offer of friendship, and the Chief Blue Meanie has a change of heart (partly due to the "transformation magic" performed by Jeremy) and accepts. An enormous party ensues, where everyone sings "It's All Too Much" with everyone living happily ever after.
At the end, we see the real Beatles in live-action, having returned home, playfully showing off their souvenirs: George has the submarine's motor, Paul has "a little 'LOVE'" and Ringo still has half a hole in his pocket (having supposedly given the other half to Jeremy, which Paul offers to fix "to keep his mind from wandering", a reference to "Fixing a Hole"). Looking through a telescope, John announces that "newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theatre" and claims there is only one way to go out: "Singing!" The quartet obliges with a short reprise of "All Together Now", which ends with translations of the song's title in various languages appearing in sequence on the screen, which concludes with the words "Released through United Artists" on the bottom-right-hand-corner of the screen.
According to the special features section of the Yellow Submarine DVD, Peter Batten provided the voice of George for the first half of the film. Batten was discovered to be a deserter from the British Army in Germany (the British Army of the Rhine) and was arrested during recording. His lines were finished by Paul Angelis (the voice of Ringo Starr in the film).
Percival also provided the voices of Paul and Ringo for the ABC TV cartoon series The Beatles.
The Beatles were not enthusiastic about participating in a new motion picture, having been dissatisfied with their second feature film, Help! (1965), directed by Richard Lester. They saw an animated film as a favourable way to complete their commitment to United Artists for a third film, however. Ultimately, because of the band members' relatively small roles and the fact it was animated, United Artists still considered them to owe another film; Let It Be would be the third film to complete their contract with the studio.
The Beatles make a live-action cameo appearance in the final scene, which was filmed on 25 January 1968, shortly before the band's trip to India. This was to fulfill their contractual obligation of actually appearing in the film. The cameo was originally intended to feature a post-production psychedelic background and effects, but because of time and budget constraints, a blank, black background remained in the final film. While Starr and McCartney still looked the same as their animated counterparts, Lennon and Harrison's physical appearances had changed by the time the cameo was shot. Both were clean-shaven, and Lennon had begun to grow his hair longer with accompanying lamb chop sideburns.
The original story was written by Lee Minoff, based on the song by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, and the screenplay penned by four collaborators including Erich Segal. The George Harrison character's recurring line "It's all in the mind" is taken from The Goon Show.
As with many motion picture musicals, the music takes precedence over the actual plot, and most of the story is a series of set-pieces designed to present Beatles music set to various images, in a form reminiscent of Walt Disney's Fantasia (and foreshadowing the rise of music videos and MTV thirteen years later). Nonetheless, the film still presents a modern-day fairy tale that caters to the ideals of the "love generation".
The imagery, character names, and vocalisations include numerous in-jokes, such as the character Max being blue and having a German accent, possibly being a reference to the 1966 film The Blue Max, who also refers to escaping to Argentina, as some Nazis had done.
In the DVD commentary track, Coates states that the Meanies were always intended to be coloured blue. However, Millicent McMillan recalls that the Blue Meanies were originally supposed to be red, or even purple, but when Heinz Edelmann's assistant accidentally changed the colours, the film's characters took on a different meaning. Coates acknowledges in the commentary that the "are you Bluish? You don't look Bluish" joke in the film is a pun on the then-contemporary expression "you don't look Jewish", but that it was not intended to be derogatory.
The Beatles' animated personas were based on their appearance in the promotional film for the song "Strawberry Fields Forever", with the exception of Paul being without his moustache. The film also includes several references to songs not included in the soundtrack, including "A Day in the Life", where the lyrics are referenced in the "Sea of Holes" scene, as well as the orchestral breaks earlier in the film, also from "A Day in the Life".
National and foreign animators were assembled by TVC. Bob Balser and Jack Stokes were animation directors. Charlie Jenkins, one of the film's key creative directors, was responsible for the entire "Eleanor Rigby" sequence, as well as the submarine travel from Liverpool, through London, to splashdown. Jenkins also was responsible for "Only a Northern Song" in the Sea of Science, plus much of the multi-image sequences. A large crew of skilled animators, including (in alphabetical order) Alan Bell, Ron Campbell, John Challis, Hester Coblentz, Geoff Collins, Rich Cox, Duane Crowther, Tony Cuthbert, Malcolm Draper,Paul Driessen, Cam Ford, Norm Drew, Tom Halley, Dick Horne, Arthur Humberstone, Dennis Hunt, Dianne Jackson, Anne Jolliffe, Dave Livesey, Reg Lodge, Geoff Loynes, Lawrence Moorcroft, Ted Percival, Mike Pocock and Gerald Potterton, were responsible for bringing the animated Beatles to life. The background work was executed by artists under the direction of Alison de Vere and Millicent McMillan who were both background supervisors. Ted Lewis and Chris Miles were responsible for animationCLEANUP.
George Dunning, who also worked on the Beatles cartoon series, was the overall director for the film, supervising over 200 artists for 11 months. "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was George Dunning's idea, which he turned over to Bill Sewell, who delivered more than thirty minutes of rotoscoped images. By that time, George Dunning was not available, and Bob Balser, with the help of Arne Gustafson, edited the material to its sequence length in the film.
The animation design of Yellow Submarine has sometimes falsely been attributed to famous psychedelic pop art artist of the era Peter Max, but the film's art director was Heinz Edelmann. Edelmann, along with his contemporary Milton Glaser, pioneered the psychedelic style for which Max would later become famous, but according to Edelmann and producer Al Brodax, as quoted in the book Inside the Yellow Submarine by Hieronimus and Cortner, Max had nothing to do with the production of Yellow Submarine.[page needed]
Though it is disputed whether Peter Max had anything to do with it, he makes this claim in a 2012 interview in Westchester Magazine: "I was very, very close friends with The Beatles, and they were going to make a movie. I remember getting a call from John, saying they wanted me to do it. So I designed it. And then I flew to Europe and found out that they wanted me to stay in Europe for seventeen months and make the whole film. I said, ‘I can’t.’ I had a fifteen-month-old boy and my wife was going to give birth to another kid in four or five months, and I was not going to stay away for a whole year. There was an artist in Europe, in Düsseldorf, Germany, named Heinz Edelmann, who called himself ‘the German Peter Max.’ I called him and gave him the opportunity to do the film. When I met him and he gave me his card that said ‘Heinz Edelmann: The German Peter Max,’ I said, ‘Heinz, I don’t mind if you copy my work, but please don’t copy it exactly and please take my name off of your card.’" The film's mise en scène has also been compared to 20th century German draftsman and outsider artistFriedrich Schröder Sonnenstern, whose paintings were considered by many to have been nurtured by psychosis.
In addition to the 1966-released title song "Yellow Submarine", several complete or excerpted songs, four previously unreleased, were used in the film. The songs included "All Together Now"; "It's All Too Much", written by Harrison; "Baby, You're a Rich Man", which had first appeared as the B-side to "All You Need Is Love", in June 1967; "Only a Northern Song", a Harrison composition originally recorded during sessions for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; and, for the European release only, "Hey Bulldog". Written by Lennon, this last track was cut from the film when it opened in US cinemas; according to Segal, its removal was suggested by McCartney when the film-makers met with the band straight after the London premiere in July 1968. "Hey Bulldog" wasRESTORED for the US theatrical reissue in 1999. The four new songs used on the soundtrack album were not considered of high enough quality for appearance on a regular Beatles album.
The film's instrumental music was an orchestral score composed and arranged by George Martin. One of the film's cues, heard after the main titleCREDITS, was originally recorded during sessions for "Good Night" (a track on The Beatles, also known as the White Album) and would have been used as the introduction to Starr's White Album composition "Don't Pass Me By". The same cue was later released as "A Beginning" on the 1996 compilationAnthology 3.
1.16.30-1.16.40: "Baby, You're a Rich Man" (excerpt, played as Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band are, thanks to Ringo's "hole in his pocket", set free from the anti-music bubble; the recording of the song is expanded for the American-released version, and the scene with the expansion of the recording of the song leads to a scene that replaces the "Hey Bulldog" sequence due to the latter sequence being "anti-climactic".)
1.17.25-1.21.00: "Hey Bulldog" Originally shown only in Europe before the film's 1999 restoration.
Yellow Submarine received widespread critical acclaim. The film was distributed worldwide by United Artists in two versions. Released in the midst of thepsychedelic pop culture of the 1960s, Yellow Submarine was a box-office hit, drawing in crowds both for its lush, wildly creative images, and its soundtrack of Beatles songs. The version shown in Europe included an extra musical number, "Hey Bulldog", heard in the final third of the film. For the U.S. version, the number was replaced with alternative animation due to time constraints. It was felt that at the time, American audiences would grow tired from the length of the film. Of all the Beatles films released by UA, this had been the only one UA retained the rights to, leading up to its purchase by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayerin 1981. In 2005, Sony Pictures Entertainment led a consortium that purchased MGM and UA. SPE had handled theatrical distribution for MGM until 2012. Conversely, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment was responsible for home video distribution when the most recent home video release went out of print.
In The Beatles Anthology, released in the mid-1990s, the three surviving Beatles all admitted that they truly liked the film; regarding their initial non-participation, Harrison, who considered it a "classic", later admitted that he preferred that the group did not provide their own voices, feeling that the professional voice actors captured a certain "cartoonish" element far more effectively than they might have done themselves. Starr also revealed that for years he was approached by children and asked "Why did you press the button?", referring to when his character curiously pressed the panic button ejecting him from the submarine into the sea of monsters. Lennon also implied that his son, Sean, first realised his father had been a Beatle because of the film. After seeing Yellow Submarine at a friend's house at the end of the 1970s, Sean came home asking why his father was a cartoon.
As of 2013, the Internet Movie Database gave it a "MovieMeter" score of 7.2 out of 10, meaning "favourable". Yellow Submarine currently holds a 96% percent rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 46 reviews.
With the dawn of the home video era came an opportunity to release Yellow Submarine on VHS and LaserDisc. However, it was held up for some years due to music-rights issues that UA had to clear in order for the film to be issued on video by what was then MGM/UA Home Video in 1987. This was presented in its U.S. theatrical release (without the "Hey Bulldog" scene), with a simulated stereo mix of the film's originalMONO soundtrack. After a couple of years, the video was pulled from release, and for many years copies of the initial home video pressing were considered collectibles.
In 1999, then-rights holders MGM andAPPLE re-issued the film using restoration techniques of the time, the sound remixed to Dolby 5.1, and the film re-edited to its European theatrical version with the "Hey Bulldog" numberRESTORED. This version (released through MGM Home Entertainment) has since gone out of print as the rights reverted to Apple Corps.
On 20 March 2012, Apple Corps Ltd. announced that the film has beenRESTORED by hand for DVD and Blu-ray release on 28 May (29 May in North America), later delayed one week to 4 June (5 June in North America). In a released statement, the company stated: "The film's soundtrack album will be reissued on CD on the same date. The film has beenRESTORED in 4K digital resolution for the first time — all done by hand, frame by frame."
Apple Corps Ltd. had specialists work for four months to individually clean each frame of the 1968 surreal tale by hand. The company said that they chose not to use automated software because of the delicate nature of the hand-drawn artwork. In addition to the DVD and Blu-Ray re-release, theRESTOREDversion also received a limited theatrical run in May 2012.
In 1999, United Artists and Apple Records digitally remixed the audio of the film for a highly successful theatrical and home video re-release. Though the visuals were not digitally restored, a new transfer was done after cleaning the original film negative and rejuvenating the colour. A soundtrack album for this version was also released, which featured the first extensive digital stereo remixes of Beatles material.
The previous DVD also featured a "soundtrack only" version, in which the dialogue is removed, leaving only the music and the songs. As aforementioned, the MGM disc is out of print and the film's rights have reverted to Apple who reissued the film in June 2012 on DVD and Blu-ray.
The Powerpuff Girls episode "Mime for a Change" starts out with a rainbow similar to the one marking the gateway into Pepperland. Furthermore, Mr. Mime, when he robs Townsville of its color, also renders the citizens immobile and silent, same as the Meanies' weapons and the green apples from the GreenAPPLE Bonkers. And the girls, when they sing a lovely rock song about love,RESTORE the color and life back into Townsville, same as the Beatles doing likewise singing Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and All You Need Is Love. Old Fred and the Beatles as seen in the film also appeared in the episode "Meet the Beat-Alls".
In the opening sequence of the third Futurama movie, Bender's Game, the Planet Express ship flies into the giant television screen and, rather than crashing and breaking it as in the show's usual opening, it gets absorbed into the screen and travels through an opening sequence that parodies the Yellow Submarine's journey in the film.
In May 2010, Disney closed Zemeckis' digital film studio, ImageMovers Digital, after the successful yet unsatisfactory box office performance of A Christmas Carol. On 14 March 2011, Disney abandoned the project, citing the disastrous opening weekend results of Simon Wells' Mars Needs Moms. Criticism towards motion capture technology was also a factor.
In May 2012, Yellow Submarine wasRESTORED digitally in 4K for Blu-ray and DVD release. The delicateRESTORATION was supervised by Paul Rutan Jr. and his team which included Chris Dusendschon, Rayan Raghuram and Randy Walker. No automated software was used to clean-up of the film’s repaired and digitized photochemical elements. The work was done by hand, a single frame at a time by 40 to 60 trained digital artists over several months.
The newly re-mastered version was released on Blu-ray and DVD on 28 May 2012. The film was also released in selected cinemas across the U.S.