It's about time that "Yellow Submarine," the 1968 film starring the music of the Beatles and some of the trippiest animation ever to emerge from the psychedelic era, was re-released in a buffed-up version. Few movies are worthier of visual and aural restoration, or of finding a new generation of fans.
This Pop masterpiece, whose original stereo sound has been re-mixed to fit a Dolby 5.1 world and whose colors have been brightened and tweaked to their original spectacular richness, looks as fresh and ingenious as the day it was first released. And its story -- about a rag-tag team of musicians who heal a threatened world through love and music -- hasn't lost an iota of relevance in three decades of cultural coarsening.
"Yellow Submarine," which opens today for weeklong run at the Senator Theatre, should not only attract leagues of new young followers, but inspire those early admirers who suspect they might have become too cynical for the movie's flower-fueled humanism.
The story gets off to a characteristically mordant start when a narrator intones, "Once upon a time Maybe twice. ," and we are introduced to Pepperland, an Edenic country located 80,000 leagues under the sea whose peaceful environment is threatened when the Blue Meanies begin to plonk its citizens with enormous green apples. Young Fred (the voice of Lance Percival) sets out to find help in his yellow submarine, finally discovering four doughty young fellows with a penchant for puns and Edwardian dress who agree to help him drive the Meanies out of his country.
Fred's initial meeting with the foursome -- played by the voices of John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Paul McCartney -- is one of "Yellow Submarine's" most delightful sequences, a farce involving the doors of consciousness that could have been staged by Jean Renoir. But every filmgoer will have his or her favorite passage, whether it's the sad, strange collage of animation and photography that accompanies the elegiac "Eleanor Rigby," the fantastic underwater scenes that should put George Lucas to shame, or a newly added song, "Hey Bulldog," which accompanies a lively fight between the Fab Four and the Meanies' four-headed version of Cerberus.
Children especially will be mesmerized by this non-stop riot of color, action and imagination. And grown-ups who might have last seen "Yellow Submarine" when they were youngsters may now appreciate the film's marvelous homages to such artists as Dali, Escher, Magritte, Richard Lindner and the Bloomsbury Fauvists.
But filmgoers don't have to be familiar with the movie's artistic references to giggle at its punning humor ("Are you bluish? You don't look bluish.") or Harrison's self-referentially amusing mantra that "It's all in your mind."
With its combination of naivete and sophistication, "Yellow Submarine" harkens back to a cultural watershed when human potential, the expansion of consciousness and political change seemed bound up together in a fragile blossom of possibility. Yet it doesn't feel a bit dated, either in its aesthetic or its message.
As difficult as it is to believe that "Yellow Submarine" is over 30, it's proven to be a member of the cinema establishment well worth trusting.
Directed by George Dunning
Running time 90 minutes
Released by MGM Pictures
Sun score ****