This restored, animated valentine to the Beatles offers viewers the rare chance to see a work that's been substantially improved by its technical facelift, not just supersized with extra footage. Recognizing that its song-studded soundtrack alone makes Yellow Submarine a video annuity, United Artists has lavished a frame-by-frame refurbishment of the original feature, while replacing its original monaural audio tracks with a meticulously reconstructed stereo mix that actually refines legendary original album versions.
What emerges is a vivid time capsule of the late '60s and a minor milestone in animation. The music represents the quartet's zenith--Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The story line, cobbled together by producer Al Brodax and a committee of writers, is a broad, feather-light allegory set in idyllic Pepperland, where the gentle citizens are threatened by the nasty, music-hating Blue Meanies and their surreal arsenal of henchmen, with the Beatles enlisted to thwart the bad guys. Visually, designer Heinz Edelmann mixes the biomorphic squiggles, day-glo palette, and Beardsley-esque portraits of Peter Max with rotoscoped still photographs and film; Edelmann's animated collages also nod to Andy Warhol and Magritte in properly psychedelic fashion, which works wonderfully with such terrific songs.
High orthodox Beatlemaniacs can still grouse that the animated Fab Four are (literally) flat archetypes, but that's missing the sheer bloom of the music or the giddy, campy fun of the visuals. Making sense of the story is second to submerging blissfully in the sights and sounds of this video treat. --Sam Sutherland