More than 200 Beatles fans from Malibu and nearby communities were on hand at the Malibu Film Society for the 50th anniversary screening of the animated “Yellow Submarine” last Sunday night. Special guests at the event, doing book signings and introducing the film, were world-renowned local Beatles experts and authors Ivor Davis and Brooke Halpin. The movie played for one night only in movie theaters all over the world on July 8—and Malibu was part of that (although a few theaters had longer engagements).
There was a festive atmosphere in the packed house, with a few attendees even going so far as to dig up bellbottoms and heart-shaped sunglasses reminiscent of the ’60s. Several members of the audience recalled seeing the film when it first came out in 1968.
The 90-minute “Yellow Submarine” is animated with colorful “psychedelic” Peter Max-style art. The four Beatles are represented as animated characters and only appear in person at the very end of the movie. The story, which is interspersed with a half-dozen Beatles songs and orchestral music, begins when the residents of Pepperland fantasyland are attacked by the music-hating Blue Meanies.
Malibu Film Society Executive Director Scott Tallal explained that “Yellow Submarine” is one of only a handful of movies that has not been available for film licensing to theaters through normal channels.
“When we discovered it was going to be shown in theaters for its 50th anniversary, we tried bringing it to Malibu, and it took us four months,” he said. “In the end, we were delighted to be included in the global celebration.”
The film was painstakingly restored frame-by-frame, by hand, back in 2012. Since then, other improvements were made for the 50th anniversary release, according to Billboard: replacing scenes that had been shortened, correcting sequences that had been changed for the U.S. market, inserting the entire “Hey Bulldog” sequence and song and doing a new 5.1 stereo track.
On last week’s broadcast of Halpin’s “Come Together with the Beatles,” radio show, which airs on Malibu’s KBUU 99.1, he and Davis shared their insights on the film.
Davis recalled seeing the film in 1968 in LA.
“It was fun and people went crazy about it,” he said. “I liked its sense of humor, which was similar to a show in England the Beatles liked—Peter Sellers’ ‘The Goon Show.’ As time went by, we appreciated the film more. The songs in that movie are classics today.”
Halpin also saw the movie when it first came out, but in Connecticut. He’d expected the audience to be mostly kids, he said, because it was animated, but was surprised to see it was mainly young adults in their teens and 20s.
Davis and Halpin revealed that the voices of the animated Beatles in “Yellow Submarine” are not the actual Beatles’ voices; the parts were played by actors who sounded similar. Davis said he was nearly a half-hour into the film before he realized that the voices were not really the Beatles—and this was a man who had been on tour with them.
“I thought they did a terrific job,” he said, noting that the Liverpool accent is not that easy to imitate.
Halpin brought up the fact that the “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack was not released until six months after the film was out, which is highly unusual—usually they come out at the same time. He explained that at the time the film was being made, The Beatles had just gotten back from India and were working on their famous double “White Album.” He theorizes that they didn’t want the movie soundtrack to take anything away from the release of the White Album.
He said one song written specifically by John Lennon for the film, called “Hey Bulldog,” was a “screaming rocker” that was never included in the film’s first release.
“Eighty percent of Beatles fans won’t know ‘Hey Bulldog,’” Davis added. The song has been added to the 50th anniversary film.
“The songs that they chose for the movie were ones that would work perfectly with the film’s psychedelic imagery,” Halpin said. “And the message of the film is still relevant today—through the power of positive love, people can overcome.”