The Beatles and animation? To the uninitiated, these two seem unrelated, but to understand and appreciate modern animation, which includes the latest Disney Pixar release or animated television series like South Park or The Simpsons, you have to reckon with and understand the critical role that the Beatles played in helping the animation industry. The band’s influence and creative energy with their music split into the general arts, including illustration and animation.
The band altered popular music with their sophisticated musical compositions and using cutting-edge recording techniques, influencing many other recording artists, producers and sound engineers. The band was equally forward-looking in their image. They utilised photography and art to create magnificent album covers. This visual awareness was soon harnessed to make a live-action film, A Hard Day’s Night.
The film saw the band popularise the music video and use it as a marketing and promotional tool for the album when, at the time, playing live and having a song on the radio were the essential promotional avenues for selling singles and albums. Using film and video was seen as less essential, and a Hard Day’s Night paved the way for music videos like Penny Laneand Strawberry Fields.
After the band’s revolutionary studio process and trendsetting music videos, they revolutionised the world of animation with their film, Yellow Submarine. The song Yellow Submarine, which inspired the film, was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and sung by Ringo on the band’s Revolver album. When the film was released in 1968, Yellow Submarine became a hit with audiences and critics.
Writing in Esquire, Matt Miller praises the film and argues that we would not have modern animation as we know it today without Yellow Submarine. “Studios like Pixar and Dreamworks make fantastical movies that earns billions of dollars and spawn franchises. These studios as well as some of the most popular and beloved cartoons of the last 30 years owe a debt of gratitude to Yellow Submarine, which is frequently named one of the most influential animated films in history, serving as a template for modern cartoons, from The Simpsons to Adventure Time”, said Miller.
A former producer on The Simpsons, Josh Weinstein, writing in The Guardian, said of the film, “Before Yellow Submarine, animation was a mild, goody-goody world of personality-free gloved mice and cartoon bears stealing picnic baskets. Only the Fleischer brothers in the 1930s dared to do really weird stuff with their early Popeye cartoons, and most of that is unknown to the general public. But after Yellow Submarine, it was a wholly different world.” Weinstein emphasises, “Without Yellow Submarine, there would never have been The Simpsons, no Futurama, no South Park, no Toy Story, no Shrek. No animated anything that enables us to laugh at ourselves while being highly entertained.”
Inside Yellow Submarine
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The basic plot of the film Yellow Submarine takes place in the fantasy world of Pepperland, a psychedelic paradise that faces imminent doom from the villainous Blue Meanies. The desperate residents call upon the Beatles to save the day, and the band use their Yellow Submarine to go to Pepperland and help rid the lands of the Blue Meanies.
This simple plot is enveloped by surrealist imagery and stream-of-consciousness dialogue. The film’s humour and subversive elements are the main influences on today’s animation. Shows like The Simpsons and Adventure Time and films like Shrek are subversive. These cartoons and animated features appear for children, but the dialogue and stories have double meanings and layered narratives directed at an adult audience.
Cartoons from Disney and others have always had adult humour buried in the stories and visuals. Still, Yellow Submarine, for better or worse, created a mode of expression within animation that was less subtle and more explicit with its provocative message.
The Beatles revolutionised animation.
The film Yellow Submarine paved the way for other animated series and films.
If it weren’t for Yellow Submarine, we wouldn’t have shows and films like The Simpsons, Adventure Time or Shrek, among others.
Do you think the Beatles revolutionised animation? Please comment below.