Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: Yellow Submarine

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 17, 1999

If I spoke prose you’d all find out I don’t know what I talk about!

Special features

Commentary Track5
Isolated Score7

I only recently saw this movie in the limited theatrical re-release. Very impressive. Good songs, great imagery, decent jokes (and bad jokes, too), and a very interesting and different animation style.

RecommendationRent Soon!
DirectorGeorge Dunning
WritersAl Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, Lee Minoff, Erich Segal, Roger McGough
Movie Rating6
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating7
  • Letterbox

None of the voices (except for the live-action bit at the end, and the music) are the Beatles. They were too busy to get together, and it was holding up production: according to John Coates in the commentary, because they needed to know how the voices went before they could animate the lips moving! I think that kind of quality doesn’t exist too often in cartoons today. (The Internet Movie Database has a different reason for the Beatles not showing up; they just didn’t care, and didn’t want to be a part of it, until the end when they were impressed with what had been done.)

Yellow Submarine” is a weird collection of in-jokes, bad jokes, and funny jokes. Some of the jokes are almost Henny Youngman-style, yeah, Frankenstein, I think I went out with his sister, Phylis. Bits of Beatle songs are worked into the dialogue even if the actual songs don’t appear in the movie. The blackest of the few pieces of dark humor has to be towards the end, when the Blue Meanies have lost, and the Chief Blue Meanie asks Max where they can go now that it is “no longer a blue world”. Max replies: “Argentina?”

The Beatles themselves are most interesting in the movie’s opening, before they get caught up in the plot. They live in this strange apartment building on the docks where all sorts of acid-produced creatures live with them. But once they get into Pepperland they become fairly straightforward, somewhat of necessity to move the plot along in order to save Pepperland.

Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.d is the most interesting of the characters, and steals the scenes he is in. He enters with “ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo, so little time, so much to know!”. He’s a real “know-where” man…

The animation style varies from simple (almost to the point of being bad) up to innovative and wild. Some of it is clearly inspired by the “acid” generation’s art and desires. Much of this style is in the trip between England and Pepperland, as they pass through the intermediary worlds. Some of it is very beautiful, all is wild. Other parts use photographic images composited over and under the animation, but this is done differently than any other such use I’ve seen. It melds much better with the animation, not seamlessly but artistically.

The animation is sharp and bright, and not something you’re going to want to watch on VHS. If you’re a fan of the movie and want to buy it on home video, do yourself a favor and get into DVD.

There is a restored scene in this version, a song called “Hey, Bulldog”. I can’t imagine why they chose that bit to cut from the original, it is the best song bit in the movie. Also, this is the American version, in which the Blue Meanies (or at least the Chief Blue Meanie and his assistant) are rehabilitated in the end. Apparently in the European cut, the Chief and his assistant leave with all the other Blue Meanies.

The trailer is apparently pretty cool, although the first time I played it either I somehow accidentally turned the sound off, or something on the disk or player screwed up for me. Second time around, though, it played fine, and it has some good extra shots of the Beatles themselves “watching the movie”. The commentary is interesting, by animator John Coates. He rambles on wonderfully about the making of the movie, about the atmosphere around the making of the movie, and about the attitudes of the time. Great stuff.

The interviews with two of the voices are very short but nonetheless interesting. The included documentary, “A Mod Odyssey”, is really cool not because it provides lots of information (it doesn’t, really), but because it was made very soon after the movie was made. It gives us some insights into how the movie was viewed then and how the makers wanted it viewed. It also repeats some of the same things that animators and cartoonists are saying today about the “acceptance” of cartoons by adults. According to “A Mod Odyssey”, the Beatles were trying to prove that cartoons could also be for adults—something that we apparently have to reprove every few years.

If you’re an animation fan, you must have this DVD. If you like the Beatles, or if you liked the movie, you’ll want it as well. If you’ve never seen it, I strongly recommend renting it to find out what you’re missing.

Recommendation: Rent Soon!

DirectorGeorge Dunning
WritersAl Brodax, Jack Mendelsohn, Lee Minoff, Erich Segal, Roger McGough
Spoken languageEnglish
SubtitlesEnglish, French
Special FeaturesArt Of, Commentary Track, Documentary, Interviews, Isolated Score, Storyboards, Trailer
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