In 1963, the Beatles, newly becoming famous and with their star obviously on the rise, signed a three-picture movie deal with United Artists. They made the first two films, as agreed upon, in quick, neat order.
The first film A Hard Day's Night, made in 1964, was loved by all, fans and critics alike. It made a huge profit and became an instant classic. Help!, the second Beatles movie, was made in 1965 and made a bundle too. But this time the reviews were much more mixed, with most critics finding many flaws and noting the lesser quality, humor, and originality of the second film.
Help!, although the higher-budgeted of the two films, was seen as a disappointment to many, the Beatles included. And most especially to the Beatles' unspoken leader, John Lennon. Lennon was to always cite Help! as being "crap" and other not-so-gracious epithets.
Several other movie projects were put forth, but a third, contract-fulfilling film, was never quite agreed-upon. And so it stood until 1967, when a solution was put forth.
Al Brodax was an American producer who created a Saturday morning Beatles cartoon series in 1965. The Beatles cartoons were a smash hit, generating huge ratings. Brodax was now in the process of creating a full-length animated feature film "starring" the Beatles themselves. It would feature Beatle songs with the Beatles doing voice-overs and playing themselves.
The Fab Four, unable to face actually "acting" and "going in front of the cameras" again, agreed to this fair compromise. And it appears that they were actually going to fill in the voices of themselves, but in the ever-busy world of Beatledom, things just kept coming up.
First and foremost was probably the sudden, unexpected death of Beatles manager, Brian Epstein, from a drug overdose in August of 1967. As it now appeared, the Beatle film would have to been recorded without the Beatles. Four actors were summarily signed up to supply the boy's voices.
But the Beatles did, at least, agree to supply four brand-new songs for the film's soundtrack. "That'll do for the film," Lennon would say sarcastically, whenever the Beatles had recorded a mediocre, lesser song. (The Beatles had already seen the 1965 "Beatles" cartoons and did not regard them very highly.)
The Beatles, after contributing the four so-so songs, thereby washed their hands of the project and thought that annoying 1963 contract had been fulfilled. But like so much of Beatle lore and legend, this too, may not be so true.
After it's completion, the Beatles were given a private screening of Yellow Submarine and were surprised and delighted with the results. They loved the movie and even agreed to personally film a one-minute cameo to be shown at the tail end of the film. John and Paul were both to later regret not having more to do with Yellow Submarine.
John was to claim, however, throughout the remainder of his life, that the Yellow Submarine people stole many of his ideas, without giving him any formal screen credit. According to John: "They used to come to the studio and and chat: 'Hi John, old bean, got any ideas for the film?' and I'd just spout out all this stuff, and they went off and did it." Lennon could exaggerate and "play the victim" in countless Beatle-related anecdotes over the years, but this claim does seem justified from available evidence.
The only publicly agreed-upon story is that one night at 3:00 in the morning, John called up the producer and said "Wouldn't it be great if Ringo was walking down the street being followed by a yellow submarine?" This exact scene is shown at the beginning of the film.
But John claimed over the years that he had given the producers and writers several other ideas used in the finished film, and the evidence seems to bear him out. "Brodax got half of Yellow Submarine out of my mouth", sputtered Lennon. (The truth seems to be that- yes, they did "borrow" some ideas from John. But John's claim of "half" appears to be Lennon hyperbole. This is just my own opinion.)
Lennon, a truly exceptional and brilliant musical genius was, however, definitely a man given to angry rages, name-calling, and the holding of grudges. Until his tragic death in 1980, John referred to the Yellow Submarine creators as "bloody animals" and other severe names, believing his ideas to have been "stolen."
However angry John was, he did like the film. In fact, his son, Sean, saw Yellow Submarine on TV in the late 1970's, and asked his dad, "Were you a Beatle?"
John patiently explained to his son that it was, indeed, a life he used to lead but he gave it up to live with Sean's mommy, Yoko Ono.
George seems to have disagreed with John's claims regarding involvement, stating unequivocally, "The best thing about Yellow Submarine was that we had nothing to do with it."
As a fascinating sidebar, Peter Batten, the man who did the voice for "George" in the film, was actually a deserter from the British Army at the time of the film's shoot. He was actually arrested for desertion during the shoot, and another voice-over actor, Paul Angelis, had to do the remainder of the film playing "George." Angelis also did the voice of "Ringo." Peter Batten remains unique in movie history as being the only actor ever arrested for desertion from the military while amidst filming.
All the Beatles loved Yellow Submarine and attended it's official premiere in July of 1968 (Lennon escorting his new live-in girlfriend, Yoko Ono, although he was still married to his wife, Cynthia, at the time).
George Harrison, always a man very hard to please, said: "I liked the film. I think it's a classic. The film works for every generation."
Ringo: "I loved Yellow Submarine. I thought it was really innovative, with great animation."
During the making of Yellow Submarine, the Beatles met the film's animator, Heinz Edelman, for one or two meetings. According to Edelman, Ringo was the only Beatle to make any requests of the animator. Ringo actually complained that "his nose should be bigger," said Edelman.
The film's soundtrack, like all Beatle albums, was great, albeit containing a majority of previously-released material. For some strange, inexplicable reason, John's superb song "Hey Bulldog" was edited out of the American version of the film. Fortunately, the "Hey Bulldog" song and animated sequence was restored for the film's recent video release.
Yellow Submarine, a quintessential "period piece" for the 1960's, has aged well and probably remains the most popular and well-known Beatles film.