“Understated” isn’t a word you’d ordinarily use to describe a Jerry Bruckheimer production, but that’s surprisingly what 12 Strong ends up being.
As everybody knows the Blue Meanies only take no for an answer. That's why they get so mad when the songs of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band percolate through Pepperland. Such songs encourage strange plants to bloom. There's a big YES sprouting near the bandstand, and love is growing all over the place. So the Blue Meanies counterattack with anti-music missiles, turning everyone in Pepperland blue. Except for Old Fred, conductor of the band, who flees in the Yellow Submarine to recruit the Beatles in the fight against Meanies.
What follows is the most original and inventive feature-length animated cartoon since the days when Walt Disney was still thinking up innovations. As Disney demonstrated in "Fantasia," and as the underground has abundantly proved for the past decade, there is no form of film with more freedom than animation. You can do absolutely anything you want with movement, dimension color, shapes, perspective and anything else that occurs to you.
Unfortunately, most animated cartoon makers are content to reproduce the real world. So there's a recognizable jungle in "The Jungle Book," and Tom and Jerry chase each other through an unmistakable living room. The beauty of "Yellow Submarine" is that it casts this objective universe aside and sails in a world of pure fantasy. The strange creatures and designs that inhabit Pepperland are simply a delight to the eye.
We see strange dimensions. The Beatles are adrift on the sea of holes, and since all holes have an in and an out, you can go into any hole right side up or upside down and come out sideways to everybody else. This is all perfectly clear when it's written about in the English language (how else could Alice describe Wonderland?), but only an animated cartoon can stretch space and bodies so that you literally see Ringo and George zapping back and forth between dimensions.
They also get caught in a time trip, speeding up and slowing down time in correct Einsteinian fashion, growing older and younger while their submarine travels the fourth dimension.
Then comes a series of adventures as the Beatles engage the Blue Meanies in battle, win, free Pepperland and use melodies to make flowers grow. Along the way, they also sing 11 Beatles songs, which are illustrated with the most fanciful animation, and they indulge in shameless puns.
"Yellow Submarine," curiously enough, exists on two levels with nothing in between. It is beautifully simple and childlike on one level, and erudite and deep on another. But it is not simply straightforwardly entertaining as "A Hard Day's Night" was.
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