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Bright blue Meanies goose-step through Pepperland stomping out joy wherever they find it, while properly turned-out British gentlemen plop giant apples on people and turn them into stone.

A flying glove whizzes through the air, smashing music and music lovers with a huge fist.

A wee, clown-faced creature alternately weeps, jabbers in Middle English and paints with his foot.

Sound like the dream you had after eating cold jambalaya at midnight?

You must be under 35.

For anyone older than that, those bizarre images, and the music that accompanied them, instantly evoke what has been called the first and arguably most innovative and bizarre long-form video ever made:

The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine."

It was a little over 30 years ago today that Sgt. Pepper taught his band to play but was then silenced by the Blue Meanies, Apple Bonkers and Flying Glove, setting in motion this psychedelic, 90-minute cartoon, which has been dusted off, re-colored and digitally re-recorded for a worldwide re-release next week.

Nine theaters in major U.S. cities will get theatrical screenings, while some markets -- such as Buffalo -- will be inundated with video and DVD copies for sale.

"You really owe it to yourself to see this," says Bruce Markoe, MGM's vice president of feature post-production.

Markoe spearheaded the restoration after screening a faded laser disc of it for his 5-year-old, and watching her become engrossed in its fanciful, spacey images and pop soundtrack.

Now restored, "the film's color is staggering, and the music and the message of 'Don't be a Blue Meanie, say yes, celebrate music' is more relevant than ever," he says.

In timing with what amounts to the last major Beatles event of the century, the U.S. Postal Service has issued a stamp commemorating the Beatles; and last week, a Channel Tunnel Eurostar train painted in psychedelic images from the film traveled from London's Waterloo Station to Paris, where it will remain for three months.

Not bad for a movie that the Beatles very nearly did not make.

For back in 1967, following the huge success of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," John, Paul, George and Ringo were interested only in winging to India and hanging out with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

However, contractual obligations dogged them. They owed MGM one more film to follow "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!" -- but none of the four wanted to devote a year or more to being on a set.

The solution: an animated feature loosely based on an obscure short story about a mystical land whose inhabitants are tyrannized by the negativity-loving Blue Meanies and must be freed by -- in this case -- the Fab Four.

It required no shooting schedule; it gave renowned artist Peter Max a chance to unleash his legendary creativity; and the Beatles, as it turned out, wouldn't even have to lend their voices to it, as vocal doubles had already been found.

Actors John Clive, Geoffrey Hughes, Paul Angelis and Peter Batten spent 15 months imitating the band members' distinctive inflections, while Abbey Road engineers compressed eight Beatles songs, mixed sound effects and laid it all against Max's color-drenched imagery.

The results, released to theaters in midsummer 1968, were mixed.

Some reviews declared it nothing less than groundbreaking. "One of the most original pieces of moviemaking in years," said the Cleveland Press. "A fresh, witty, visually stunning film," crowed the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

But some fans who had become used to the more sophisticated, snappy pace of the Beatles' previous films expressed confusion over the story and acid-trip animation. Many complained that, save for one brief scene, none of the Beatles ever appeared in person, only cartoon versions of them.

Ultimately, dozens of British theaters refused to show it, and within years, "Yellow Submarine" became a staple of late-night and Saturday morning viewing on American TV.

Which is where Cathy Carfagna first saw it -- open-mouthed.

"I was still a kid, and that sequence where they're drifting through the sea of holes was just -- wow," says Carfagna, a singer with the Jazzabels.

"It had that whole English trippy thing going, which was so mysterious to me, and in a way still is. And remember, this was not even hip, by the time it was on TV, which made it even more mysterious to me. I absolutely loved it."

But millions of would-be fans never got a chance to experience the mystery and fantasy of "Yellow Submarine."

Due to legal spats between Apple Records and various distributors, the film was abruptly yanked from TV stations and video store shelves in 1987.

When Markoe found a rare laser disc version of "Yellow Submarine" languishing in an L.A. used-records store a few years ago, he snapped it up for a mere $15, realizing, "My God, there was an entire generation that had grown up on MTV but had never seen this, which is unlike any video they've ever seen."

Several years of pleading with Apple Records and archivists at Abbey Road Studios ensued, and the remaining Beatles had to give their blessing.

Finally, the project was green-lighted and the original tins holding the song masters were literally dusted off and painstakingly remixed digitally in surround sound.

Now rewashed in vibrant aquas, tangerines, fuchsias and purples, "Yellow Submarine's" look and crystal-clear sound astonished the remaining Beatles when they screened it this past spring for the first time in over a decade.

"We were told that Paul, Ringo and George were absolutely thrilled with it," Markoe recalls. And he thinks a generation of viewers raised on more formulaic Disney creations will be, too.

"Personally, I think Disney would kill to have a film that not only looks like this, but has 12 hit songs in it," he says. "They'd kill to have this, period."

Some fans who haven't seen it in over a decade agree.
Former Goo Goo Dolls producer Armand Petrie was 11 when "Yellow Submarine" debuted in the summer of 1968. But he can still recall the high of experiencing it on the enormous theater screen where he saw it.

"I remember seeing the actual Beatles come on at that one point, just as themselves, where they look through the lens and go, 'Uh-oh, look, it's the Blue Meanies' and it was just this huge adrenaline rush, I was so in awe of these guys," recalls Petrie, who is now producing Velour and awaiting the birth of his first child, a girl, in February.

And yes, he says, he will share "Yellow Submarine" with her as soon as he can.

"Even if you come from a generation where you didn't get what (the Beatles) were all about, or even know about them, you can't miss how wonderfully happy this movie is, how whimsical and completely positive it is," Petrie says.

In fact, it's very sense of whimsy was so un-hip that Caroline Fulkerson found the film "almost subversive" the first time she saw it on TV as a near-teen.

"All the things Ringo muttered, all the little throwaway lines the Beatles were so good at, just made me laugh so much," remembers Fulkerson, a programming and promotions assistant for WGRF-FM (97 Rock).

"It was almost like when you see certain Warner Brothers cartoons for the first time and realize: 'Wow, there's a whole other context underneath these lines. These aren't necessarily for kids.' "

Some wonder if, at century's end, "Yellow Submarine" will be appreciated by kids at all.

"What could happen is that those who were raised on MTV and the Internet and videos may not think this is a very big deal," Petrie speculates.

There isn't much of a story here, he points out, and what story exists is presented rather lazily, laced with sly humor, obscure references and strange images which may elude -- or simply bore -- a less literate generation.

For example, at one point, Sgt. Pepper bangs on Ringo's door pleading for assistance. "Help! I need somebody! Won't you please, please help me," he cries, echoing the Beatles lyrics of "Help!"

"Be specific," deadpans Ringo.

"Younger generations are so used to that 'in-your-face' presentation that is so fast," agrees Fulkerson. "They may not get this. Some of it's pretty bizarre, and some of it is just very heavy, like the 'Eleanor Rigby' sequence. Or they may love it. I hope they do. It's so universal, it would be kind of hard not to."

Back on board
Title: "Yellow Submarine"
Running time: 88 minutes
Recording: Remixed into 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound
What's new: The never-before-released animated song "Hey Bulldog," plus seven additional Beatles songs (in place of George Martin instrumentals) never included on the original six-song soundtrack.
Song List: "Yellow Submarine," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," "Eleanor Rigby," "Nowhere Man," "Only a Northern Song," "Love You To," "Think for Yourself," "You're a Rich Man," "All Together Now," "Hey Bulldog," "It's All Too Much," "When I'm 64," "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band/With a Little Help From My Friends"
Format: Video ($20) or original wide-screen DVD ($30)
Special-edition DVD contents: Original wide-scren format of 1968 film; "The Mod Odyssey" -- a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of "Yellow Submarine"; audio commentary track on the film's musical production; music-only track minus dialogue or sound effects; interviews with actors who voiced for the Beatles, the film's writers and animators; storyboard sequences, and the original theatrical trailer.

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