Once upon a time... Or maybe twice? Thirty years after its 1969 release, Yellow Submarine is receiving an extensive resurrection - - an acid flashforward, if you like - - with re-issue editions on CD, video and DVD all coming out this month. But given its digital sheen and remastered sonics, the only way to really witness this incredible explosion-in-an-idea-factory is at the cinema.
We're all familiar with Beatles nemeses the Blue Meanies, a welcome reaction against the processed tweeness of Disney. With a cast of Cerberus pitbulls, apple-bonking henchmen and jumbo gloves, they're as sinister and child-worrying as they ever were - unforgettable psychedelic psychos dragged from a Terry Gilliam nightmare.
But what really sets Yellow Submarine apart is that it's one of the few feature-length cartoons to fully realise the belief that animation is a format without boundaries. Watching the animators' imaginations run riot across the screen is a constant joy, as they unshackle their brains and play games with perspective, time and motion. And each song, while commenting on the action, cranks a carnival of styles, from the photo-strobe which accompanies Day In The Life's orchestral shriek, to the fluid scribble and twirl of the outstanding Warholian Ginger Rogers sequence for Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds.
Indeed, with so many irresistible sequences, you'll be hard pressed to pinpoint highlights, but the timequake shenanigans for When I'm 64, with the Beatles' phizzogs spilling into facial fur-coats as the screen ticks with numbers, typifies the cartoon's approach to the experimental, with the emphasis firmly on the mental.
Of course, it could be all too much to take in, but the deadpan punning of the voice-artists cannily contrasts with the visual fizz. Granted, the loose unspooling story is about as sketchy as a concept album - and director Dunning literally loses the plot during the crammed finale - but that's a nano-gripe in a film that so successfully captures the corkscrewed cool and generosity of spirit that defined the Beatles' counterculture. It's a strobing rainbow. It's Dali hosting a firework party. It's a homegrown Fantasia. It is, of course, a masterpiece.