Rescuing “Yellow Submarine”

Hollywood shouldn't let "Mars Needs Moms" bomb sink Beatles animation remake

Disney’s epic failure to launch with "Mars Needs Moms" suggests the flick is sputtering toward becoming the "Ishtar" or "Heaven's Gate" of the motion-capture animation genre.

Which is a shame, because the bomb apparently has claimed another casualty: Disney has nixed plans to bankroll "Moms" producer Robert Zemeckis' 3-D motion-capture animation remake of the Beatles cartoon classic "Yellow Submarine," according to The Hollywood Reporter.

We were looking forward to seeing how Disney and Zemeckis, who gave us "Back to the Future," would breathe new life into the 1968 trippy voyage to Pepperland. No matter what sunk "Moms" – whether story issues or a movie market flooded with animated films or audiences sick of paying extra for 3-D glasses – "Yellow Submarine" arrives with a lot more going for it: a proven tale and 16 Beatles songs.

If there are any doubts of the Beatles’ durability and appeal to audiences born decades after the band’s breakup, check out the success of the release of the group's songs on iTunes as well as the popularity of the animation-heavy “The Beatles: Rock Band” video game. The built-in audience for “Yellow Submarine” also includes a couple of generations raised on the movie.

Part of the disappointment in the production snag is that innovative Disney is out of the game 43 years after it finally became the right studio for “Yellow Submarine.”  In 1968, Disney was a moribund operation whose past glory days were both inspiration and satirical fodder for the psychedelic Pop Art cartoon, a "Fantasia" on acid, with a rock soundtrack.

It's hard to blame Disney suits for being wary. "Moms" cost $175 million to make and promote while bringing in $6.9 million in its first weekend, according to The New York Times, which reports that the flop could have a Hollywood-wide chilling effect on the production of computer-enhanced films, even in the age of “Avatar.”

Zemeckis has been an pioneer in motion-capture animation movies, beginning in 2004 with “The Polar Express,” which was marred only by the weird, otherworldly eyes of the human characters. His 2009 effort in the genre, “A Christmas Carol,” did reasonably well at the box office.

As for “Yellow Submarine,” Zemeckis clearly comes to the source material as a fan. He memorably weaved footage of John Lennon into “Forest Gump,” and his first major movie was the quirky, special effects-free 1978 comedy, "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," about a group of friends' quest to meet the Fab Four.

Disney reportedly has told Zemeckis that he’s free to find another studio. So all he needs is cash – and all we need is some hope that he’ll be able to reanimate “Yellow Submarine” for a new journey below the sky of blue and sea of green.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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