The Beatles cartoon series
|Action figures based on The Beatles cartoon series|
The Beatles is (among other things) an American animated television series featuring the fanciful and musical misadventures of the group. It ran from 1965 to 1969 on ABC in the US (only 1965 to 1967 was first run; later transmissions were reruns).
Produced in 1965, the series came about through the efforts of producer Al Brodax at King Features after he was approached by an ABC executive with the idea of producing a Beatles cartoon. Famous toymaker A.C. Gilbert, who envisioned a merchandising goldmine, financed the series.
The series debuted on September 25, 1965 and ended on September 7, 1969. A total of 39 episodes were produced.
The series was an instant ratings hit on ABC in the Saturday morning time slot after it debuted on September 25, 1965 at 10:30 AM EST. It racked up a 13 score (or 52 share), then unheard of in daytime television. The series was sponsored by the A. C. Gilbert Company, the Quaker Oats Company and the Mars Candy Company.
Although uncredited, Dennis Marks, along with Jack Mendelsohn, Heywood Kling and Bruce Howard, wrote all 39 episodes of The Beatles series. Most of the episodes of the series were produced by Artransa Park Studios in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and George Dunning’s company TVC Animation in London, with a handful of episodes made in Hollywood, with a crew supervised by veteran cartoon writer John W. Dunn.
The series was shown on Saturday mornings at 10:30 AM EST until the 1967 third season when it was moved to 12:00 PM EST.
For the fourth season, which consisted of reruns, the series was shown at 9:30 AM EST on Sunday mornings.
Each episode has a name of a Beatles song, so the story is based on its lyrics and it is also played at some time in the episode. The series was syndicated worldwide on television and cable after the original run ended in 1969. In 1986 and 1987, new generations were introduced to the series when it was rebroadcast in syndication by MTV and also by the Disney Channel. On MTV, the series was shown on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 10 AM EST or 7 AM PST. Mark Hamill was a guest host of the MTV run of the series in 1987.
The series was a historical milestone as the first weekly television series to feature animated versions of real, living people. Here’s episode 1:
The series consisted of short animated stories that essentially were intended to set up the visual illustration of Beatles songs that were played in their entirety. In addition, there were sing along sequences with simpler imagery complementing the full lyrics of particular songs.
The series became notorious for its static depiction of the band in their early “moptop-and-suit” look as depicted in the live action film, A Hard Day’s Night, even though the band moved beyond it during the series’ run.
The producers did attempt to acknowledge the band members’ contemporary appearances with photographs of them in the series’ title sequences during its production run.
The band members themselves had nothing to do with the series’ production beyond the use of their music recordings.
American actor Paul Frees did the voices of John and George while Lance Percival (of the Carry On series) did the voices of Paul and Ringo. Frees had been the voice of Boris Badenov in the Rocky and Bullwinkle series.
Frees recorded his voices in America, while Lance Percival recorded the voices of Paul and Ringo in England. He would later provide the voice of Old Fred in Yellow Submarine.
“It took about four weeks to animate each film and I enjoyed it immensely,” recalled Chris Cuddington, a series animator. “The characters were easy to draw, and the stories were simple and uncomplicated.”
Producer Al Brodax and director George Dunning were involved in the production both of the animated series and of the 1968 feature length animated movie, Yellow Submarine.
Following the first season’s success, Brodax considered producing four Beatles prime-time animated specials. But plans to produce them and several other musical-based cartoon series such as, animated versions of “Herman’s Hermits” and “Freddie and the Dreamers” were never fully materialized.
At first, The Beatles disliked the series. It is reported, however, that the band members enjoyed the cartoons in later years.
Their views of the cartoon series discouraged them from participating significantly in the later animated feature film, Yellow Submarine. Only when the band saw and were impressed by the Yellow Submarine’s finished footage did they realize the film was a more ambitious creation. As a result, they agreed to appear in a short live action epilogue for it. John Lennon also offered that the Beatles could redub the movie with their own voices, but the premiere was imminent, so there was no time for that. Too bad, as future home video releases of the film would have benefitted from the real voices of the Beatles.
When “Batman” premiered on ABC’s prime time lineup in January 1966, and became an instant hit, CBS decided to overhaul their Saturday morning lineup. CBS were to focus on superheros, “Frankenstein Jr. and The Impossibles”, “Space Ghost”, “Superman”, “Mighty Mouse” and “The Mighty Heroes.”
“Space Ghost” was slotted opposite the Beatles, and while the ratings for the Beatles were reasonable, at 7.7 a 36% share, “Space Ghost” was hot, at 9.66 a 44% share. Despite the fact that new episodes were made for the Beatles series, it was obvious that a trend had been set.
In the fall of 1967, seven more weeks of new episodes were made for the Beatles series which now aired on ABC at 12noon (Eastern time) opposite “Top Cat” on NBC and the second half of the “Superman/Aquaman” hour on CBS. The 1967 Beatles episodes were more surreal, meant to reach more than just kids as an audience. But CBS’s strategy had paid off. “Jonny Quest” was CBS’s hit, and its lead-in of “Superman/Aquaman” prompted ABC to begin phasing out the Beatles series by scheduling it at 9:30am, Sunday mornings, in the fall of 1968.
ABC’s Sunday morning clearance rate was very low. The Beatles last telecast was Sunday, September 7, 1969. Regarding the cancellation of the Beatles show, Fred Silverman (then of CBS) told TV Guide, “Kids get tired of shows quickly. They would rather watch new shows than repeats of old ones.”
The series didn’t have its debut on British television until 1980 when they featured on early morning TV on Granada. It wasn’t until 1988 that the full series was featured on British television on ITV’s Night Network magazine show. It has been reported that the Beatles themselves blocked the screening of the series on British television. However, according to John Coates, the head of TVC London and later production manager on Yellow Submarine, after hearing the voices of The Beatles it was Brian Epstein who forbade the cartoons from being shown on British television.
Some of the Beatles cartoon episodes you can find on YouTube are dubbed in Spanish. Thanks to our reader Winslow Leach, who informed us that these Spanish voices were recorded in México, dubbed by famous Mexican actors. We know that Ringo and George were dubbed by Jorge Arvizu, who also dubbed a lot of the Hanna Barbera cartoons.
Initially, the open credits theme was a guitar riff from “A Hard Day’s Night” segueing into “Can’t Buy Me Love”, over a cartoon sequence of the group running down a fire escape, echoing a scene in A Hard Day’s Night. The second season’s opening theme was “Help!”, while the third season’s theme was “And Your Bird Can Sing”, over a different cartoon sequence.
Here’s a summary of all 39 episodes of the series:
Season 1 (1965-3/1966)
1. A Hard Day’s Night/I Want to Hold Your Hand: The Beatles are in Transylvania rehearsing in a haunted house with “monstrous” visitors; To hide from their fans, The Beatles run inside a diving bell which drops them into the ocean with a lovesick octopus. Sing Along: Not A Second Time/Devil in Her Heart
2. Do You Want to Know a Secret/If I Fell: The Beatles go to Dublin, Ireland for the weekend where they meet a leprechaun named Willomena Morris; John is kidnapped by Dr. Dora Florahyde and Igor, both of whom want John’s brain for their monster. Sing Along: A Hard Day’s Night/I Want To Hold Your Hand
3. Please Mr. Postman/Devil in Her Heart: Ringo loses 15 rings he bought with all of the Beatles’ spendings and they are expecting a telegram from their manager Brian Epstein for more money; Ringo wanders into the woods in Transylvania where he meets a witch who wants Ringo for a husband. Sing Along: If I Fell/Do You Want To Know A Secret
4. Not a Second Time/Slow Down: The Beatles abandon their flight and land in Africa while trying to get away from their fans, but three girls keep tracking them down. They later encounter a few crocodiles; The Beatles are on the way to the town Ringo Ravene (named after Ringo) until they encounter a donkey that smells gold named “Gold Nose”. Sing Along: Baby’s In Black/Misery
5. Baby’s in Black/Misery: Paul gets kidnapped by Professor Psycho who wants Paul to marry his creation Vampiress, half girl and half bat; The Beatles go to a wax museum where a vampire follows them. Sing Along: I’ll Get You/Chains
6. You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me/Chains: In Africa, Ringo asks a medicine maker named Jack to help fix the Beatles’ flat tire. He then turns a worm into a snake and it lusts for Ringo; After getting knocked out, Ringo dreams about himself as Captain William Bligh from the movie Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). Sing Along: Slow Down/Honey Don’t
7. I’ll Get You/Honey Don’t: The Beatles run into hunter Alan Watermain in Africa after escaping from their fans and go out hunting for a lion; Ringo is mistaken as a bull rider, and the cowboys send him to ride on a toughest bull named Honey. Sing Along: You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me/Any Time At All
8. Anytime at All/Twist and Shout: The Beatles imagine themselves as the Three Musketeers (Plus One) while they are on a tour at a museum in France; The Beatles attend an art show where a girl tries to be like other artists. They inspire her with music. Sing Along: I’ll Be Back/Little Child
9. Little Child/I’ll Be Back: An Indian girl on a Texas reservation wants to prove that girls are as good at trapping as boys are by trapping the Beatles; The mayor of a Texas town gives Ringo a golden guitar as a gift, only to be stolen by three men, prompting the Fab Four to hunt for the thieves and get the guitar back. Sing Along: Long Tall Sally/Twist And Shout
10. Long Tall Sally/I’ll Cry Instead: The Beatles stay at a castle for the night during a fog. John and Ringo try on a couple of cursed armor suits and start to fight each other; After signing too many autographs in Japan, George’s hand gets swollen and suffers “autographitis”. His bandmates take him to a hand doctor but end up in a karate class by mistake. Sing Along: I’ll Follow The Sun/When I Get Home
11. I’ll Follow the Sun/When I Get Home: The Beatles’ car breaks down and they are captured by a highwayman who happens to be a car repair man; The Beatles explore the Notre Dame in France where they later meet its famous hunchback Quasimodo. Sing Along: I’ll Cry Instead/Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby
12. Everybody’s Trying to Be My Baby/I Should Have Known Better: The Beatles, spending the night at a temple in Japan during a rainstorm, are mistaken for Japanese ancestors of four girls; The Beatles are in Rome trying to find a theatre to rehearse. Their last choice is the Coliseum. Sing Along: I’m A Loser/I Wanna Be Your Man
13. I’m a Loser/I Wanna Be Your Man: In Hollywood, Ringo gets hired as a stuntman by Incredible Pictures Inc. and ends up in the hospital after getting pulverized in many scenes; In Rome, The Beatles buy a statue of the Goddess of Musica made from stolen gold coins melted down and sculptured. Sing Along: No Reply/I’m Happy Just To Dance With You
14. Don’t Bother Me/No Reply: In Rome, Italy, The Beatles are being followed by two spies who are after their songbook, “New Beatle Songs”, marked “Top Secret”. The Beatles movie Help! and Oddjob from the James Bond movie Goldfinger are spoofed; In Japan, The Beatles are warned about a jewel thief named Anyface who comes in disguised as Paul, which causes double trouble. There is a spoof of detective Charlie Chan. Sing Along: It Won’t Be Long/I Should Have Known Better
15. I’m Happy Just to Dance with You/Mr. Moonlight: The Beatles are in a Roman Street Festival where Paul wins a dancing bear named Bonnie; The Beatles meet Professor Ludwig Von Brilliant who is on a mission to view an eclipse. After being adrift at sea, they escape from an island on a submarine. Sing Along: Don’t Bother Me/Can’t Buy Me Love
16. Can’t Buy Me Love/It Won’t Be Long: John is given a friendship ring from a Polynesian tribal chief, which means he has to marry the chief’s daughter, who dislikes pineapples; While picnicing in Japan, John goes for a swim in a pond with shrinking potion in it and gets shrunk. The other Beatles think John is a doll and chase after him. Sing Along: Anna/Mr. Moonlight
17. Anna/I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party: In Japan, Paul gets lured into a ghost ship called “Ah-Nah”. The other Beatles dash off to the rescue before they might lose Paul for good; Paul, George and Ringo sneak away from John and go to Greenwich Village for some fun time at a Beatnik party rather than going to a museum. Sing Along: Matchbox/Thank You Girl
18. Matchbox/Thank You Girl: In Hawaii, John buys a trailer for the group to stay in rather than staying at a hotel so many times. They later encounter a group of Hawaiians who are evacuating from a volcano; The Beatles sneak away from their manager to get something to eat at a French bakery by enrolling in a cooking course. Sing Along: I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party/Help!
19. From Me to You/Boys: In Hawaii, a surfer named Surf Wolf challenges George to a surfing duel; The Beatles participate in a Mr. Hollywood Contest in California. Sing Along: Please Mr. Postman/I Saw Her Standing There
Note: The opening title erroneously shows “With Love From Me To You”
20. Dizzy Miss Lizzy/I Saw Her Standing There: John and Paul secretly sign George up to an ice boat race, and he partners up with a girl named Lizzy; In Madrid, John and Paul visit a restaurant where John develops a hot foot with ashes in his boot. Rosita falls for John, and her boyfriend Jose challenges John to a duel. Sing Along: Ticket To Ride/From Me To You
21. What You’re Doing/Money: The Beatles are on a fishing trip, and Ringo runs into gypsies. One of them falls for Ringo and wants to marry him. George comes in as a woman claiming he’s engaged to Ringo to get him back; John puts Ringo in charge to keep their money safe in his jacket pocket. Later Ringo is being followed by a mystery man at a carnival who is after the money. Sing Along: Dizzy Miss Lizzy/All My Loving
22. Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand/She Loves You: The Beatles visit the bavarian alps mission is to climb up a mountain with the dog Gunthar to put up their own flag on top; The Beatles are about to rescue a girl who they think is held as a prisoner on a ship. As a result, her boyfriend, a knife thrower, comes to her defense…with knives. Sing Along: Bad Boy/Tell Me Why
23. Bad Boy/Tell Me Why: The Beatles visit the bavarian alps. A boy named Hans plans to run away from home and be a Beatle. The Fab Four run after Hans to bring him back with their music (Paul is playing the bass right-handed); In Spain, Ringo is the jockey of a donkey that can run like a horse whenever she hears loud music. Sing Along: Please Please Me/Hold Me Tight
24. I Feel Fine/Hold Me Tight: Paul thinks Hollywood’s a phony. Actor Dick Dashing wants to prove Paul he is wrong by putting him in some different movie scenes; In New York, George and Ringo visit the Statue Of Liberty until they have spotted a man with a package which they think is a bomb. Sing Along: What You’re Doing/There’s A Place
25. Please Please Me/There’s a Place: In Madrid, a bull named El Taco gets knocked out, and the Beatles decide to help out with the bullfight with Ringo as the matador, and John and Paul as the bull; John’s sympathy helps a trained ape named Mr. Marvelous escape from the television studio and go out to explore the outside world. Sing Along: Roll Over Beethoven/Rock And Roll Music
26. Roll over Beethoven/Rock and Roll Music: The Beatles are on their way home after visiting New York City until Paul got grabbed by an elephant named Beethoven; The Beatles are invited to play at the Duke’s Palace, but they are mistaken for a string quartet. Sing Along: I Feel Fine/She Loves You
Season 2 (9-10/1966)
27. Eight Days a Week/I’m Looking Through You: A great movie lover named Lips Lovelace loses his ability to kiss. Paul decides to take his place in the studio with a leading lady who falls for him; The Beatles are in Egypt. They are wandering around in the pyramid until Ringo encounters a ghost who wants a body, and he chooses Ringo’s. Sing Along: Run For Your Life/Girl
28. Help!/We Can Work It Out: Paul and Ringo go to a fashion show in Paris. Later the designs are stolen by Jaque Le Zipper. Paul chases Jaque to the Eiffel Tower, and has trouble with heights; George becomes superstitious. The Beatles encounter the Lucky Wizard who is really a thief trying to give them bad luck and rob their money. Sing Along: The Night Before/Day Tripper
29. I’m Down/Run for Your Life: The Beatles are on a tour at a wine factory in France where Ringo accidentally knocks down a vat of wine. If it does not get fixed in two hours, the factory will go out of business; The Beatles are on a tour at the Palace of Versailles. Ringo gets knocked out by a statue, and dreams about the days of Marie Antoinette. Sing Along: Eight Days A Week/Paperback Writer
30. Drive My Car/Tell Me What You See: The Beatles help a young man and his girlfriend get their old jalopy running in a car race, the Popsville Hot Rod Race; While visiting “the man of a thousand faces”, The Beatles fool around with his makeup machine and change into different characters. (Look for Jimmy Durante and Swee’Pea from “Popeye” in it) Sing Along: Yesterday/We Can Work It Out
31. I Call Your Name/The Word: Ringo is convinced to release his pet frog Bartholomew in the swamp. Later a movie producer offers a filming deal to Ringo and the frog, and the Fabs have dashed off to find Bartholomew (George Harrison is briefly seen playing left-handed in one scene); The Beatles are being punished after gazing at the girls’ unveiled faces. The only way to get out of the situation is to say the password: “love”. Sing Along: I Feel Fine (Re-issue)/Wait
32. All My Loving/Day Tripper: The Beatles are in India where they learn how to charm an animal at an “Indian Charm Skool”. When the animal is revealed to be a tiger, they use music to tame it when it’s about to claw John and Ringo (The song “Love You To” is heard in the beginning of this episode.); After watching the movie The Way Out Creatures From Planet Glom, The Beatles take a trip out into space with a beautiful woman who is actually an alien taking them on a one-way trip 23 billion miles from Earth. Sing Along: I’m Looking Through You/Nowhere Man
33. Nowhere Man/Paperback Writer: The Beatles walk into a cave for some exploring which is a home of a hermit who wants to be alone. He tries to get rid of them, but no luck; Each of The Beatles write fictional stories of how they met with Ringo as a theatre actor, Paul as a scientist, George as a secret agent, and John as a war pilot. Sing Along: And I Love Her/Michelle
Season 3 (9-10/1967)
34. Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever: In a spoof of James Bond, The Beatles are jealous of a detective named James Blonde who gets more attention from many women, so the Fabs plan to go to their hometown of Liverpool to stop thieves from robbing Penny Lane so they can be heroes; Traveling with their driver James, The Beatles use music to add some color and happiness to the children at an orphanage, a reference to Strawberry Field in Woolton, a suburb of Liverpool. John tells them: “It’s all in the mind, you know.” Sing Along: Good Day Sunshine/Rain
35. And Your Bird Can Sing/Got to Get You into My Life: The Beatles and a couple of hunters hunt for a rare bird called a green double-breasted tropical woosted that can sing anything, including “Hound Dog” and “She Loves You”; The Beatles are in India, learning how to escape from their bodies from Swami Rivers. It works, but the problem is that the souls’ bodies are moving by themselves, and they must get them before it’s too late. (“Love You To” is heard in the background) Sing Along: Penny Lane/Eleanor Rigby
36. Good Day Sunshine/Ticket to Ride: Ringo thinks he’s a jinx. When the Beatles arrive at Carney Island, it starts to rain. Their music turns a rainy day into a sunny day again, and makes Ringo happy; The Beatles each have their own hobby. Paul paints. George builds a three-eyed robot. John writes. Ringo’s hobby is collecting “birds”: An English slang term for girls. Paul releases the only one Ringo caught, and he runs after her. Sing Along: Strawberry Fields Forever/And Your Bird Can Sing
37. Taxman/Eleanor Rigby: The Beatles get knocked out while carrying tons of money to the bank, and dream about the days of Robin Hood. Paul exclaims: “It never happened”; A group of children claim that an elderly woman named Eleanor Rigby is a witch. The Fabs tell them the true story about Eleanor Rigby in a song. Sing Along: Got To Get You Into My Life/Here, There And Everywhere
38. Tomorrow Never Knows/I’ve Just Seen a Face: The Beatles fall into a well and end up in the inner world with foreign natives. The chief wants the Fabs to marry his daughters, and they began to run away; Ringo loses his singing voice. For treatment, his three mates send Ringo to a haunted house to scare his voice back. Sing Along: She Said She Said/Long Tall Sally (re-issue)
39. Wait/I’m Only Sleeping: The Prince of Krapotkin’s girlfriend is in grave danger. The Beatles help him to save her from the Prime Minister who wants to marry her; John falls asleep while telling a story to a couple of children. In his dream he volunteers to help King Arthur and Merlin slay a vicious dragon. However, John and his mates opt instead to play music to put the dragon to sleep. Sing Along: Penny Lane/Eleanor Rigby. Here’s the final episode:
In 1972, John Lennon commented, “I still get a blast out of watching the Beatles cartoons on TV.” In 1999, George Harrison said, “I always kind of liked [the cartoons]. They were so bad or silly that they were good, if you know what I mean. And I think the passage of time might make them more fun now.”
Contrary to the Harrison quote above, there has been some speculations that the Beatles’ company, Apple Corps Ltd, bought the rights to the series, because Harrison wanted to keep it in their vaults, so that it would’t ever be aired again.
It’s certainly true that they bought the series, and they have never released it commercially as long as they have owned it. Only images of the cartoon characters have been licenced for use on various products, including toy figures, t-shirts and coffee mugs. However, with the explosion of internet based video sites like YouTube, the Beatles cartoon series are now as accessible as never before.
The cartoon series continue to be the only music video version made of several of the songs, which may make them useable in an upcoming Beatles music video collection.
In 1999, Mitchell Axelrod wrote a book about the Beatles cartoon series, and he also recently (2014) penned an article on the subject in the current magazine “Beatlemania! Life Story”
|Beatlemania! On newsstands now.|
With the Beatles Cartoon series still unavailable on official DVDs, bootleggers are eagerly exploiting the series for their illegal releases
Beatles fans are divided in their opinions about the Beatles cartoon series. In general, fans who were exposed to the series at an early age, be it in the sixties or watching later reruns, are fond of it for nostalgic reasons. As most of these fans are Americans, most Europeans are not as enamoured.
From an animation point of view, the series are flawed because of the era in which they were made. Like The Flintstones series, the Beatles series use very basic drawings and crude animation techniques with much emphasis on mouth and leg movements, sounds and other things that are easily and quickly accomplished. The best cartoons were made in the pre television years, from the thirties and fourties, when bigger staffs produced more detailed and better drawings, not to mention more drawings per second of film. Once the fifties came along, quality dropped considerably. With the advent of computer animation techniques, a rise in quality has occurred.
Further reading: The Black Mariah