The Beatles cast a long, fab shadow over many a career.
In almost every interview he’s done, director Richard Lester says that no matter what films he’s done throughout his career, he will go into the history books as the “Beatles movie director” for his work on Help! and A Hard Day's Night. Animator/director Ron Campbell has drawn everyone’s childhood favorites— Scooby Doo, The Rugrats, The Surfs, Darkwing Duck, Winnie the Pooh, George of the Jungle, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Harlem Globetrotters — but when he does a show looking back at his career work in words and watercolors like the one he will be doing at Gallerie Gersten in Scottsdale, November 17-20, much of the attention will come from his early career as a Beatles animator.
Campbell was part of the Australian animation team that worked on the ABC-TV animated series The Beatles, which ran from 1965-1969. He also animated some key scenes, like the ones with the Blue Meanies, in the Beatles’ 1968 full-length animated feature, Yellow Submarine.
For many preschoolers, Yellow Submarine is the gateway drug for Beatles music, since it’s been readily available on DVD and VHS for decades. The Beatles’ cartoon series, created in a rush to cash in on the phenomenon as it was happening, was many baby boomers' entry in the Beatles’ deep early catalog.
Campbell, who now lives in Anthem, remembers Kings Features producer Al Brodax calling right after the Beatles' Ed Sullivan appearance, asking, "How would you like to do a series built around the Beatles?"
"And then I moaned because insect faces are so hard to draw," Campbell recalls. "I wasn’t keeping tabs on popular music. I had cartoons to deliver.”
Crudely drawn to meet the rigid time requirements, The Beatles cartoon was still a
“It had a 67 share. That meant if you had 100 households with a TV, 67 of them were watching The Beatles cartoons,” says Campbell.
And yet the cartoons were not a hit with the real Beatles.
"They weren't aired in Great Britain at the behest of [Beatles manager] Brian Epstein because the Beatles didn't like the Americanized voices," Campbell says. "John Lennon, he called it, 'The fuckin’ Flintstones.' And Ringo [Starr], after seeing them for the first time, expressed shock that 'They made me the idiot.'"
Although seen as reruns on MTV during the '80s, the cartoons have never been made available, even though The Beatles bought up the rights to them ages ago. Campbell thinks, "They will probably never be released until all the current board at Apple have all passed.” Although he didn’t specify Yoko Ono as one of the big objectors, she probably isn't thrilled by characters like Dr. Ah So.
“It was 20 years after World War II, and there are several politically incorrect portrayals of Japanese people with round glasses and buck teeth that would not fly today. Not to mention Africans as cannibals trying to boil the Beatles in a big pot.”
Yellow Submarine poses no such problems and is an endless supply of goodwill for the Beatles brand. “I did the scenes with the Blue Meanies that helped link the scenes together.”
“Even though the Beatles weren’t fond of the original cartoons, they were even less fond of getting up early in the morning,” says Campbell. “They found out how hard movie making was and when Al Brodax pitched them the idea that they could satisfy their film contract for another Beatles film and not have to do any work, they were all for it.
Don't be expecting animation cells. Campbell will be exhibiting artwork crafted in recent years, featuring all his other beloved cartoon characters from his 50-year career in children’s television.