Beatletoons, The Real Story Behind The Cartoon Beatles

Sharon Schatz profiles the big name talent -- Elton John, Tim Rice, Hans Zimmer and John Powell -- behind The Road to El Dorado and finds how music and art are carefully crafted into one.

When I first heard about this new book, I wondered why someone would devote so much energy to documenting this particular Saturday morning TV series. Why not devote a book to a more important 1960s cartoon show, say Beany & Cecil or Underdog? Or, how about a book on the making of The Beatles' greatest contribution to animation, Yellow Submarine? But Mitchell Axelrod's heartfelt tribute to The Beatles cartoon show (1965-67) turns out to be a pleasant surprise. He's tracked down all the key players and, through interviews and illustrations, gives us a clear portrait of the production of a Saturday morning network cartoon series during the mid-1960s. Wynn Publishing, apparently a small self-publisher, specializing in books on Rock & Roll personalities (publishing mainly tombs on Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac by company founder Edward Wincensten), is positioning this book toward hard-core Beatles fans, but there is much here for animated cartoon buffs who want to know how it was done during the early days of Saturday morning cartoons. Axelrod briefly recounts the history of TV animation, then covers the history of the show's production with quotes from (among others) producer Al Brodax, voice actor Lance Percival (Ringo & Paul), and John Coates of TVC recalling the hectic production schedule. Well known animation veterans Jack Mendelsohn, Gerry Ray, George Dunning, Dennis Marks, Frank Terry and, believe it or not, Norman McLaren all had a part in bringing these Beatles cartoons to the tube. King Features recorded voices in New York (with Paul Frees) and London (with Percival), and used TVC in London and the Artransa Studio in Australia as their main production facilities. Various studios in Vancouver and Holland were also pressed into service to meet deadlines. The Beatles themselves had little to do with the show but attended the premiere party and seemed to enjoy the cartoons. Very little mention is made of Yellow Submarine which succeeded the series, and was produced with many of the same production crew. Apparently Space Ghost and the super-hero craze killed off the Beatles cartoons after three seasons. The book got me interested in screening the final cartoon, produced in 1967, which was based on the song "Strawberry Fields." It's apparently quite psychedelic and a solid link to the production of Yellow Submarine. Model sheets, staff photographs (unfortunately many pictured are left unidentified), network memos, merchandising art and a complete checklist (with full production credits) of each cartoon accompany the text -- and make Beatletoons a thorough reference book (albeit with modest production values) that I can happily recommend to anyone interested in TV animation, and Beatles, history. Yeah, Yeah, Yeah! Beatletoons, The Real Story Behind The Cartoon Beatles by Mitchell Axelrod. Pickens, South Carolina: Wynn Publishing, 1999. Illustrated. 205 pages. ISBN: 0-9642808-7-6 (Paperback $22.95) Jerry Beck is a cartoon historian, writer and animation studio executive. He was editor of The 50 Greatest Cartoons (Turner), recently co-wrote Warner Bros. Animation Art (Levin) and is currently a freelance writer and consultant through his own company, Cartoon Research Co.