Al Brodax, the TV cartoon producer who failed to impress The Beatles with his small-screen animated take on the band but won them over with the classic feature Yellow Submarine, died November 24 in Danbury, Conn. at age 90.
Brodax’s death was announced on Facebook by his friend, the Beatle cartoon expert Mitchell Axelrod, and later confirmed by daughter Jessica Harris.
Brodax had been an executive producer at King Features Syndicate in the early 1960s, churning out low-budget animated TV fare like Cool McCool, Popeye, Snuffy Smith, Casper the Friendly Ghost and Barney Google, when he pitched Beatles manager Brian Epstein with the idea of creating a Saturday-morning cartoon series about the Fab Four’s adventures.
Although popular with Baby Boomer kids, ABC’s 1965-69 cartoon series The Beatles wasn’t a hit with the band, who, among other complaints, loathed the exaggerated Liverpool accents used by the cartoon’s voiceover actors. “They were nice enough,” has said Paul McCartney about King Features, “but artistically we weren’t that impressed.”
But bored with the movie business after A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and still owing United Artists one more picture, the band readily agreed to a proposition that may or may not have come from Brodax himself: A feature-length animated film that would require relatively little work on the band’s part.
The Hungarian-born Brodax spearheaded the project that would become 1968’s Yellow Submarine, based loosely on the jokey 1966 Beatles hit sung by drummer Ringo Starr. Directed by George Dunning and animated by Heinz Edelmann, the psychedelic movie was an instant classic, with its animated Edwardian-styled depictions of John, Paul, George & Ringo – along with the Blue Meanies – quickly becoming iconic of the era.
Even the Beatles were won over. In Steve Lambley’s book And the Band Begins to Play: The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Brodax recalls receiving late-night phone calls from John Lennon with suggestions like, “Wouldn’t it be great if Ringo was followed down the street by a yellow submarine?”
In his post-Submarine career, Brodax was animation supervisor for the ABC children’s shows Make a Wish (1970-75) and Animals, Animals, Animals (1975-80). He was a consultant to Marvel Comics in the early 1980s, and later a consultant to Computer Graphics Laboratories. He also founded the Connecticut-based Brodax Film Group, and published a 2004 memoir Up Periscope Yellow: The Making of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine.