Strawberry Fields (partially found production material from cancelled musical animated film; 1980s-1989)

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Title card from demo reel shown at SIGGRAPH '87.

Status: Partially Found

Strawberry Fields (also known as Strawberry Fields Forever, after the 1966/1967 song by The Beatles of the same name) is a cancelled animated film that aimed to be one of the first cartoon movies to use computer-generated animation, as well as the first true computer-animated feature film. It was going to be an animated Beatles jukebox musical, which would make it the second animated film to do so after Yellow Submarine (1968). For a while, much of what was known about the film, including some rare production art, came from a news article that was published in 2019.[1] However, On March 11, 2024, a demo reel containing 30 minutes of work-in-progress footage from the film dated July 1989 was uploaded to the Internet Archive by Ziggy Cashmere. This has shed much more light on the project. The film is sometimes referred to as a form of sequel to Yellow Submarine,[2][3] particularly because it shares the same producer, Al Brodax, though it doesn't feature animated likenesses of the band like its predecessor, and the footage that has been found shows that Strawberry Fields is a complete stylistic departure from Yellow Submarine.


The project started in April 1985, when Yellow Submarine producer Al Brodax made a deal with the Computer Graphics Laboratory of the New York Institute of Technology to create an entirely CG film based on the songs of the Beatles,[4] using the original Beatles masters supplied by ITC Productions and funded by Vestron Video, who would receive the home video and "pay TV" (cable) rights in return.[5][6] Production, however, quickly ran into difficulties.[7] The CGI technology wasn't advanced enough to animate human faces believably, so they decided to use 2D character animation from Lion's Den Studios on top of 3D environments. In mid-1987, it was discovered that ITC wasn't able to obtain the rights to the Beatles masters, so they instead decided to use covers by well-known artists. In 1988, Vestron became worried about the quality of the work CGL was producing, which it alleged was far below acceptable standards, and that CGL hadn’t delivered a finished film in the agreed time.[5] Production slowed down in 1989 when NYIT CGL leader Alex Schure objected to the partial use of hand-drawn animation, and attempted to switch it back to full 3D animation.[8] The production stopped entirely in 1992 due to the lawsuit as well as the lab itself being shut down by then-lab-director Matthew Schure. It was previously thought that the lack of rights to the Beatles masters led to the shelving, but the lawsuit shows that this was just a pretense, and the real trouble was the quality of work being produced.[5] The film seems to have never officially died, as there is evidence of production as late as 2009.[9]

While it was previously thought that Don Bluth was involved with this film, there's no evidence to support this, however animator Jeff Merghart, one of the character designers for the picture also did character design on Bluth's film "An American Tail,"[1] which may be where the confusion comes from. The movie has some segments that use hand-drawn characters against CGI backgrounds, some segments that are entirely 2D, and some segments (like the backstory of the hammer) that are entirely 3D. The 2D components were done using Garland Stern's SoftCel process, by scanning in physical drawings and coloring them digitally.[10]


The plot centers around Jude, a wannabe detective who gets contacted by Michelle. Michelle needs help stealing a magical amulet, which can be used to find the legendary hammer of King Maxwell, before the evil Walrus and his Eggmen can get it. From there they take a flying train to a desert planet named Rhyde (e.i. they get A Ticket To Rhyde), where they seek out the Walrus. Along the way, the pair run into other colorful characters from Beatles songs, including The Taxman, Flat Top (from Come Together), Rocky Raccoon, Mean Mr. Mustard, Bungalow Bill[7], a snake named Oo Bla Dee Oo Bla Da (alternatively spelled Obladi Oblada), a monkey-like creature named Jojo (from Get Back)[11] possibly Mr. Kite[2] and even The Fool (On The Hill).[12] The titular "Strawberry Fields" refers to a land of imagination inside all of us. Its role in the movie or significance to the plot is unknown.


The movie was to include several covers of Lennon/McCartney songs, which appear to have been commissioned specifically for this film. Production material lists the soundtrack as:

Michael Jackson - "Come Together"

Cyndi Lauper - "Across the Universe"

Crosby, Stills & Nash - "Blackbird"

Robert Palmer - "Baby, You're a Rich Man"

Siedah Garrett - "Hey Jude"

Cheap Trick - "Magical Mystery Tour"

Luther Vandross - "Michelle"

Stevie Ray Vaughan - "Taxman"

To be advised - "Strawberry Fields"

Of these songs, several have been released elsewhere. Micheal Jackson's "Come Together" cover was featured in "Moonwalker", Cyndi Lauper's "Across the Universe" can be found on YouTube, though this seems to be from a bootleg. Cheap Trick's "Magical Mystery Tour" cover ended up on their 1990 Greatest Hits collection. Stevie Ray Vaughan's "Taxman" cover was also released on a Greatest Hits CD. While there is a version of Crosby, Stills & Nash's "Blackbird" cover online, it is not the same as the one in the reel. Robert Palmer's "Baby, You're a Rich Man" Cover, Siedah Garrett's "Hey Jude" cover and Luther Vandross's "Michelle" cover haven't been found.

Several of these covers can be heard in the animation reel: "Come Together", "Blackbird", "Magical Mystery Tour", and "Taxman". There's a cover of Larry Williams's song "Slow Down" (which the Beatles had covered) by an unidentified artist. The reel also uses several smaller snippets of the original versions of Beatles songs: "Strawberry Fields", "Hey Jude", "Help", "I Am The Walrus", "Flying", "Octopus's Garden" and "A Day In The Life". These are likely left over from an earlier stage of production when obtaining the rights to the Beatles masters was still on the table. There also appears to be an original score.


While much of footage made for the film seems to be available via the newly found WIP reel, a good fraction of the footage it contains is reused from the Lab's previous works such as animation created for the feature film The Works or tests such as Inside a Quark by Ned Greene. There are still some lost segments that are known to exist. Most notably, there was a dogfight sequence with the character Jojo.[11]

While the full "hammer sequence" can be seen in the reel, a version was shown at SIGGRAPH 89 with a different voice-over.[11] This version is currently lost. There may be other differences in this version that aren't documented.

A demo reel of footage was shown at SIGGRAPH '87.[13] A guide from the event features a unique title card for the film, hinting that it may contain unseen footage. This has not been found.

There's also the issue of the lost covers: at least 8 of the 10 covers are known to have been produced,[5] which means that Robert Palmer's cover of "Baby You're A Rich Man", Siedah Garrett's cover of "Hey Jude" and Luther Vandross's cover of "Michelle" almost certainly exist, as well as a clean version of Crosby, Stills and Nash's cover of "Blackbird" though they have not been found.

There also seems to be some footage from Strawberry Fields in the children's CGI compilation Imaginit:[14]

The opening segment at 1:45 in Imaginit is the Blackbird segment at 5:10 in the reel.

Imaginit's "Magic Train" segment that immediately follows through short clips in the intro (2:18-5:40) seems to be an extension of the "Magical Mystery Tour" part at 18:00 of the reel. The reel only shows the train gearing up, leaving and a bit of its flying, but in Imaginit, there is some additional footage of the train station, and what seems to be its full journey through space, including the end, where it lands using parachutes on the desert planet Rhyde. Further evidence of the connection can be found in the logo on the parachutes: it reads "MMT" - likely for Magical Mystery Tour. The footage on Imaginit seems to have been altered a bit to make it be more kid-friendly, with the addition of a conductor robot and changing the sky from grey to blue. Additionally, there is a still of the train that doesn't match up with either sequence, possibly hinting at more footage.[6]

The "Slow Things Down" segment at 8:35 in Imaginit is the "Car Chase" segment from 10:15 in the reel, though this has also been altered to remove the Strawberry Fields characters, replacing them with digitized actors.

The "Storybook" segment at 14:30 in Imaginit uses footage from the "King Maxwell" segment of the reel at 19:05. The footage of the storybook opening is likely also from Strawberry Fields, as The Walrus can be seen reading a similar storybook entitled "The Legend of King Maxwell" at 0:49 in the reel, though the book in Imaginit has no text on the cover, meaning it might have been altered to remove any traces of Strawberry Fields.

Additionally, both use the same "Dancing Statues" segment (27:30 in Imaginit and 16:25), but this is from an earlier work called "The Dancers". The full version of this with the original audio is also lost.[11]



30 minutes of WIP footage.

Excerpt from an alternate version of "The Hammer Sequence".[11]
Excerpt from the "Jojo Flight Sequence".[11]


See Also