Paul McCartney: pop legend, animal rights activist… Walt Disney wannabe? Yes. ”Paul McCartney: The Music and Animation Collection” is a compilation of three animated shorts for which Sir Macca served as producer, contributed character voices, and recorded music. ”Rupert the Bear” and ”Tropic Island Hum” feature animals in big, Busby Berkeley-like production numbers. And ”Tuesday,” based on the classic kids’ book of the same name, includes no songs and almost no dialogue — just the delightful sight of scores of frogs who find themselves unexpectedly airborne. McCartney took a break from recording a new album to discuss his tunes-to-toons transition.
I always loved Disney, particularly the early things — they were so masterful and spellbinding. It’s always been a dream of mine to do something like that. When ”Yellow Submarine” came along in the psychedelic era, I was still trying to make a straight movie, until everyone said, ”Well, you can’t. The music’s not exactly straight.” So these shorts were a way of finally doing it, really.
Speaking of ”Yellow Submarine,” it’s ironic that you do most of the voiceover work on these shorts, since someone else did the Beatles’ voices in that movie.
I know. Well, it was such a big project then. They said, ”Will you do your own voices?” We said, ”You’re kidding! That’s hours of work.” We were too into recording. And in truth, doing your own voice is actually nowhere near as much fun as doing somebody else’s. So I don’t mind: ”Oh ha ha!” [affecting a stuffy voice like on ”Uncle Albert”] — I don’t mind doing all that. But: ”Hello, this is Paul” — it gets a bit boring, then, that.
How did you end up doing so many of the voices? Didn’t you originally want children to do them?
After we’d auditioned sort of everyone in town, I kept saying: ”Well, they should sound like [affects a childlike tone]: ‘Hello, my name is…”’ And he said, ”Why don’t you do it, then?” So I ended up trying it, and it stayed on the soundtrack. I’m a bit of a mimic anyway. I pick up accents wherever I go. If I’m in Scotland, I’m suddenly going, ”Aye, that would be right, aye.” I can’t help it. It’s just something I fall into naturally.
In a way, doing voice work seems like a natural extension of some of the character voices you’ve done on Beatles songs. As a kid, I used to listen to things like ”Lady Madonna” or ”Why Don’t We Do It in the Road” and think there must be a fifth Beatle, because it didn’t sound like Paul McCartney.
One of the things about vocalists is you often start off doing an impression of your favorite artists. You find that Ray Charles was trying to be Nat King Cole or somebody, but he ended up as Ray Charles. Many people start off copying somebody else. I certainly started off copying Elvis and Little Richard. But in the end it just kind of turned into my voice.
But even later on, in your solo career, in songs like ”Temporary Secretary”…
It’s nice, particularly if you’re doing an album on your own, to be able to have a sort of high voice and then the next track goes to a different place, so it’s not just always the same voice. So that’s come into play in this animation stuff, yeah.
Very little of this project used computer animation. Why not take advantage of the technology?
It is a little bit of a fallacy about computers. We all believe they’re cheaper. But it certainly isn’t in my experience. If the budget were 20 times what it was, it would still be less expensive than some of those CGI things. You know, like recording: I record on a 48-track desk with computers and everything, and it takes so much longer and is so much more expensive than it ever was. I mean, we used to make four tracks in a day with the Beatles. And they weren’t bad tracks. Okay, there was a little bit more hiss and stuff. But it takes me so much longer than when I’m just sitting with a guy with a pencil and a sheet of manuscript paper.
One of the shorts shows animals escaping from hunters. You probably won’t be getting a lot of hunters to get this for their kids.
Yeah, well, probably not. But hunters’ wives will — to try and get the guys to stop it. I’ve been on that kick for a long time, and it is my point of view that it is a good thing to be aware of animals. I mean, they are our fellow inhabitants on the planet. But the other great instigator that way was Walt Disney, if you think about it. And let’s face it, it’s cool to tell kids to respect animals.