Animalympics is a 1980 animated television film directed by Steven Lisberger and produced by Lisberger Studios for the NBC network. Originally commissioned as two separate specials, it spoofs the Summer and Winter Olympic Games and features the voices of Billy Crystal, Gilda Radner, Harry Shearer and Michael Fremer.
The film is a series of vignettes presented as the broadcast of the first animal Olympic Games through the fictional ZOO television network. The Games combine summer and winter Olympic events.
The event is covered mostly by Barbara Warblers, a stork, and "anchorturtle" Henry Hummel. The 100-meter dash is covered in the style of a drag race by Jackie Fuelit.
Unlike the real Olympics, continents are represented rather than countries. The continents featured are North America, South America, Eurasia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Eurasia represents the USSR, whereas Europe represents Western and Central Europe.
The only mention of areas other than continents are the New York City Rats soccer team, Dean Wilson being from California, a Central American marathon runner named Pepe Repanosa, an Acapulco cliff diver named "Primo Cabeza", marathon runner Terry Hornsby being from Boulder, Colorado, Rene Fromage being from France, and Kurt Wufner appearing at the downhill event right before a Scandinavian is given a gold medal.
Although many of the segments stand alone, there are some recurring events and important characters. The largest such story is the coverage of the marathon, where competitors Rene Fromage and Kit Mambo are the favorites to win. Both are determined to win – Fromage having devoted his entire life to the marathon, Mambo determined to make a name for herself – they find themselves surprised when their minds wander to thoughts of mutual admiration and then to love, culminating in the pair holding hands for the rest of the race and crossing the finish line together. Another important story is that of Kurt Wuffner, a West German dachshund skier, and his disappearance to Dogra-la during a mountain climbing expedition shortly after the slalom event.
A minor story features an alligator named Bolt Jenkins. He was "born as a handbag" and told he would never walk again. A song during his story reveals that he lives in the sewers. After seeing a frog named Boris Amphibiensky break the world record for the high jump, Jenkins has an epiphany, and becomes determined to break the record. Jenkins goes on to set world records in the high jump, the pole vault, and later the 100-meter dash. Jenkins sacrifices his gold medal in the hundred meter dash to an African competitor and favorite whom Jenkins considers to be his superior.
Some events are only referenced rather than being covered. In the song "Weve Made It to the Top", various events are shown that are otherwise not covered:
- Shot put
- Relay Racing
- Hammer Throw
- Field hockey
Also referenced but not covered:
- Boxing- only a highlight reel is provided after the match, despite being previewed as "coming up after the basketball game"
- Water Polo- mentioned as happening earlier in the week
- Speed Skating- previewed, but not actually shown
- Harry Shearer as Keen Hacksaw / Mayor of Animalympic Island / Burnt Woody / Mark Spritz
- Gilda Radner as Barbra Warblers / Brenda Springer / Cora Lee Perrier / Tatyana Tushenko / Dorrie Turnell / The Contessa
- Michael Fremer as Henry Hummel / Rene Fromage / Kit Mambo / Bolt Jenkins / Kurt Wuffner / Dean Wilson / Mele / Count Maurice Boar-Deaux / Jackie Fuelit / Bear McLane / Guy Lafluke / Bjorn Freeborg / Mamo Ululu
- Billy Crystal as Rugs Turkell / Joey Gongolong / Art Antica
Animalympics was commissioned by NBC in 1978, as the network intended Lisberger Studios to create it as two hour-long specials to be paired alongside coverage of both the 1980 Winter Olympics and the Summer Olympics then held in Moscow. But after the Soviet Union had invaded and gained control of Afghanistan, then United States President Jimmy Carter decided to boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics. Because of this, NBC canceled its Olympic coverage and the Animalympics Summer special.
However, from its conception, producer Donald Kushner and director Steven Lisberger intended the project as a feature-length theatrical release recorded and mixed in Dolby surround sound via magnetically striped 35mm film even though The Winter Olympics special was considered for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film nomination.
Among those who worked on Animalympics were art director/animator Roger Allers, animation director Bill Kroyer, and animator Brad Bird. Allers, who animated Kit Mambo, the lion star of Animalympics, went on to direct The Lion King. Kroyer later wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated short Technological Threat and the animated feature FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Brad Bird went on to work as story editor of The Simpsons, and later achieved even greater success writing and directing The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Director Lisberger went on to conceive, co-write and direct the science fiction cult classic Tron, which some of the Animalympics crew were involved in. Its soundtrack supervisor was Michael Fremer, who was involved in Animalympics as a co-writer, voice artist, dialogue/music track editor and sound mix supervisor. Fremer went on to supervise the Academy Award nominated soundtrack to Tron
A&M Records in the US, and Mercury Records in Europe released an Animalympics soundtrack album, which has long been out of print. The music on this soundtrack was written and produced by Graham Gouldman, who performed the tracks himself along with other members of 10cc Gouldman was the bassist for the band at the time.
Pieces of classical music play in the film. "The Hut on Hens Legs Baba Yaga" from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky plays during Tatyana Tushenkos floor exercises. "March to the Scaffold" from Symphonie fantastique by Hector Berlioz plays during the couples figure skating. The 3rd movement from Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms plays during Dorie Turnells skating performance.
Despite the 1980 NBC premiere being cancelled midway, Lisberger Studios prepared a theatrical version for overseas markets by editing together the Summer and Winter Olympic Games sections, alongside other additions and changes to increase its run-time for theatrical exhibition. Though Animalympics never found a theatrical distributor in the U.S., Warner Bros. did acquire US home video and pay-TV distribution rights to it shortly after the NBC cancellation. It eventually got a full US TV premiere on NBC affiliate WPTZ on July 4, 1982. Animalympics also aired in its theatrical form on HBO and Showtime nationwide in summer 1984, as well as intermittently during the early to mid-1990s on The Disney Channel.
5.1. Release Availability
The film was released on VHS by Warner Brothers, UAV Corporation and Family Home Entertainment.
On April 3, 2018, Hens Tooth Video put out the first ever region 1 DVD release. In 2019, German label WinklerFilm put out a remastered DVD alongside the first ever Blu-Ray release worldwide.