With the Tokyo Summer Olympics finally happening with tonight’s ceremony, after being postponed a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s time to reflect on a special that was made at another time when things didn’t go right for the Olympics.
NBC had commissioned two hour-long animated specials to be shown during 1980 back when both the Winter and Summer Olympics were held during the same calendar year.
While the Winter Olympics took place at Lake Placid with that infamous hockey game between USA and the Soviet Union, America didn’t participate in the Summer Olympics because the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan.
So, since there were no Summer Olympics featuring Americans, NBC canceled its coverage and the summer cartoon special was re-edited into a television movie.
Animalympics features the voices of Gilda Radner, Billy Crystal and Harry Shearer along with Michael Fremer.
The movie features, what else, animals competing in Olympic events. Some are kinda clever, such as having four squid members, The Calamari Brothers, compete in bobsleds as well as swimming.
Radner does her Baba Wawa impersonation to Barbra Warblers, a duck commentator. Crystal does his Muhammad Ali impersonation for a boxer. A turkey commentator sounds like Howard Cosell. And an alligator talks like John Travolta from his Welcome Back, Kotter days. There’s even a sequence where the alligator gets funky on the dance floor to disco.
While some of the jokes are dated and some seem inappropriate for a kids movie as well as outdated cultural representative, the movie still manages to have some creativity with the animals and their respected countries and continents.
It also features some early work by many well-known animators, such as Brad Bird and Bill Kroyer, who would go on to direct Ferngully: The Last Rainforest as well as Roger Allers who later directed the 1994 animated version of The Lion King.
Steven Lisberger, who directed it, would go on to make the iconic movie Tron for Disney, using many of the animators from this movie. Fremer was the soundtrack supervisor on Tron. There’s even reports that you can see the earlier versions of Tron in the opening ceremony sequence.
Like many animation shows and movies, it walks a fine line between showing jokes that adults will get and simple jokes kids will like. I don’t think many people will know that the turtle who is the host of the animal network ZOO sounds like Henry Kissinger or that a former athlete went to work for Ingmar Birdman and there is a scene parodying the famous chess scene with the grim reaper in The Seventh Seal.
All in all, it’s a funny and vibrant show.