America may not have been part of the 1980 Olympics, but a bunch of animals animated by Americans were.
“Animalympics” is an interesting piece when it comes to animated features. For one thing, it was originally supposed to be in 2 separate pieces: 1 half would the just the Summer Olympics, the other would just be the Winter Olympics. But after America boycotted the 1980 games, only the Winter Olympics piece was shown in conjunction with those games, and the Summer piece was dropped by NBC when they dropped their coverage of the Moscow games. The latter Feature-Length cut was reworked with a Dolby Surround-sound sound track and premiered at the 1980 Miami Film Festival. It was then officially shown on Television in it’s entirety, nation-wide in 1984 by HBO and Showtime. The Disney channel also had it broadcast in the mid-90s, which is when I actually saw it for the first time. It’s strange to see that Disney would show it on television, but then Warner Brothers was the company to distribute it on VHS home-video. Those two companies do so many cross-overs. Even Cartoon Network had a Hayao Miyazaki movie marathon when Disney and Pixar are the ones who dub and own the distribution rights in America. Quite an odd situation.
Anyway. Another odd fact about Animalympics is that it doesn’t really have a story. There’s no real narrative to speak of and it isn’t handled like a normal movie would be. It’s pretty much a full-length pseudo-broadcast on a pseudo network of a fake Animalympics. So it’s more like watching a bunch of Looney Tunes cartoons in a row, except they’re not all that funny. But the thing about it is, they don’t have to be.
So to begin, we get introduced to the few characters whom we will see throughout the entirety of the picture, our Reporters: we have Henry Hummel (your anchor turtle), Barbara Warblers (the track and field reporter, who also continuously covers the titular long-distance marathon), Keen Hacksaw (primarily the gymnastics reporter), and the lovely Brenda Springer (who continues to report on many of the Winter sports). There are two other reporters in there as well but you barely see them and for the life of me I can’t make out what their names are. lol
So who do we have voicing these lovely people? Sadly this animated feature only stars a few sparse actors, as it was an independent production; but they do as decent of a job of portraying more than one character as you could hope. The small cast includes Gilda Radner (of SNL fame), Billy Crystal (yes Billy Crystal of all people), Harry Shearer, and Michael Fremer. There were a lot of accents to tackle here, some you will hear used for more than one character, but the accents themselves are pretty good in my opinion, as I am a voice impressionist and budding voice actor myself.
Now onto the animation team. What we have here is a unique collection of star players who went on to do great things in their later careers; and it’s quite a feat to see them all here pulling off some quality work. We have future Director of The Lion King, Roger Allers, coincidentally animating the Lioness character Kit Mambo here; future Director, Bill Kroyer, who went on to make Ferngully: The Last Rainforest; and future World-Famous live-action and animated feature director, Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission Impossible 4). Man what a team, they all went on to be directors for something. And leading the team was none-other than Steven Lisberger who directed the first movie to utilize Computer Generated images, 1982’s TRON. Yes… TRON. Steven’s company is the one that put this whole Animalympics film together. They also did some animated shorts for Sesame Street as well as a few bubble-gum commercials if memory serves.
So what exactly is there to like about this movie, other than all of that trivia. If you weren’t an animation enthusiast, like myself and I hope many of you, what could you enjoy about this? Well it’s a pleasant film. Nothing offensive, no bad or poor taste jokes, unlike many modern animated films. No over the top slapstick for those of you who don’t like raw animated physical humor. There are a few well-hidden jokes for us adults, which is nice, I think it gives the film some class and realism. The animation in a novice sense, is beautiful to watch sometimes; especially the sequence with the Russian dancer, Tatiana Tischenko. Strange to find that one of the best sequences in the film is in fact the Russian gymnast dancer. But she is very beautifully portrayed and well choreographed.
I think the most important thing to find here is that the film is done well enough that we start to not care so much whether it’s funny or not funny. It certainly isn’t boring either. What it is is engaging. It works a lot like the real Olympics do. Maybe not so much or so strongly, but it does give you the sense that it’s actually happening because it’s in a news reporter setting where we are seeing these different events go on all at the same time and we are catching the best pieces of those events. We also get instant replays, score boards, news flash updates, and interview segments with small documentary footage of select athletes. The whole thing draws you in as something legitimate and real rather than a cartoon where you normally expect it to be funny, or it will just flop.
But along with all of that, one of the best elements of the film is the soundtrack. The soundtrack was a highlight for the film, you can even buy it on Vinyl record if you’re willing to shell out $50-$80 bucks. It’s was produced and composed by Graham Gouldman, apparently not well known at the time, and I’ve certainly never heard of him. But I gotta tell ya, he does some good stuff here. I mean nearly a 1/3 or so of this film is nothing but music videos for these songs, so if the normal segments don’t draw you in, then these music videos sure will. The opening theme “Z.O.O.” is a really strong piece that sets the stage for how grandiose the events are that we are about to see. Some more of the best tracks (in my opinion) include: “We’ve Made it to the Top,” “Away From it All,” and my personal favorite “Underwater Fantasy.”
This whole movie embodies sooooooo much of the 1980s. Bright flashy logos by Lisberger’s signature back-lighting effects (which he later used in TRON), the stylized designs on the characters with the sketchy outlines, the Disco-Rock oriented soundtrack by Graham Gouldman. It’s one of those films that when you just look at it, you can tell what era it was made in. And while you’d think most films would do that, some really don’t. And you also might think that this is a bad thing, but no, not at all. I absolutely love retro movies, I freaking LOVE the 1980s, and this movie was a delight to watch.
And if you want any further clarification, just go check out the wonderful reviews done by both Chad Rocko (CR) on Channel Awesome http://channelawesome.com/familiar-faces-69-animalympics/ and by Brad Jones on his DVD-R Hell series on TheCinemaSnob.com http://www.thecinemasnob.com/dvd-r-hell/dvd-r-hell-animalympics
Brad’s is a little more dirty and sleazy, but if you don’t that kind of humor I’d check it out as well. Chad is much more the Animation enthusiast out of the two.
So there ya go friends, again, another great film any animation student should see. In fact, anything that I show you on here, unless it is an intentional review of something terrible; you SHOULD GO AND SEE IT! No questions, just watch the movie, especially since it had this star studded animation team. I mean Brad Bird for goodness sake, that is like huge.
My rating, 8/10 for over all quality and enjoyment factor combined.
Next time I’ll be talking about a Japanese animated feature, but one that was created with and for American audiences. It’s Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland.