Steven Lisberger | 75 mins | TV | 16:9* | USA / English | U
Originally commissioned as a pair of specials for US TV, Animalympics was dropped by the network when the US pulled out of the Moscow Olympics, then repurposed by its makers as a feature film. You might be able to guess the plot from the title: various animals compete in an Animal Olympics. It’s a series of sketches, essentially, although arranged to provide some narratives throughout.
I’ll confess I’d not heard of this before it turned up on Virgin Media’s PictureBox during their free month earlier this year, but apparently it has a cult following. When you look a the behind-the-scenes line-up, it becomes easy to see how: the small voice cast is led by Billy Crystal and also features Harry Shearer; the music is by 10cc’s Graham Gouldman; and most of the crew went on to create TRON — for those (like me) who don’t immediately spot the connection, Animalympics’ co-writer/director also wrote and directed said Disney computer adventure. Plus one of the animators was a certain Brad Bird, and slightly higher up the chain of command was Roger Allers, who later co-directed The Lion King. (There’s more interesting behind-the-scenes info on Wikipedia.)
But what of this effort? Well, it’s entertaining, holds up pretty well over 30 years on, and at 75 minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. It’s easy to see how it was intended for TV, and where the split was (a Summer Olympics special and a Winter Olympics special, though some judicious editing mixes them together a little), but it’s more than serviceable as a feature. As per anything which is made up of sketches, some bits are funnier than others; and, as American animation, it is primarily aimed at kids, though I thought it was enjoyable enough for grown-ups too. Gouldman’s score is catchy in places, but nothing to rival The Things We Do For Love or Dreadlock Holiday or… I could go on for a few, actually. I’m just going to go listen to some 10cc…
Animalympics isn’t the kind of picture that’s going to break free of its cult status and achieve a widespread popularity, but for fans of those involved, or of a certain era of US animation, it’s good fun. Best watched around the Olympics for full satirical effect, at which times I imagine it could gain an even broader audience. Like me.
* Made at 1.37:1 (because it was for telly), intended for 1.66:1 (because it was a film by then), the version I saw was either cropped or stretched to a full 16:9. ^