“Farther. Faster. Furrier.”
With that, the animal-based Olympics begin. Meant to tie in with the 1980 Winter and Summer Olympics, there is a lot happening within and around this forgotten animated movie. Whether you remember this from HBO, your local video rental store, or zero-knowledge this even existed before this article; stay tuned for a tail (HA!) of this forgotten animated classic.
Way back in 1976, some animators became very influenced by the winter and summer Olympics of that year. Paired with the ratings for Battle of the Network Stars, Hanna Barbera grabbed an audience first with the infamous Laff-A-Lympics. In 1978 NBC commissioned producer Donald Kushner and director Steven Lisberger to create not one but two prime time animated specials meant to highlight the two Olympic games. See kids, back in that day both the summer and winter Olympics were held in the same year. The 1980 winter Olympics are best known to this day for the Miracle on Ice in which the U.S. hockey team defeated the Russians. What receives much less attention though is the Cold War continuing into the warmer months. When the USSR invaded Afghanistan, then-President Jimmy Carter decreed that the United States would boycott the summer Olympics of 1980 which were to be held in Moscow. NBC canceled all plans to air any part of the summer Olympics without any U.S. athletes and thus the second part of Animalympics meant to air in support was shelved.
Taking the never give up spirit of the classic games, Lisberger went back to his original plan of combining both the winter and summer episodes into one movie. Given limited release as a movie, the collected film finally found an audience on HBO beginning in 1984.
In “a secret meeting attended by the most influential animals in the world” (and I’m serious here, that’s from the movie’s press release) it was decided that 1980 would be the year of the very first Animalympics. An entire sporting city size complex would be built and Pawprint Stadium would host the games. Animal television network ZOO (“we bring out the beast in sports”) would carry all the action via satellite. Animal versions that seem parody safe similar to Howard Cossel, Barbara Walters, Pele, Muhammad Ali and more appear throughout the 14 days and nights of competition. Athletes like Eurasian (Russian but not said so in the movie) sable Tatyana Tushenko. Asian master of ‘No Can Do’ Bruce Kwakimoto. It was a different time.
Most of the cartoon features a chrome neon very late 70’s early 80’s logo for the upcoming sport then a couple minutes of action. Fat elephants that do gymnastics. Frogs jump. Killer whales swim. All of them have ridiculous names and are most likely hailing from exactly where in the world you think they are from. The danger of introducing so many new characters who have never been seen before or since in a just over hour-long movie is no time for character development. In fact, the movie resurfaced on the Disney Channel years later with family-friendly edits. The Olympic village Noah’s Ark disco scene features drinking, smoking, and generally implied romance as the animals try to pair off at the Ark.
There are only four characters really given time to shine in the movie. Bolt Jenkins is an alligator who was born a handbag. Thought to be stuck within this station of life and cursed to never walk again. Bolt lived in the sewers and felt lost in life. Years before being an anthropomorphic reptile in the sewers was a precedent to a martial arts crime-fighting career. During one trip to the surface Bolt saw frog athlete Boris Amphibiensky break the world record in the high jump. It was then that Bolt decided he would be the one to best Boris. Bolt is shown throughout the movie not only in the high jump but also in the pole vault and 100-meter dash.
Speaking of dash. Kurt Wüffner is a dachshund from West Germany who gets a quick highlight video before disappearing during a hike. Kurt loves to find the tallest peaks in any land as a way to test his skills and channel his mind. With the search party called off, and his event the slalom about to be over… but wait! Kurt returns and explains he has found the fabled land of Dogra-la.
Remember kids, not only were the Olympics held within the same year 40 years ago, but cocaine was huge back then too.
Finally we have the two characters and their story that is intercut throughout the movie. The 14 day, 3500-kilometer marathon. Rene Fromage, eastern European goat. He runs all the time and has no time for women. He is all about the chaste (say it aloud to get the pun). The other top contender is Kit Mambo, African lioness. She possesses “speed and speed”. I guess when you’re that fast you can claim the skill twice. Like Barry Allen dubbing himself ‘Flash Flash’. As the race goes on the two lead competitors’ minds start to wander. They wander to… romance. Staring at the same fit muscular body side by side for 14 days. It’s almost inevitable. The two athletes fall in love and their new found bond affects the finish line of the race.
If you have any recollection of this movie, it’s because of this race. The overly sexualized animals lustfully looking at each other throughout multiple pop-rock songs. Watching this movie again for the first time in maybe 30 years if not more, I thought this may have been some sort of twisted memory. There’s no way I watched a drawing of a lion in a movie intended for kids portrayed in an overly sexual manner.
Yet, there it is. No mistaking this is done on purpose. But it’s not like the lead animator for this scene went on to direct a movie with another lioness looking sexual and seductive, right? That would be ridiculous. There is no way that the lead animator for Kit Mambo, Roger Allers, is also the director of The Lion King. With this infamous scene.
An Animalympics DVD was finally released in 2018 and restores the scenes that Disney cut. The movie is currently not on any streaming service but can be watched for free as part of the Internet Archive (archive.org).
It’s not a great movie, but it is a fun cult one. Kids can watch it for the silliness and have confusing thoughts about a cat much later in life. Fellow retro lovers will get a kick out of everything that the movie unapologetically is.