The time has come for the new Animalympics, the sporting event that the whole world can take part in - providing they are both an animal, and a top-class athlete. Rugs Turkell (voiced by Billy Crystal) is our host for the live coverage from the Pawprint Stadium and its surroundings, and he has a plethora of events to bring to us, from the marathon which we will be returning to throughout the next few days, to the winter sports such as skiing, and the water games like the high dive to the gymnastics - which is where we are headed now...
Ah, remember how well the United States did at the 1980 Olympic Games? No, of course you don't because they didn't go when the Soviet Union was staging it because of their Afghanistan invasion, thus setting up the world for a whole decade of Cold War antagonism that left most of us jittery until the Berlin Wall was knocked down. Thus Steven Lisberger's labour of love, Animalympics, conceived as both a parody of and a tribute to the most famous sporting event on Earth, was something of an embarrassment to its home nation, celebrating an occasion that they had turned their collective nose up at.
Therefore the film was barely released, and certainly didn't make it into American cinemas, preferring to turn up on television or home video where a generation caught it and grew up with vague memories of that weird animal sports thing that seems to have disappeared over the passing of the years. Actually, it isn't that strange, after all Disney have had its characters acting out many such examples over the decades, but in spite of its anthropomorphic creatures this is notably not a Disney production. In fact, it has hardly any story to speak of at all.
In practice, it's more of a collection of themed sketches, with animation that is not stellar, but perfectly adequate for what it's aiming for. Lisberger now is most famous for directing Tron, whose animation was far in advance of what is cooked up here, but his talent is apparent in the characterful personalities on display here, often for no more than a couple of minutes each. He is assisted by some voice performers of the calibre of Billy Crystal, doing fair approximations of celebrities, and Gilda Radner, yet again wheeling out her Bawa Wawa impression from Saturday Night Live as an ostrich presenter.
Harry Shearer is there as well, so it's not as if we were dealing with amateurs here, but it's really a one joke concept: the animal, who may or may not be a take off of a real athlete, competes and either seizes the gold medal or has to settle for silver or bronze. There are plenty of sports to cover, but it's the same thing over and over again; luckily it is worth paying attention to pick up on yet another pun or reference. If there is a running storyline (literally), it's the marathon which has the two lead competitors, a male goat from Europe and a female cheetah from Africa, fall in love as they race, offering the excuse for Graham Gouldman from 10cc to give us another song. Not quite as tedious as some have judged it, Animalympics is best seen as a curio that missed its opportunity through circumstances beyond its control, and for that it holds interest.