The film is a series of vignettes presented as the broadcast of the first animal Olympic Games through the fictional ZOO television network. The Games combine summer and winter Olympic events.
The event is covered mostly by Barbara Warblers, a stork, and "anchorturtle" Henry Hummel. The 100-meter dash is covered in the style of a drag race by Jackie Fuelit.
Unlike the real Olympics, continents are represented rather than countries. The continents featured are North America, South America, Eurasia, Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia. Eurasia represents the USSR, whereas Europe represents Western and Central Europe.
The only mention of areas other than continents are the New York City Rats soccer team, Dean Wilson being from California, a Central American marathon runner named Pepé Repanosa, an Acapulco cliff diver named "Primo Cabeza", marathon runner Terry Hornsby being from Boulder, Colorado, René Fromage being from France, and Kurt Wüfner appearing at the downhill event right before a Scandinavian is given a gold medal.
Although many of the segments stand alone, there are some recurring events and important characters. The largest such story is the coverage of the marathon, where competitors René Fromage and Kit Mambo are the favorites to win. Both are determined to win – Fromage having devoted his entire life to the marathon, Mambo determined to make a name for herself – they find themselves surprised when their minds wander to thoughts of mutual admiration and then to love, culminating in the pair holding hands for the rest of the race and crossing the finish line together. Another important story is that of Kurt Wüffner, a West German dachshund skier, and his disappearance to Dogra-la during a mountain climbing expedition shortly after the slalom event.
A minor story features an alligator named Bolt Jenkins. He was "born as a handbag" and told he would never walk again. A song during his story reveals that he lives in the slums. After seeing a frog named Boris Amphibiensky break the world record for the high jump, Jenkins has an epiphany, and becomes determined to break the record. Jenkins goes on to set world records in the high jump, the pole vault, and later the 100-meter dash. Jenkins sacrifices his gold medal in the hundred meter dash to an African competitor and favorite whom Jenkins considers to be his superior.
Some events are only referenced rather than being covered. In the song "We've Made It to the Top", various events are shown that are otherwise not covered:Hammer Throw
Also referenced but not covered:Boxing- only a highlight reel is provided after the match, despite being previewed as "coming up after the basketball game"
Speed Skating- previewed, but not actually shown
Water Polo- mentioned as happening earlier in the week
Gilda Radner as Barbra Warblers / Brenda Springer / Cora Lee Perrier / Tatyana Tushenko / Dorrie Turnell / The Contessa
Billy Crystal as Rugs Turkell / Joey Gongolong / Art Antica
Harry Shearer as Keen Hacksaw / Mayor of Animalympic Island / Burnt Woody / Mark Spritz
Michael Fremer as Henry Hummel / René Fromage / Kit Mambo / Bolt Jenkins / Kurt Wuffner / Dean Wilson / Mele / Count Maurice Boar-Deaux / Jackie Fuelit / Bear McLane / Guy Lafluke / Bjorn Freeborg / Mamo Ululu
Originally commissioned by NBC in 1978, it was produced as two separate shows intended to air along with the network's 1980 summer Olympics coverage. However, only the half-hour winter show made it to the small screen, as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan caused President Jimmy Carter to boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics. As America stayed away, NBC canceled its Olympic coverage, and Lisberger's hour-long companion special along with it. However, from its conception, producer Donald Kushner and director Steven Lisberger intended the project as a feature-length theatrical release. The resulting version, recorded and mixed in Dolby surround sound via magnetically striped 35mm film, had its debut at the 1980 Miami Film Festival, where it was well received. It was released in various countries overseas during the summer season that same year.
Though it never found a theatrical distributor in the U.S., Animalympics was soon acquired by Warner Bros. for home video and pay-TV release. The film aired in summer 1984 on HBO and Showtime nationwide, as well as intermittently during the early to mid-1990s on The Disney Channel, and also on Philadelphia's PRISM. It was also shown on an NBC affiliate WPTZ on July 4, 1982.
Considering that the film was produced in 1979, several music-video-like sequences accompany its soundtrack by 10cc's bassist Graham Gouldman, uncommon at the time.
Among those who worked on Animalympics were art director/animator Roger Allers, animation director Bill Kroyer, and animator Brad Bird. Allers, who animated Kit Mambo, the lion star of Animalympics, appropriately went on to direct The Lion King. Kroyer later wrote and directed the animated feature FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Brad Bird went on to work as story editor of The Simpsons, and later achieved even greater success writing and directing The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
Director Lisberger went on to conceive, co-write and direct the science fiction cult classic Tron, which some of the Animalympics crew were involved in. Its soundtrack supervisor was Michael Fremer, who was involved in Animalympics as a co-writer, voice artist, dialogue/music track editor and sound mix supervisor. Fremer went on to supervise the Academy Award nominated soundtrack to Tron
A&M Records in the USA, and Mercury Records in Europe released an Animalympics soundtrack album, which has long been out of print. The music on this soundtrack was written and produced entirely by Graham Gouldman, who performed the tracks himself along with other members of 10cc (Gouldman was the bassist for the band at the time).
Pieces of classical music play in the Animalympics Movie. The Hut on Fowl's Legs (Baba-Yagá) from Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky plays during Tatyana Tushenko's floor exercises. March to the Scaffold from Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz plays during the couple's figure skating. The 3rd movement from Symphony No. 4 by Johannes Brahms plays during Dorie Turnell's skating performance.
The German distributor Alive released a Region 2 DVD on October 5, 2007, containing the original English version and a German dub.
That version was also used by the Spanish distribuitor IDAFILMS to release it in Spain, including the original English version along with the South American Spanish dub from 1987 (The movie was never dubbed to Castilian Spanish).