Take a look at Wenlock and Mandeville, the London 2012 Olympic mascots, below. Then decide what they best resemble:
No matter what you chose — my vote is for the bottle opener — this year’s plush pair is generating buzz, and not the good kind. Wenlock and Mandeville have been described as “sinister,” “terrifying,” and like “a drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek.”
The pair were designed by London agency Iris, but according to their origin story, they are droplets of steel left over from the building of the Olympic stadium, said to symbolize the U.K.’s Industrial Revolution. Their names come from towns in England: Much Wenlock is a Shropshire town that inspired the modern Olympic games, and the Buckinghamshire town of Stoke Mandeville is where the Paralympics were founded.
These mascots are monstrous. Giant grey eyeballs, no fingers or feet, and, for poor Mandeville, sharp ridges on his head. They more closely resemble an Oxo kitchen tool than any plush toy ever made. Their design seems to be calculated to offend no one, and appeal to no one as well. And as for those eyeballs! They’re said to be cameras to “record everything” in the games, which brings to mind London’s extensive network of security cameras and gives the whole thing an extra sinister, Orwellian touch. Others have concluded that because of the creatures’ shapes, along with the fact that they could be described as “one-eyed monsters,” the entire thing is a dirty joke being played on London.
Wenlock and Mandeville aren’t the worst Olympic mascots of all time — that honor might go to Izzy, the mascot for Atlanta in 1996 that looked like the outer-space version of Looney Toons’ Tasmanian Devil (and whom this author remembers as a distinctly disappointing Happy Meal toy). Izzy, Wenlock and Mandeville are among the few Olympic mascots that do not resemble actual animals, and all of those have been remembered as failures — same goes for the anthropomorphic snowball of Turin and the “skiing sperm” of Grenoble (You can see these and other past mascots in our gallery below). However, the weirder the mascot, the better the games — or so Fast Company says. According to its assessment, some of the most popular Olympic games, including Atlanta, have had hideous mascots.
The mascots for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 are a step in the right direction: a polar bear, hare, leopard, snowflake girl and “ray of light” boy. They harken back to Vancouver’s Mukmuk, Sumi, Quatchi and Miga, which might be the cutest Olympic plush toys to have ever been made. As for Rio in 2016? Designs have not yet been announced, but officials have proposed the idea of a Muriqui monkey, as well as a Golden Marmoset. It’s cute — and, unlike Wenlock and Mandeville, relatively parody-proof.
GALLERY: Click on the image above to see Olympic mascots, past and present.