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Six memorable moments from the 2016 Olympics opening ceremony

Given that it’s home to Carnival, it was never a question of whether or not the opening ceremony for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro would be full of color and spectacle. But what was surprising was how the production tackled complicated issues head on.

With that in mind, here are the big winners of Friday night’s ceremony.

The rain forests

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times )
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Brought to life in vibrant green and blue, the kickoff to the Summer Games paid tribute to the rain forests of Brazil. Using a combination of laser lights and dancers, the scene was part of the larger story being crafted about the birth of the country as a whole.

It was a visually stunning representation of a foundational element of Brazil’s identity and, while it may not be the moment in the ceremony that people will be talking about most as the Olympics play out, it provided an image that will stick with viewers.

Also, there were giant bugs.

Giant bugs.
Giant bugs.
(Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images )

Slavery and colonization

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Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
(Elsa/Getty Images )

One of the most surprising elements of Friday night’s festivities was the inclusion of the topic of colonization and slavery.

While both are realities of the history of Brazil, the Olympics are often a place where the less savory details are swept under the rug to provide a more pleasant (if incomplete) image of the host country.

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This was not the case for the opening ceremony orchestrated by “City of God” director Fernando Meirelles, who chose to depict the colonization of Brazil, as well as the importation of African slaves and the importance of indigenous populations, since each played a vital role in the building of the country as it stands today.

Climate change

Olympic rings are formed during the opening ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Olympic rings are formed during the opening ceremony at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
(Tim Donnelly / Associated Press )

As unexpected as it may have been to see slavery depicted in the opening ceremony, it was also surprising to see climate change featured so prominently.

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The center of the festivities contained an extended segment warning against pending global catastrophe and announcing the creation of the Athletes’ Forest, which will contain 11,000 newly planted seeds, one for each athlete competing in the Games.

Gisele Bundchen is the ‘Girl From Ipanema’

Gisele Bundchen graces the catwalk at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Gisele Bundchen graces the catwalk at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times )

Gisele Bundchen, Brazilian fashion model and activist, saved the best for last. Though she retired officially from the catwalk in April 2015 at São Paulo Fashion Week, Bundchen walked her signature walk one final time at the opening ceremony in her home country.

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To top things off, Bundchen walked the length of the stadium accompanied by the classic Brazilian samba “Girl From Ipanema” as performed by Daniel Jobim, grandson of the song’s composer, Antônio Carlos Jobim.

Michael Phelps and Team USA

Michael Phelps walks out with the American flag as he leads his team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
Michael Phelps walks out with the American flag as he leads his team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics on Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times )

Call us homers, but it was a little magical to watch Team USA enter the stadium with Michael Phelps bearing the American flag.

The most decorated Olympian of all time returns to the Games after a short-lived retirement, during which the legendary swimmer struggled with substance abuse and depression, eventually entering rehab and returning to competitive swimming.

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Phelps’ triumphant return to the Olympic stage comes just three months after becoming a first-time father, with fiancee Nicole Johnson giving birth to their son, Boomer, in May.

Phelps will compete in the 200-meter butterfly, the 200-meter individual medley and the 100-meter butterfly in his fifth career Olympics.

That Olympic flame

The Olympic flame during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
The Olympic flame during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
(Sergei Ilnitsky / EPA )
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It may have taken NBC five hours (no, really) to get to it, but Rio’s display for the Olympic flame nearly made that wait worthwhile.

Though not lighted by Brazil’s favorite son, soccer star Pele, who had to bow out due to ill health— and despite the cauldron itself being smaller than in recent ceremonies— Rio’s flame may be the most spectacular visual from the Games yet.

The cauldron, which is smaller to represent the 2016 Games’ call for environmental restraint (really), is backed by a gorgeous and elaborate wind-powered sculpture that reflects the flame’s light.

Get all the latest Times coverage of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics here as the competition heats up.

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libby.hill@latimes.com

Twitter: @midwestspitfire

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