DVD Cane Toads: The Conquest
The greatest ecological irony is that we humans are responsible for destroying our own world. Native flora and fauna can inadvertently be decimated by the introduction of one, small, foreign flower into a country. Fears that the demise of the bumble bee will eventually lead to our own extinction are rampant. Cane Toads is a satirical look at the consequences of one human attempt to mess with nature.
During the 1930s, the sugar cane industry in Australia was in jeopardy. The larvae of the cane beetle were eating away at the sugar cane roots, thus destroying crops. A solution is proposed. Apparently, in Hawaii, similar problems were solved by the introduction of the cane toad. The toad eats the beetle, thus solving the problem. So, a hundred or so cane toads are brought from Hawaii to Australia and let loose.
It doesn’t work. And now the Australian’s have an invasion of cane toads to contend with. Some despise the creatures, some are amused by them. Some wish to protect their right to exist. Many find inventive means of either honouring them, or disposing of them. But the cane toad keeps on reproducing, and Australia is stuck with the consequences of bringing it to their land…
Cane Toads is a documentary-style blend of mild horror and comedy. It is filmed as a series of interviews with various professionals, experts, witnesses and ordinary people all concerning the cane toad. No matter how ludicrous the situation being described or shown, the documentary is still presented as serious and genuine. Bittersweet anecdotes, business ventures, archive footage, newspaper headlines, true-crime dramatisations – all staples of the documentary industry and all add to the feel of it being a true event. Each preposterous scenario is almost believable – be it a stoned dog, stuffed toad dioramas, or a grown man keeping a toad as a pet.
The imagery is hilarious. Shots of a lone toad hopping sadly along a deserted road after they have failed to halt the sugar cane problem; a dog hooked up to a life support machine after being poisoned by a toad; a toad strapped to a firework; and dogs becoming addicted to licking toads are all described by straight faces, sombre tones, and seemingly portrayed briefly by real dogs and toads.
The characters portrayed come across as genuine. No-one overplays their role. Anecdotes are told in the exact same manner that a war veteran would remember battle stories for a TV documentary. There’s something quite relaxed and easy-going about the Australian accent and the way of life depicted. They may be doing their utmost to rid their country of this pest, but they’ll enjoy themselves doing it. Creative and bizarre methods are described in matter of fact tones. Everyone mock ‘interviewed’ is careful not to take their role, or speech, too seriously, and this actually makes the faux documentary more realistic.
There’s no heavy-handed morality. The toads don’t suddenly turn evil and begin killing everything in sight.
There’s no heavy-handed morality. The toads don’t suddenly turn evil and begin killing everything in sight. The dangers of introducing a new species to an area without proper testing periods are gently shown, but without any worst-case-scenario melodrama or over-acting. The subtlety of the message actually serves to make it more poignant. The consequences are quite funny. Some of the Australians do go to extremes to try and rid their land of this pest, although, by and large, the toads don’t cause much damage and destruction to the Australian way of life. If anything, some of the methods employed to kill these toads should be banned due to potential accidents occurring. But the growth-rate of the toads’ population is quite threatening and the echo of what damage a foreign species could cause is always present.
There are scenes of violence towards the toads. However, no deaths are seen close up, so it is unlikely any toads are actually harmed. One character is depicted electrocuting himself whilst trying to murder several toads, and a dog suffers life-threatening poisoning when it goes to crush a toad’s skull. On the whole, the film does seem to be against hunting poor, defenceless toads as the stupidity of the hunters is more likely to be harmful to themselves. The dog, however, does survive, too.
One slight criticism is that considering that it consists solely of commentary, 85 minutes begins to feel quite long. With no ‘action’, as such, to keep the viewers hooked, and no angry confrontations, after a while, the laid-back reminiscing does begin to feel quite repetitive. Maybe keeping it closer to the hour-mark would have prevented this.
On the whole, Cane Toads: The Conquest is refreshing, humorous and different. Poking fun at the documentary industry and yet containing a genuine environmental message, the toads – and the stoned dog – are clearly the stars of this film. Don’t expect any wild action or blood-curling horror sequences, but do expect to be entertained and amused. Unless, of course, you’re sensitive regarding the welfare of toads: then, perhaps, this film is not for you.
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