Cane Toads

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: Mark Lewis

REVIEWED: 06-20-97

I've watched a lot of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom in my time, but Cane Toads delivers what Marlon Perkins never could: a bucket of laughs. Indeed, Cane Toads is a contradiction in terms: a hilarious nature documentary. Imported into Australia in the 1930s to attack the cane grubs that were devastating local sugar crops, the cane toad proved as fruitless at pest control as it was fruitful in reproduction; now northern Queensland is literally overrun -- overhopped? -- by this magnificent toad. While the title toads -- with their eager sexual appetites, narcotic poison sacs, and a spawning pattern that can only be considered profligate -- are an entertaining bunch, director Mark Lewis understands that humans are the more infinitely amusing species. Lewis trots out several passionate commentators, eliciting heartfelt testimonials from toad lovers as well as seething indictments from those who hold the critters in somewhat lower esteem. Add to this curious cast a hilarious series of staged shots -- the nefarious toads preying on a backyard toddler, a Psycho-worthy scene with a showering naturalist and an advancing battalion of bloodthirsty Bufonidae -- and things get positively gleeful. To be sure, Cane Toads is a biological cautionary tale, a vivid case study of how a single, introduced species, without natural predators, can replace a startling number of native strains. But Cane Toads is short on sanctimony and long on laughs, and hands-down the funniest nature documentary I've ever seen.

--Jay Hardwig

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