A documentary about a few frogs growing into a lot of frogs doesn’t sound terribly interesting. But very early on in Cane Toads: The Conquest it manages to point out that there is in fact an interesting tale to be had here. The film then goes on to not be interesting.
The Cane Toad was introduced to Australia in 1936 to deal with the Cane Beetle which was destroying crops of sugar cane. 102 toads were released in a small billabong and expected to eat the bugs. The Toads did not eat the beetles, instead they bred like crazy and there are now 1.5 billion toads spreading across North-Eastern Australia and no amount of human intervention seems capable of halting the spread of the pest.
These simple facts are presented very early on in the film, with a few extra details which make you aware that there is a good story here. However, instead of following this story director Mark Lewis seems to be contented with simply presenting a selection of largely unrelated stories from various people who have encountered the toads. There is a complete lack of narrative structure, each segment, apart from being about toads, seems completely unconnected to the last. There are some stories which seem like they could be connected, giving the film some sense of structure, but instead these segments are presented well away from each other with a bunch of other mundane anecdotes in between.
There is also an attempt at humour made, the film seems to be largely made with tongue in cheek, but for the life of me I cannot figure out what the makers think is funny. I found myself staring at the “jokes” with the same sense of bafflement which I get watching people laugh hysterically at the fact that someone just farted. I don’t know what’s funny about that. The only reason I know it’s meant to be funny in a lot of places is because of the way the scene is shot and the “comedy” music accompaniment, they may as well have used a laugh track. Every now again there is a chuckleable moment, but these are few and far between.
At times these “jokes” are even made at the expense of facts which could have been interesting. At one point we are told about the gas which built up in bottles storing collected toxins from the toads. Rather than give us facts about the incident we are given a CG explosion far larger than any real explosion could have been. We are left wondering what actually happened, was there an actual explosion from toad gas (which would have been kind of funny), or did they just use an incredibly boring fact (gas builds up in sealed environments) to construct a rather weak visual gag?
Some of the segments are interesting, but the lack of facts, the weak humour and the complete absence of a cohesive narrative makes Cane Toads: A Conquest a complete waste of time.