Release date9 June 1988 (Australia), 11 September 1988 (Canada), 30 September 1988 (USA, limited) Film seriesCane Toads: An Unnatural History Film Series CastTip Byrne (Himself), Glen Ingram (Himself), H.W. Kerr (Himself) Similar moviesRelated Mark Lewis movies
TaglineThe story of a bizarre biological blunder, warts and all!!
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1988) is a 47-minute documentary film about the introduction of Cane Toads to Australia. Cane Toads were introduced to Australia with the aim of controlling a sugar cane pest, the cane beetle, but they over-multiplied and became a serious problem in the Australian ecosystem. It is often humorous, and is used in high schools and colleges as a complement to curricula in biology, ecology, environmental science, anthropology, geography, and communication. It was filmed in Cairns and Gordonvale in Queensland.
The film was nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Short Film. It is distributed in the United States by Radio Pictures.
Unusual for a film considered a cult classic, Cane Toads performed very well during its theatrical release. For almost 20 years Cane Toads: An Unnatural History held the title of top grossing non-IMAX documentary for the Australian box office. It remains easily in the top ten today even with the IMAX films included. Released in March 1988, it is recording as bringing in $613,910 Australian dollars (not adjusted for inflation).
The cane toad was imported from Hawaii in 1935 to save Queensland's sugar crop from the grey-back beetle. It failed because the beetle could fly and the cane toad couldn't. But the cane toad stayed to become a pest of plague proportions and part of local culture and popular mythology. This offbeat and entertaining documentary presents not just the biological information, but also the surprising range of people's attitudes to these grotesque creatures, including keeping them as pets.
One of the filmâ€™s aesthetic and storytelling â€œinnovationsâ€� was to try and tell much of the story from the cane toadsâ€™ point of view. This was achieved by a number of extremely low angle shots. Lewisâ€™ goal was to give a voice to the toads who were at the center of so much controversy, and â€œcreate some sympathy for this animal that was so widely reviledâ€�.
Funding and distribution
The film was funded by Film Australia. It was shown in theatres and currently still ranks high in Australian box office records for documentaries. The film was also released on DVD or VHS in Australia, the USA, and the UK (IMDb, 2011a). Excerpts of the film are also available online as teaching aids. Based on Internet comments, the film is still shown in middle school, high school, and college classrooms and is well received. Production Company: Film Australia. Distributors: First Run Features (1999) (USA) (VHS); First Run Features (2001) (USA) (DVD); Umbrella Entertainment (2003) (Australia) (DVD); Unique Films (UK) (VHS) (IMDb, 2011a).
A sequel called Cane Toads: The Conquest premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. A completely new feature, almost twice as long as the first film, it is said to be the first Australian 3D digital film. In the years since the first film, the cane toad "multiplied alarmingly" to become a "seemingly unstoppable menace". The sequel/remake was released in Sydney in June 2011. Both films were written and directed by Mark Lewis. Their cultural impact and moral complexity were explored in an essay by Elizabeth Farrelly.