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Not Rated
Copyright 1987 Film Australia
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 9 December 2001

The Characters:  

  • Cane Toads - Enormous amphibians (oh no, it's Toadzilla!) that were imported to Australia. They are big, ugly, horny, and secrete a deadly poison.
  • Dr. Kerr - One of the men who, back in 1932, thought the cane toad would solve Australia's sugar cane pest problem. He was wrong, but goes on merrily collecting his pension while the poisonous toads muck up the continent's ecosystem.
  • Dr. Ingram - Herpetologist with way too much practice at mimicking the mating call of a male cane toad.
  • Dr. Archer - A specialist in the study of small rodents. He carries a grudge against the warty invaders ever since his marsupial native cat gnawed on one and subsequently died. Here's toad juice in your eye.
  • Syd - Police detective involved in the prosecution of drug users. Lick the toad and get five years mate.
  • Paul - Listening to him describing how amorous cane toads strangled his goldfish would be bad enough, his extreme speech impediment (he stutters, really bad) just makes the testimony a test of human endurance.
  • David and Elvie - Two weirdoes who love the confounded little monsters, even waxing sentimental while talking about them.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

"Cane Toads" is a strange documentary about yet another animal that humans have introduced to Australia. As with many of the others, it is doing a fine job of breeding out of control. The fact that it appears here at should clue you in to the work's eccentric nature. Part of this can be blamed on the cane toads themselves (you will read why shortly) and the rest on some weird people armed with film equipment. Add a soundtrack with music reminiscent of a low budget horror movie at times, then suddenly shifting gears into "The Cane Toad Blues." Now you see why this naturalist romp makes me giggle.

During the late 20's and early 30's, Australia's sugar industry had a big problem: the cane beetle. Apparently this insect spends its early life as a grub chewing on sugar cane roots, then develops into a beetle that also burrows. To combat this pest the Australians imported one hundred and two cane toads (Bufo marinus). Since the beetles are either flying or underground, they seldom fall victim to a hungry cane toad. The amphibians, finding themselves out of work and with nothing else to do, started making little toads.

A reoccurring theme is the cane toad's single-minded determination to propagate the species. Dr. Ingram was kind enough to describe amplexus, the process of their mating, in sordid detail. He even had a boy and girl toad for demonstration purposes, but they seemed a little shy when under pressure. In the wild though - look out! A female toad can lay tens of thousands of eggs every year and some lucky fellow is going to fertilize as many as he can. Tens of thousands! I get blue ba..., tired, just thinking about it.

Cut to another scene of a scientist motoring down a country road while the radio blares "I Want Candy." He suddenly stops and gets out of the car, staring in sick astonishment at yet another cane toad mating spectacle. A male toad, atop a female, is trying to make more baby toads. Forget the fact that he is conducting business in the middle of the road; Mrs. Toad is roadkill! I don't mean just dead, either; the female was mashed quite flat and had been dead several hours! The human voyeur's face was priceless. Printing "What in the bloody hell?" on his forehead with a permanent marker would have been a waste.

Following that eye opener, I made a promise to Katie that, should I ever find her dead in the road, I would not attempt coitus. She seemed relieved.

"Frogger" jokes are hard to avoid during this movie. The fact that cane toads are often casualties while crossing roadways comes as no surprise, but the director made certain to include numerous shots from a toad's point of view. Hop, hop, hop... get the idea. Then there is one bloke who describes, in detail, the art of running over cane toads with his van. Watch in amazement as it roars down the road, swerving from one side to the other, popping toads all the way. The toads tend to puff up when threatened and being crushed under the tire makes them sound like a balloon popping.

The other defense mechanism that the cane toad has is a very effective poison. Glands above their shoulders will spray deadly venom up to one meter when then toad is given a hard squeeze. This is the real problem with the imported monsters. They kill anything that eats them. Dogs, snakes, birds, etc. - all dead within minutes of getting a mouthful of poison. Dr. Archer learned the hard way that you should wear goggles when thumping a toad. This poison is what gave some people the idea of killing a toad, boiling it, and drinking the water to induce something like an LSD trip. Guess who the authorities attribute with inventing toad toking? Hippies, go figure...

To counterbalance people who hate the imported amphibian, there are several interviews with cane toad boosters. Mostly these are old folks in command of dubious mental capacity. The one geezer, clad in his shorts and wife-beater, was almost in tears expressing his love for the lowly cane toad. Maybe it is time for a couple of state-funded rest homes in Australia. Of course, then you would still need to do something about the government officials who wanted to commission a one-meter cane toad statue for the town square.

I cannot finish this article without talking about what is the single most disturbing part of the documentary. We are informed that cane toads are not particular about their diet. Considering the fact that they are extremely large (an adult's body can be more than six inches in length), the beasts eat whatever fits down their gullets. Well, at one point they filmed a toad eating a mouse. Not some sort of pygmy Australian species either, but a regular white lab mouse! You can even see the doomed rodent struggling, trying desperately to escape, but the cane toad gulps it down. Ahhhhh! I still cannot believe that it ate the freaking mouse!

Shaken by the mouse's demise, I began imagining a movie in which giant cane toads (say a few hundred pounds) threaten a small town. Would they swallow humans whole? Even worse, considering their ardent nature, what if the movie's name was "Night of the Amplexus." Egad.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • There is a good reason that men have stronger arms than women.
  • Impersonating an animal that is known for trying to hop across busy roads is liable to get one tossed in the loony bin.
  • Using a pickaxe to kill a toad is a little much.
  • Drug users constantly listen to sitar music.
  • Little girls will happily substitute a big, ugly toad for a doll.
  • Germans are some sort of bipedal amphibian.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 4 mins - Hobo toads!
  • 5 mins - Horny toads!
  • 13 mins - For once I have to agree with the cane toads. Stop singing dude, right now.
  • 21 mins - Can you say "form letter?" Good! I knew you could!
  • 24 mins - Oh, that's Edgar...
  • 36 mins - I am going to send that man five dollars so that he can buy a new hat.
  • 38 mins - Ping-pong balls? By the way: love the sound effect here.
  • 39 mins - Oh my God! It just swallowed the mouse!
  • 45 mins - Toad, I do not think that you are large enough to eat a pigeon, but more power to you.

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note canetoads1.wav People giving some personal feelings about cane toads.
Green Music Note canetoads2.wav Dr. Ingram: "When one species of cane beetle is in the cane fields, it just doesn't come in contact with the ground and we know that cane toads can't fly."
Green Music Note canetoads3.wav Scientist: "There, you can see the venom shoot out. Did ya? There are numerous pores over those glands there. Under pressure, that toxic material will shoot for about a meter."
Green Music Note canetoads4.wav Paul: "The cane, c-c-c-cane toads attack t-t-the goldfish in the pond. A-a-a-as they swim around i-i-in the water..." Oh, skip it! He's giving me a stuttering problem just listening to him over and over, trying to t-t-t-type this out.
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipcanetoads1.mpg - 1.9m

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Comments:Write CommentPages: 1 2 3 [4] 5 6
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #25. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by Tiger
We watched it for a film requirement for a college class.  The last film we saw was a 2 1/2 hour silent film, so we were expecting some dreadful documentary with droning narrators and etc.  The entire audience never stopped laughing.  I think my absolute favorite was the guy in the van.  As was mentioned, the popping sound was incredible and downright hilarious.

You know you've done something right when all you have to do is stick in a brief shot of something that isn't funny and your audience cracks up anyway.  So it was with the druggie in the credits... nothing else needed.  Great film.
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #26. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by Jet
I watched this doco once, but not for fun. I watched it in a High School Geography class, and while watching it I realised it was almost verbatim of a book which my Mum owned. Eventually I realised that I had unwittingly given the Book of the Film to my Mum for Mother's Day. We didn't realise it was the book of a film until I saw it, and frankly it's almost word-for-word. Later on, in Health class, we were asked to name a recreational drug, and I immediately said 'bufotine! You get it from cane toads!'
I've been to Queensland. Toad whacking is a favourite pasttime over there, and my uncle uses them as golf balls. Whee!
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #27. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:03 PM by Sora the B-Movie Alchemist
I loved this movie when I was.... 5. I still watch it to get a kick out of it.

Violence: *
Goofiness: ****
Monster: *
Actors: *
Overall: **
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #28. Posted on July 03, 2005, 04:05:40 PM by atm
I saw this movie in my AP Biology class... it was hysterical. Truly a movie to remember - and, hopefully, watch again one day.
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #29. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by KellyHopkinsville
I think there are two versions of this documentary out there, because the one I rented and watched years ago on VHS had the swerving-car-popping-frog sequence, and the once I recently rented on DVD from Netflix didn't.
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #30. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by Nouls
I think this is the funniest documentary I have ever seen. I've played to the students in my Biol classes and they love it!! Especially the cane toad humping the flat, squashed dead cane toad in the middle of the road!
Re: Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #31. Posted on January 18, 2007, 05:05:13 AM by Hans Amstel
We watched the movie in Zoology and the Biology Society at Adelaide Uni and it's very funny!  The opening scene with the VW Combi sets the tone for the whole MV and the little girl who puts a toad in a dolly dress is a real scream.  BounceGiggle so i give it a  Thumbup and say everyone should  get a view of it Cheers
Re: Cane Toads: An Unnatural History
Reply #32. Posted on March 27, 2007, 12:49:14 PM by Raffine
The Horror of the Cane Toad marches on:

"The poisonous toad is responsible for killing native animals from snakes to small crocodiles."
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