Yep, animals are up to no good: They’re eating our garbage to nourish their young, stealing our newspapers to build their nests, and disturbing our sleep to call mates. Just when we think we’ve cut down enough trees or poured enough pesticides, nature’s nuisances keep coming back. What’s a human to do?
NATURE’s “Animals Behaving Worse,” which premiered this evening on WGBH, is an insult to viewers’ intelligence. Sure, we’ve all heard stories of the menacing gang of Brookline turkeys or a seagull who ran away with lunch, but it’s difficult to believe that anyone would categorize these behaviors as malicious. The documentary, however, calls these animal invasions into human territory an “all-out turf war,” which is humorous, because look around and you’ll see, if there was any battle – we won.
The film’s weakness wasn’t its footage, although some of the shots were a bit awkward and the editors went B-roll crazy from time to time, the problem was the concept. This was a human-centric film. The anecdotes, ranging from a man whose yellow support-our-troops ribbons were stolen by a squirrel and a woman who scares black bears away from human-populated zones, were meant to highlight the way animals disrupt our day to day lives.
The producer, James Donald, could have gone so much deeper. The anecdotes in the film would have fit fine in a documentary exploring how animals have and have not adapted to human expansion. Instead, the viewer was bombarded with complaints by hotel guests of of crowing roosters or margarita-stealing monkeys. Only one expert was asked for any insight into these behaviors, but rather than asking why animals do this, the interview was about how.
By calling these animals “bad”, the film avoids some heavy moral questions. If creatures are going hungry because humans have taken up all the land and food, why not let them rummage through our garbage? If an introduced species is destroying an ecosystem, is it our responsibility to get it out? Instead, we are told how invasive species like killer bees and Asian cod will affect human economics.
Human elements are necessary to make a documentary relevant and keep viewers watching, but a film with a title reminiscent of a FOX special and so little substance shouldn’t carry the NATURE brand.