The Australian documentary poorly presents a complex issue.
Who knew Australians were so divided on kangaroos? The national icon is beloved as a symbol and despised as an entity. For those of us unaware, the documentary Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story lays it all out informatively. Despite the fact that the animal is a mascot for the country, it’s also considered a pest by many of its people. Millions of kangaroos are killed each year to curb overpopulation, which is damaging the ecosystem. Of course, this culling process is controversial and met with disapproval from animal rights activists Down Under and around the world.
The film’s synopsis acknowledges this is a documentary that “unpacks” the issue for audiences. Unpacking documentaries aim to show and tell, and as far as educating us historically, politically and culturally about ‘roo slaughter, this one seems to provide a complete picture. Everything from kangaroo meat being common dog food product to the animals’ hides being turned into soccer shoes is examined and for the most part criticized. Kangaroo doesn’t exactly inform from the sidelines. Directors Kate McIntyre Clere and Michael McIntyre are surely aligned with an anti-roo-killing stance.
What they mean to accomplish with the documentary is not totally clear, however. If their intention is for Kangaroo to be like the dolphin slaughter doc The Cove, they might have stayed more focused on the mass shootings of the ‘roos. The inhumanity of the culling process, as well as the unsanitary practices that result in contaminated meat going out for pet and now increasingly public consumption, are the central problems presented, and the film follows a few characters out to expose and end the ‘roo meat industry over health concerns. But the storytelling is all over the place.
Kangaroo doesn’t just unpack a lot of material, but does so in a manner of overkill. There are too many talking heads, from politicians to zoologists to farmers to activists, and there is too much variety of visual content, including the occasional animation and a slew of poor-quality news archives, along with a lot of reiteration of information from multiple sources. Rather than coming across as complicated, the problems conveyed here wind up being confusing. How are kangaroos endangered yet also rising in population? Is the issue that they’re being killed in such cruel ways or that they’re being killed at all?
The film could have benefited from a more streamlined edit if not also been paced to keep us engrossed as well as concerned with what we’re seeing. But Kangaroo also suffers from some simplistic attitudes about conservation and animal welfare, leaving us with solutions focused on ending ‘roo killing entirely, if only because they’re an icon and also adorable — as if to say they exist for human enjoyment (let them be in their natural habit…to be seen and visited and hugged by people?), just not in edible form or cobbled as a manufacturing resource. In the end, it’s just a bumper sticker of a film.