PBS // 2011 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // March 24th, 2012
Is your trash can making raccoons smarter?
I chuckled quite a bit throughout Raccoon Nation for two reasons. First, raccoons are kind of adorable. I realize they cause all sorts of problems for homeowners, but seriously, how can you resist the charms of those inventive bandits? Second, the usual array of animal experts seem fairly clueless about a number of crucial details of raccoon life. A more appropriate title for this DVD -- Raccoons: Seriously, What the Hell?
This hour-long PBS Nature special sets out to take an in-depth look at raccoons' natural habitat: the big city. Raccoons are increasingly setting up shop in neighborhoods, multiplying at remarkable rates and adapting to their new environment with astounding speed. "Raccoons have changed more in the past 40 years than they have in the previous 40,000 years," claims one expert. "You can't see any changes physically, but there have been major changes in the way they think." While there seems to be little consistency in the way raccoons behave from region to region (or even from neighborhood to neighborhood), it's clear they're persistent and quick learners.
Despite their outwardly friendly appearance, raccoons are regarded as a nuisance. They dig through trash, make giant messes, wake people up in the middle of the night and make life miserable for suburbanites (in that regard, they're a bit like an Alan Ball production). As such, people have gone to great lengths to "raccoon-proof" their personal property. Here's the fascinating thing: the more preventative measures people take, the harder the raccoons work to get at it. They're getting progressively smarter, and somehow find a way to overcome each obstacle we give them. "They're not quite on our level, but they're getting there," one expert says. Another claims some sort of raccoon apocalypse is just around the corner; it's unclear whether or not she's joking.
Raccoon Nation is a bit less focused and more humor-oriented than many Nature excursion; there's a kind of deadpan sensibility which isn't generally found in this sort of programming. It's a lot of fun to watch, and the consistently enjoyable raccoon footage keeps things afloat even when the experts are doing little more than verbally scratching their heads. What we have here is a great deal of extraordinary and puzzling evidence without much of a conclusion. Here's hoping further investigation provides us with Raccoon Nation 2.
The DVD presentation is solid enough, its standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image offering sturdy detail and depth. Some of the nighttime footage is a bit noisy, but that's only to be expected given the cameras and shooting conditions. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is also decent, though for some reason it was determined this program needed music that sounds like a collaboration between John Carpenter and some evil clowns. At any moment, I was convinced one of the raccoons was going to reveal itself as a demon wearing a furry disguise. There are no bonus features.
I for one, welcome our new raccoon overlords and look forward to aiding them in their noble quest to destroy all humanity (or at least raid all their refrigerators). In the meantime, educate yourselves by checking out this intriguing little documentary.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* PBS Nature