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Review: Underdog, A Prairie Story (2008)

Directed by | 52 minutes |

“The Prairie Maintenance Team”; this is how the bison and the prairie dog are described in ‘Underdog, A Prairie Story’. These two animal species are very important to the flora and fauna of the prairie. You will find out exactly how that works in this documentary. In any case, the bison and prairie dog cannot exist without each other. Because the bison creates the conditions for the prairie dog to easily dig tunnels with their small claws as the bison crushes the land considerably due to their colossal weight. The bison gets a lot in return for this; the grass around the prairie dog armies is tastier and more fertile than anywhere else on the plains. “A plague to the land”, the opinions of the farmers in America had for a long time been very negative about the prairie dog.

Underdog, A Prairie Story brings out the inaccuracy of this reputation in an accessible way. The documentary starts with the first day that the prairie dog babies see the light of day and shows us one year in their lives at an accelerated time. The makers tell the story of these small animals through a ‘ story’ construction. One group of prairie dogs is central: mother Belle, father Flax, son Smoke, daughter Poppy and Belle’s sister Iris with her son Clover. These names may mean that you have to empathize with these animals, but it makes the documentary a bit childish. You hardly recognize who is who.

In addition to Belle and Flax’s family, the bison are given a lot of space in ‘Underdog, A Prairie Story’. However, they are spared an introduction as family and names. Beautiful shots from ‘Underdog, a Prairies Story’ are the moments when you see a burrowing owl forcing a prairie dog to leave its territory. The owl hits hard and Smoke is injured. The two main enemies of the little tunnel diggers are the golden eagle and the coyote. In the movie you only get to see one where a relative of the prairie dogs is caught. The makers want to spare you more suffering, because otherwise you don’t see a sad moment when you really see a prairie dog falling prey to their enemy. Underdog, A Prairie Story also contains endearing moments. For example, the images of how the prairie dogs show their joy when the coyote leaves their premises without a victim. And especially impressive images are the aerial shots of the large herd of bison that migrates through the prairie. The documentary also tells – slightly – about the of the prairie; how people moved to these grassy plains and that nowadays little remains of the original vegetation.

Besides bison and prairie dogs, there is an alternation with the other animals of the prairie; such as the grebe or the guinea fowl. You get to see beautiful images of the mating dance of these two birds. Although ‘Underdog, A Prairie Story’ has beautiful visuals and is quite entertaining, it lacks depth. The could well have shown a few shots of today’s farmers who now tolerate the prairie dogs on their land or the ways in which these animals are now being attempted to return. And otherwise images that deal more with the prairie dog’s bad reputation at the time. The voice-over will tell you, but an image says more than a thousand words. In conclusion, ‘Underdog, A Prairie Story’ is a nice film that makes you realize that small puny creatures do play a very important role in nature.

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