Hundreds of Beavers is impressive and hilarious

Hundreds of Beavers is impressive and hilarious

Warner Brothers CEO Loserface Buttfarts, I mean David Zaslav, pissed off everybody and surprised nobody a few weeks back when he pulled the plug on Coyote vs Acme, the completed, and apparently very entertaining feature that once again aimed to combine our favorite cartoons with a veritable who’s who of live-action comedic performers. And even though it’s almost guaranteed that the movie would’ve been a financial failure, and that the angriest among us were never going to pay to see it anyway, those are things for a studio to consider before making the whole dang film. As such, it feels like the end of an era. It feels like a sign that the official Looney Tunes product is functionally deceased, at least until Lebron Jr. is called upon to battle the Monstars in a few years’ time. 

Yet we shouldn’t despair, because even though Looney Tunes IP has likely gone the way of the dodo, its spirit lives on in a big way. I’m referring, of course, to one of the zaniest, funniest, and most technically jaw-dropping films I’ve ever seen: Hundreds of Beavers. It’s a black and white, mostly silent slapstick epic that calls to mind the best material that the Merry Melodies gang ever put forth, utilizing the same classic gags in new and exciting ways afforded to the filmmakers by contemporary tools. 

The story is as simple as it is complicated: Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) is an applejack salesman who, in a drunken stupor, accidentally blows up the ACME applejack factory. Suddenly jobless and abandoned in the freezing wilderness, Jean stumbles into the fur trade. If he can hone his skills and bring home as many beaver pelts as humanly possible, he just might be able to survive the winter. And if he can go above and beyond with his pelt numbers, he may even win the hand and heart of the local furrier (Olivia Graves), as well the respect of her father (Doug Mancheski). 

There’s only one problem: the forest belongs to the beavers, and there are hundreds of them. 

The bulk of the film is a parade of non-stop gags that all stem from a long-form version of a Roadrunner cartoon mixed with an RPG video game.  Meaning that Jean is constantly chasing his simple goals (kill the beavers, get the girl) while collecting items and skills to improve his craft. The visuals bear this out in one of the smoothest examples of “show-don’t-tell” storytelling you’re apt to see on the big screen. Jean’s ever-growing skill set goes hand in hand with ever-escalating stakes. This prevents the film from feeling like a mere shell in which to house gags. At just under two hours in length it runs a high risk of burning its novelty and then feeling repetitive. But the masterful ways which the film regularly avoids this pitfall is perhaps its greatest strength: every single time I expected it to run out of juice, a new gag, a surprising callback, or a clever repurposing of a previous gag would reset the clock. Ten minutes into the film I feared it would wear thin, but by the final act I never wanted it to end. 

Hundreds of Beavers is a visual marvel. It’s shot in grainy black & white, seamlessly mixing live-action actors (yes, most of the animals are depicted as humans in mascot-style fur suits), stop-motion animation, classic animation, dioramas, location photography, and digital trickery to grand comic effect. The learned cinephiles among us could likely isolate most of the cinematic tricks employed in any individual shot, but would also struggle to explain how so many of these tricks are integrated all at once. Add to that how sturdy and gorgeous many of the compositions prove to be, and we’ve got some game-changing cinema on our hands. Lesser filmmakers would lean on the gimmick and let the artistry fade into the background, but the Beavers team is not content to phone it in. In fact, the film took four years to complete, with a total of 12 weeks of shooting (in the subzero temperatures of the Wisconsin and Michigan winters, no less). 

As is expected in a Looney Tunes riff, the score, by Chris Ryan, has the large sound of orchestral tomfoolery, evoking the most active classical compositions, timing the hits and flourishes to coincide with the non-stop cavalcade of high-quality slapstick. The melodies often serve as punchlines on their own, while also serving to elevate the more visual punchlines into high-art. It would be so easy and so lazy to dismiss the film as low-class or pure novelty, but when so many disparate elements are synthesized so well, one simply must be impressed. Hundreds of Beavers exists at the nexus of so many highly-respected influences. It evokes Looney Tunes, Benny hill, vaudeville, Buster Keaton, Monty Python, Dead Man, and The Revenant in equal measure, but it’s no mashup. This absurd adventure is one of those beautiful cases where modern technology meets classic technique, successfully adding new slang to the language of cinema. Hundreds of Beavers is a true original. 

My only complaint is that I didn’t get to see it with a crowd (yet). Make no mistake, this insane flick absolutely slayed me when I watched it all by myself, but I can only imagine the damage it would do in a packed theater. 

But guess what: you can see it on the big screen! Hundreds of Beavers is currently touring festivals and playing theaters all around the country. Click here to see where. 

Directed by Mike Cheslik

Written by Mike Cheslik, Ryland Brickson Cole Tews

Starring Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Olivia Graves, Luis Rico, Doug Mancheski

Fight choreographer/Beaver Stuntman: Jon True (this guy deserves as much credit as anyone)

Not Rated, 108 minutes