Fantasia 2023 Review: HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS, Triumph of Escalating Sight Gags
Hundreds of Beavers has been tearing up the festival circuit for months now, scooping prizes and rapidly building a rabid cult following. And with damn good reason. If you have even the slightest love for slap stick comedy and goofball antics, then this will undoubtedly be the most gut-busting time you have at the movies this year.
Once upon a time in early frontier days on the Canadian/US border, Jean Kayak is an entrepreneurial cider distiller, who is often high on his own supply. One day, his orchard and stills are destroyed by the local beaver population, who are definitely up to something.
This is done in a goofball musical opening number which serves an intro to Jean’s expressive face and silly-putty muscular frame, as well acclimatising us to the old timey black and white meets cutting edge animation aesthetic. The hybrid is a joy of both the completely familiar, and something refreshingly new. Wearing only his tattered long john underwear, Jean must go back to basics, learn hunting and fishing for survival, and to come up with a plan to rebuild his fortune by selling beaver pelts.
It, gonzo and endearingly, does not go well. The local rabbits, raccoons, wolves, and even the fish (all big furry cartoon costumes), not to mention the titular beavers (who are definitely up to something) foil his Wile E. Coyote efforts. There are many beatings. There are uncountable peckings from a far too easily summoned woodpecker. These do not sap Jean’s spirit, even if it often leaves him naked and buried in snow, often bleeding from his fingertips or his gums. On the latter: Don’t ask, just laugh at the absurdity.
After a brilliant series of these self-contained little vignettes, he eventually meets a seasoned trapper who takes him on and shows him the ropes. Here he introduced to the general post to sell his weapons wares; seasoned gamers will understand the mechanics. Jean catches the eye of the owner’s lovely daughter (who is handy with butchering tools). Will Jean become a master trapper? Will he get the girl and win the respect her father? And just what are those beavers up to
Hundreds of Beavers is an escalating Rube Goldberg machine of sight gags that stylishly, relentlessly, frappés high speed silent cinema chases of the the Buster Keaton and Keystone Cops variety, with early16-bit console gaming (somewhere between Zelda and Super Mario World), and a truly unhealthy dose of Looney Tunes into a sugary cinematic concoction. One that is best suited for direct eyeball-injection with a big audience.
Shot in high contrast black & white, often on location in snowy Wisconsin forests and frozen lakes, with almost no dialogue, there is an absolute love of expressive facial close-ups, and a metric tonne of furry mascot costumes. Things are so exceptionally executed here, that it is nearly impossible to understand how director-VFX artist Mike Cheslik and director-star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews created it. It seems to have simply come into existence, fully formed, in its own marvellous perfection.
Hardly just a technical tour-de-force, the comedy here is pure. Gags fold in upon one another, calling back, setting up, constantly surprising with their inventiveness, and utterly committed to the bit. Even the tiniest of touches, such as the gag with the sled-dogs playing cards, as the team is being hunted and diminished by wolves, do not go unnoticed in their clean visual storytelling. Fair warning: Spittoon gags abound.
By the time the film rolls through its jaw-droppingly massive set-piece finale, you may have forgotten Jean’s humble early attempts to catch rabbits and fish, so thoroughly has the film ratcheted up what is possible. I am still in disbelief that the whole experience was not some kind of feverish dream brought about by the passion for high energy entertainment, and too much apple cider. Yea, Hundreds of Beavers is very good. See it with friends.
Read more about the film at the official Fantasia International Film Festival site.
Hundreds of Beavers
- Mike Cheslik
- Mike Cheslik
- Ryland Brickson Cole Tews
- Ryland Brickson Cole Tews
- Olivia Graves
- Wes Tank