Hundreds of Beavers Review | Snowshoe Slapstick

by Andrew Parker

Evoking memories of classic cartoons and the dawn of black and white, silent cinema, the relentless and often hilarious slapstick yarn Hundreds of Beavers delivers on the promise of its title and then some. A rapid fire assembly of gags and dazzling set pieces that fly in the face of its minuscule budget, Hundreds of Beavers has been rightfully gaining a lot of buzz among cult movie buffs. It’s a tiring film to sit through, but mostly because it has enough energy to propel a dozen different projects. And while it doesn’t always hit the comedic mark 100% of the time, director Mike Cheslik and co-writer and star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews adhere to one of Mel Brooks’ biggest rules of comedy: keep the gags coming at such a fast and furious rate that there’s always something for everybody to be amused by.

Hapless and drunken 19th century applejack magnate Jean Kayak (Cole Tews) has lost his livelihood to some mischievous beavers. Stranded in the middle of the snowy woods, Kayak fights for survival amid harsh elements and cheeky wildlife, including bunnies, wolves, raccoons, frogs, and, of course, hundreds of beavers (maybe even thousands). Eventually with the help of some hardened professionals, Jean starts to make a go of things as a trapper and fur trader. Jean starts to develop a crush on a flirtatious furrier (Olivia Graves), but her merchant father (Doug Mancheski) wont allow them to become a couple unless he delivers… you guessed it… hundreds of beaver pelts.

Hundreds of Beavers takes the form of a mostly silent slapstick comedy from the early days of cinema, revelling in a blend of old school and new school visual effects that come together in a pleasing package. One moment, Cheslik will be formatting a complex visual that would be at home in a Méliès film, and the next he’ll be revelling in a sort of video game logic that takes the old school slapstick to another postmodern level. Hundreds of Beavers is a love letter to a number of different influences: the silent slapstick of Charlie Chaplin (perhaps most notably The Gold Rush), the daring stuntwork of Buster Keaton, the childish and outlandish sensibilities of Looney Tunes shorts, great adventure stories of survival amid harsh conditions, and the out-there stylings of Guy Maddin. (It should be noted that although the concept and setting of Hundreds of Beavers sounds resolutely Canadian, it’s actually an American project, which makes me wonder how no one else came up with such a concept first.)

The animals that torment poor Jean Kayak are a delight to watch, mostly because they are just human beings dressed up in large mascot costumes that sometimes dwarf Cole Tews’ buff, swarthy, and hopeless protagonist. It’s a clever and visually pleasing decision that brings out the most in Cheslik’s string of running gags, beatdowns, and pratfalls. Although there is some animation (and even puppetry) employed in Hundreds of Beavers, it’s this distinctly human component that makes this lark so unique and refreshing. Even though poor Jean Kayak often comes out on the losing end of his encounters with wildlife – whether by chance or by just getting relentlessly beaten down – visually the battle seems like a fair fight, and the actors tasked with wearing these bulky, unexpressive suits do a tremendous job of making them come to life with personalities and unusual quirks.

While Hundreds of Beavers is the sort of film that’s made to tickle the funny bones of those who created it first and the audience second, there’s so much stuffed into a single package that there’s something for everyone. This approach does mean that some patches of the film (which is admittedly a tad long at 108 minutes) will pass without many laughs for some, there’s always something around the corner that absolutely kills. Hundreds of Beavers is a film that’s “always on,” and never lets up, but unlike a lot of movies that throw everything and the kitchen sink at the viewer, this project isn’t annoying about it. Cheslik makes sure that there’s too much to do and see for anyone to really get stuck on any nitpicks or logical questions. It’s a cinematic bullet train disguised as a carnival ride. The whole of Hundreds of Beavers might not be to everybody’s taste, but there’s something in here for any taste.

Hundreds of Beavers is now playing in select cities and is also available in Canada and the U.S. on VOD.

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