Fantasia 2023: Hundreds of Beavers – Chaplin Meets Bugs Bunny in This Slapstick Delight

If you ever wondered what an ostensibly live action take on classic Looney Tunes would look like in the style of Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925), look no further than Hundreds of Beavers. It is one of those rare films that truly delivers on its title, also. No metaphor here, folks, there really are hundreds of beavers. And, even better, they are just actors in fancy dress beaver costumes, just to add to the hilarity of it all.

I stated ‘ostensibly’ live action as this film is, let’s say, mixed media. There are few actors, mainly just Ryland Brickson Cole Tews who plays ‘Jean Kayak of Acme Applejack’, a role that evolves throughout the film. The mixed media approach is to surround him with animated elements alongside good old fashioned filmic trickery. Hundreds of Beavers makes the most of the medium, pulling in visual tricks and deploying animated flourishes to create a hilarious cartoon logic where anything is possible. Saying this, there are clear rules, one of the greatest strengths of this glorious movie is how it creates an internal logic (a nonsense logic) and sticks to it. It takes being ridiculous very seriously and from this carves out beautiful running gags and just rewards your investment in a way that makes it funnier.

Things start out relatively simple, Jean Kayak of Acme Applejack partakes in an accident that makes him no longer associated with Acme Applejack. He also bumps into a young lady who takes his fancy — only her (it seems) father, who runs a shop where you can trade in hunted animals, most certainly doesn’t approve. Clearly, the only option left (what with this being a snowy wilderness in the 19th Century) is for Jean Kayak to become the greatest fur trapper in North America. The ultimate goal being, of course, hunting hundreds of beavers. It is just a great, always escalating comedic framework that is built almost like a minigame collection, a la WarioWare (2003-present) or some wonderfully obscure PS1 game you would find and marvel at. It is constant quick fire fun within setup parameters where the joke is so frequently setting up a logic loop and then allowing the protagonist to pull off slap-stick feats within this.

It is gag a minute stuff and it is consistently funny throughout its runtime. At about twenty minutes in, I reflected on how much I was enjoying this but also I was cognisant of having reached the length that this format usually reaches. The format being Looney Tunes and the like: twenty minutes of slap stick pratfalls in a world of cartoon logic seems like enough. And then the film keeps going and keeps earning that length. The end result is like watching a succession of interlinked shorts that you just want to keep progressing through. There is an overarching narrative, but it is appropriately light and within it are the microarcs that matter. There is a sensible build, also. You think it is mad at the start but it can get so much more mad, and really saves the ultimate madness for a blistering final sequence.

The most obvious success of Hundreds of Beavers is in how funny it is, a kind of funny that also gives you persistent awe as it finds ways to surprise you (while gratifying your expectations). It is also really deftly made. The silent movie stylings embrace a comic register not seen enough, feeling like Charlie Chaplin by way of the Marx Brothers (or, Harold Lloyd by way of Hellzapoppin (1941)). As part of this, the sound is also key, Chris Ryan’s music is the driving comedic force which cements and perfects the register, alongside a stellar sound department delivering the kind of killer comedic foley work that you desire. It is a film of real craft, with clever effects work, great puppetry, a brilliantly designed world and such a sharp edit. Precision tooled comedy allows it to seem loose and anarchic from a sense of total filmic control.

In description alone, you will know if this is for you. For fans of silent comedy, Looney Tunes and straight up absurdism, you won’t get much better than this. It is one of the freshest and most continually inventive films out there at the moment (and for a long time). Yes, it has a foot in the past, but it uses this heritage to create something that feels so contemporary; cutting edge is overused but this really finds something new from mining through film’s past. You’ll laugh for 108 minutes; your jaw will keep dropping and it will remind you of how creative film can be, and of an ingenuity in film that felt lost. To make a trite connection, in Babylon (2022), a character is asked if they ‘miss the silence’, a line that resonates further than its context because something was lost when the focus became talking. With Hundreds of Beavers that magic has been found again; hello silence my old friend!


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