The Movie Waffler First Look Review - HUNDREDS OF BEAVERS | The Movie Waffler


Hundreds of Beavers review
Lost in a frozen wilderness, a salesman battles a whole lot of beavers.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Mike Cheslik

Starring: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Wes Tank, DougMancheski, Olivia Graves, Luis Rico

Hundreds of Beavers poster

We don't get cartoons in the same way that we used to, do we? Quick research suggests that the most popular streaming cartoons (from the dictionary definition, "a film using animation techniques to photograph a humorously exaggerated sequence of drawings rather than real people or objects," and discounting what I perceive as Anime because I know people can be precious) are implicitly narrative based, and built from branded properties (Paw Patrol, Minions). In the UK, Bluey (apparently amazing) and Peppa Pig rule supreme, offering oblique moral lessons for little ones. As a grown man I don't suppose it's any of my business really but whence the Silly Symphonies? The Merrie Melodies? The Looney Tunes? Compact spectacles wherein verisimilitude was stretched into colourful, exciting new shapes while anthropomorphic figures performed vibrant feats of comic physicality? I've just been dipping into some of the earliest SSs just now and feel well astounded: the quivering motion of the frames and the totemic imagery seem almost occult in their uncanny, monochrome tangibility. There really is nothing like them. And, aside from the breezy cruelty and violence of these cartoons, what strikes you now is the complexity of the worlds depicted and the sophistication which they assume of their juvenile audience (I just watched Music Land 1935, with its inter-species nuptials, polysyllabic on-screen text and assumption that kids will know about diverse musical genres along with the specific properties of the instruments used to realise them, too). Will we see the like again?

Possibly, replies Mike Cheslik's Hundreds of Beavers, a purposefully bizzarro feature length which locates the trials and tribulations of a frontier fur trapper within the cinematic language of cartoon animation: slapstick, strangeness, silliness. It is (just about) dialogue free, black and white and almost two hours long. Jean (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, who also co-writes)is a hapless cider farmer/brewer, whose dipsomania leads to his farm being destroyed by opportunist beavers. He ends up seeking revenge on the semi-aquatic rodents, and coin too, by returning their pelts to the local furrier (Doug Mancheski) and his daughter (Olivia Graves), whom he wants to put one on.

Hundreds of Beavers review

Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs, I know, but the animals are not real, and are instead played by people in the sort of full body costumes you sometimes see on ill-advised stag nights. The mise-en-scene is the flickering grey of golden age cartoons (although, unfortunately, digital rendering has never been able to capture the eerie 20-frames-a-second painstaked magic of actual cel animation), and the diegesis is one of playful, hyperbolic plasticity.

An early example: in the first 10 minutes we watch Jean being bested by some rabbits. Hungry (his stomach visibly shakes, with comedy noises which will become characteristic to the film; the sort of sounds made when Fred Flintstone runs), he fixes to catch some tasty rabbits. As a honey trap, from the wintery landscape of ice and bare branches he makes a female Leporidae with massive tits. Jean then attempts, from a hillside vantage point, to skittle the lusted mammals over with a bowling ball of snow which gathers icy girth as it trundles down the incline towards the infatuated rabbits. The ball misses (a good joke: the eventually cavernous "finger holes" roll over the triple formation of frisky rabbits and buxom snow bunny), so then he tries again by making more snow bunnies, a massive snow carrot, etc, in the type of Sisyphean Wile-E-Coyote dynamic which will come to constitute the episodic plot of Hundred of Beavers.

Hundreds of Beavers review

The gags come at such a rapid pace, and are more hit than miss, that there is always something going on. Brickson Cole Tews' performance codes arrive via the exaggerated gestures of silent comedy, which demand a steady, have-a-go energy which is fun, too. And while you couldn't really say that the film replicates the pleasures of animation, it does at least pay loving homage to them.

Problem is though that those cartoons were 10 minutes tops - Hundreds of Beavers goes on forever. After the first hour it becomes almost Dadaist in its commitment to the theme, of variations upon variations of beavers beating Jean, or Jean occasionally coming up trumps at Pyrrhic physical cost (CGI enhanced, the slapstick doesn't have the analogue conviction of its silent-era inspirations). Like a cartoon, there are no real stakes in this series of sequences. And as the mutilated beavers, rabbits and racoons (Jean spends most of the film sporting an outsize racoon head as a hat) pile up, Hundreds of Beavers takes on the mien of a Mondo film for furries with a particularly sadistic nature.

Hundreds of Beavers review

Even though all sorts of nasty shit went on in cartoons (the sociopathy of Road Runner notwithstanding, the opening of 1929's Skeleton Dance shows a pair of vexing cats attempt to rip each others' noses off), the balance is slightly off in Hundreds of Beavers. At one point, there is a post-mortem scene where the furrier's daughter splits open a beaver and takes out its innards, which are made of plush materials. The transgressive oddness of the prolonged moment intimates the disruption of horror (a destabilising tension of imagery and suggestion: within the cartoony context it turns out that this was a living creature, with functioning organs, a heart and lungs... but which are made of cushions). Harmless overall as the film is, such scenes have (perhaps unintentional) visceral poignancy which we never felt for Tom off Tom and Jerry when his tail got set on fire or whatever.

Speaking of the daughter, at one point she beguiles Jean with another sort of beaver while executing a superb pole dance (the actor specifies the ability in her Insta bio, and is really good at it - in fact, I rewound the scene a couple of times to professionally take it in, etc etc), adding to the at times bawdy nature of the film. So, it isn't, you know, for the kids who might find this sort of silliness amusing. Thing is, excluding the gentle minded and the curious, with its steadfast commitment to syncopated storytelling and silliness, I'm unsure who Hundreds of Beavers IS for. Nonetheless, the realisation of such an oddball premise, and the film's manic ingenuity, is pretty dam impressive.

Hundreds of Beavers begins a series of North American screenings from January 26th. A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

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