‘Hundreds of Beavers’ Is a Gonzo, Adult ‘Looney Tunes’


Few movies in cinema history have delivered as many goofy gags—and in such a wide, virtuosic variety—as Hundreds of Beavers, a marvel of slapstick invention that in terms of pure unbridled creativity puts most big-screen comedies to shame.

The brainchild of director Mike Cheslik and star Ryland Brickson Cole Tews (both of whom wrote its script), this madcap indie is an overstuffed live-action homage to the golden age of animation that’s bursting with ingenuity and personality, blending myriad inspirations to beget something at once throwback familiar and amusingly novel. If Warner Bros. knows what’s good for them (and the recent Coyote vs. Acme debacle suggests otherwise), they’ll immediately hire Cheslik and Tews to spearhead a full-fledged multimedia revival of the Looney Tunes franchise.

Shot in black-and-white over the course of four years, and energized by thousands of homemade DIY effects whose self-conscious phoniness is part of their charm—and an expression of the material’s wink-wink attitude—Hundreds of Beavers (which hits theaters in NYC on Jan. 27, and is in the middle of a nationwide rollout) is an all-out barrage of rapid-fire jokes.

Think of it as akin to 500 old-school Bugs and Daffy shorts stitched together into a sprawling narrative, although Cheslik and Tews don’t merely consign themselves to those seminal cartoons. Benny Hill, classic ’80s video games, Voltron, and Sherlock Holmes are also components of this zany gem, whose story begins with Jean Kayak (Tews) in the throes of inebriated merriment around his Acme Applejack distillery. Sloshed on his own product, a dual-mug applejack funnel helmet on his head, Jean is a drunken fool, and as his two-dimensional animated fur trader pals sing a jolly song, disaster strikes: Thanks to a leg that’s been eaten thin, one of his giant barrels rolls directly into his still, resulting in an explosion that leaves his boozy enterprise in flames.

A production still from Hundreds of Beavers.

That rollicking opening musical number is the last time Hundreds of Beavers features much talking, as the remainder of its madness is a dialogue-free affair replete with occasional silent-movie title cards and a bountiful collection of sound effects. Following his alcohol-fueled disaster, a now-bearded Jean wakes in the snow with nothing. In the wintery forest, he sets about trying to survive by making a fire that’s constantly thwarted by the wind, as well as by laying traps for some of the area’s many bunnies.

These cute and cuddly creatures are played by adults in giant rabbit costumes, and like their wilderness brethren, they express themselves via body language and punctuation symbols (exclamation points, question marks) that appear over their heads. Jean quickly learns that ensnaring these animals is harder than it appears, and that’s similarly true for the region’s beavers, who are often seen traipsing through the woods carrying logs to the enormous dam (and accompanying tower base) they’re building on the frigid river.

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While Hundreds of Beavers’ title isn’t a jokey nod to its explicitness, there are recurring sexual elements throughout Cheslik and Tews film, be it Jean striving to bait rabbits into his traps by sculpting buxom female snow-bunnies, or Jean’s romantic interest in The Furrier (Olivia Graves), the daughter of a Merchant (Doug Mancheski) who trades survivalist goods (ropes, baseball bats, steel bear traps) for dead critters. The Merchant is a protective dad while the Furrier is a tempting and mischievous young woman who’s equally adept disemboweling beavers and swinging from a stripper pole, and her presence amplifies the proceedings’ distinctly Looney Tunes brand of impish sensuality.

After failing to procure consistent meals by using snow-carrots and fly-addled piles of poo as lures, snot icicles as weapons, and ropes as snares—as well as envisioning his targets turning into pizza slices and ice cream cones—Jean partners with The Master Fur Trapper (Wes Tank), a Santa-like hunting titan whose giant satchel of dead beavers is tethered to a sleigh pulled by his trusty reindeer-ish dogs.

This sets Jean on a more successful course, although he nonetheless faces dangers aplenty in Hundreds of Beavers, from a pack of murderous wolves to a whistling-attuned woodpecker to a stinky skunk that makes intermittent appearances. At every turn, his skirmishes prove over-the-top absurd, with Jean suffering clownish mishaps and violent injuries, getting launched through the air by enormous slingshots and makeshift windmills, and pratfalling in just about every conceivable fashion as he tries to fill his belly, keep himself warm (and clothed, since he’s often naked), and maintain all his teeth (a fool’s game, as it turns out).

Cheslik and Tews pace their elastic hijinks at a blistering clip, such that gags recur, expand and warp into new variations of their predecessors. Blending live-action, animation (traditional and stop-motion), green screen effects and puppetry, the film operates on an authentically unreal wavelength.

A production still from Hundreds of Beavers.

At the epicenter of its childish mayhem is Tews, whose lead performance is about as close as one could possibly get to actual cartoonishness. His gung-ho silliness is borderline astounding, and it ably matches the insanity of the story itself, whose every scene is imbued with the rambunctious and puckish spirit of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. Clearly influenced by those legends and their numerous golden-age compatriots, Hundreds of Beavers moves like gangbusters, inundating viewers with an avalanche of comedic nonsense whose witty design and execution is vital to its appeal—and its funniness.

A gonzo indie that marches to the beat of its own hyperactive drum, Hundreds of Beavers manages the impressive feat of continually one-upping itself on its journey to a finale that recalls not only the escapades of Bugs, Daffy and Porky but also Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, and Frogger—except in decidedly more mature fashion, what with Jean slaughtering (sans blood) lots of forest dwellers to keep his kill-count high.

From iris shots to whiplash transitions to some gorgeous compositions of Jean climbing up and down a tree at night, director Cheslik finds an array of new ways to frame and choreograph his lunacy, much of it beautiful and all of it clever. At 108 minutes, the film can be a bit draining, yet there’s no way not to be impressed—if not outright awed—by its inexhaustible imagination.

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