Director: Mike Cheslik Screenwriter: Mike Cheslik, Ryland Brickson Cole Tews Cast: Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, Olivia Graves, Wes Tank, Doug Mancheski, Luis Rico Running Time: 108 min. MPAA: Not Rated

For any filmmaker who has adored the zany antics of Looney Tunes, there has most likely been a desire to replicate that same sense of fast-paced fun and cleverness. Many films have tried, but they always felt missing one or two components. But Hundreds of Beavers, with a budget of a mere $150,000, is a film that has managed to pull off the impossible. It’s a feature-length slapstick cartoon that flawlessly transitions to live-action with brilliant absurdity.

The film’s entire premise perfectly suits a silent-era cavalcade of jokes. Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews) is a man who finds himself thrust out of his drunken cavorting and into the snowy woods of pioneer times. Without food or drink, the bearded Jean hunts for food, fire, and fur. This leads to several hunting gags as the clumsy Jean fumbles with trapping rabbits and beavers. Running gags of falling into mysterious holes in the snow and narrowly avoiding homing icicles have a lot of legs, considering how much variation and devotion to quality slapstick is in these scenes.

As Jean slowly gets better at hunting, a bigger goal presents itself. While selling fish and fur, Jean finds himself smitten with a fur trapper’s daughter. He must bring hundreds of beavers to prove himself and gain her hand in marriage. From there, the rest of the movie is an absurd quest for love via violence on wildlife. Jean’s traps become more elaborate as he ventures further into the lair of the most beavers. These mischievous animals haven’t just built a dam and constructed their elaborate stronghold of wood, gadgets, and rockets. It all snowballs into gags that get sillier as the body count rises.

The key to what makes Hundreds of Beavers so brilliant is that the comedy’s spirit outweighs the budget’s limitations. The film embraces its throwback nature by portraying all the animals as obvious human actors in animal outfits, looking more like football mascots than believable creatures of the woods. There’s a charm to this staging, considering there are no concerns about any animals being harmed during filming. Even the fish are portrayed as felt puppets with comically big eyes. The obvious compositing of the location, characters, and physical bouts of comedy only add to the cartoonish nature of the film, presented as though the wildness of Bob Camp merged with the cleverness of Charlie Chaplin.

What I admire most about a film like this is that it never settles on one type of film it’s drawing from. Sure, there are so many cartoony moments, but it never feels like the film sticks to a rigid track of Looney Tunes progression. There are animated sequences, such as the opening musical number and the various map shots, to outline Jean’s journey, but it never feels like the mediums are diced up for their portions of the screen. The dialogue-scarce script and the black-and-white framing give it the qualities of a silent movie, but it only uses dialogue title cards here and there. The inspiration from a long history of animated and live-action comedy films swirl together to create a refreshing romp of a picture that feels all its own. Consider that the film doesn’t reveal its title until about halfway through it and then continues making jokes about the credits. There’s a freedom present where it feels like anything clever and hilarious gets to unfold on the screen.

Hundreds of Beavers revives a retro level of zany slapstick while feeling like a refreshing dose of brilliantly assorted gags. It’ll probably be criticized for being little more than that, but those gags are so damn good that they carry an entire feature film. The film also shows how the best ideas don’t always require the biggest budget or convincing of special effects. A live-action dude duking it out with a guy in a beaver costume can be just as funny as Elmer Fudd hunting Bugs Bunny. The key is creativity, which oozes off the screen, where brilliant ideas for slapstick absurdity are portrayed with great fun. That spirit makes Hundreds of Beavers one of the year’s funniest films, and it’s going to be hard to beat the ridiculous charm of watching a beaver robot being obliterated by a wooden rocket.

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