Thursday, February 29, 2024

Fantasia Movie in a Theater This Weekend: Hundreds of Beavers

I didn't actually have to move this review up out of order because it was the next thing to come out in theaters - Hundreds of Beavers was next on my list of Fantasia reviews - but finishing the Film Rolls is taking longer than expected, so I'm just going to put this first entry in the next post up right now. Hundreds of Beavers is at the Somerville Theatre this weekend - including a midnight show in the big room on Saturday that I'm sure will be a blast if a bunch of people show up.

Anyway: I'll probably delete this and replace it with something that includes everything else I saw in Montreal on 31 July 2023 (good lord!) sometime in the next week, maybe updated a little with thoughts from a second viewing, but for now - Hundreds of Beavers is at the Somerville Theatre this weekend. It's probably the most purely hilarious movie you'll see all year. Buy tickets, and support it!

Hundreds of Beavers

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 31 July 2023 in Salle J.A. De Sève (Fantasia Festival: Underground, DCP)

When I saw this at Fantasia, I immediately thought that I wanted a major studio to pick this up and use it to fill some Covid/strike-related holes in their schedule with a big flashy, release, just so that every major movie critic in America would have to write a half-dozen paragraphs like this is some kind of sensible movie. Of course, it wound up going the self-distributed route, because large companie are by and large run by cowards, but no matter how you see it, it's a delightfully bonkers live-action cartoon that absolutely commits to the bit.

Said bit is the misadventures of Jean Kayak (Ryland Brickson Cole Tews), who is drinking all much as much applejack as he is serving fur-trappers in the 19th Century upper midwest, only to have everything fall apart when beavers gnawing at logs cause a snowball effect that wipes out his house, business, and everything, forcing him to get into beaver trapping himself, both for funds and revenge! Unfortunately, he is not very bright, and the beavers and other woodland creatures are likely not just smarter, but have numbers on their side.

When director Mike Cheslik and his friends set out to make a live-action cartoon, they don't mess around - the beavers, dogs, raccoons, wabbits, etc., are all folks in suits, the characters mainly communicate through pantomime and body language, and the mostly-white background of snowy, overcast Wisconsin means that they can fill it with simple props and effects that often place it right on the edge of the uncanny valley, using that unreality in a way that lets the audience now that any sort of ridiculous mayhem might happen at any second. It's clearly done on a budget, which isn't to say cheap: Cheslik has a very good idea of where things need to be perfect and where you just need to know they're crazy instead of lazy.

It's the sort of thing that could probably wear an audience out quickly, reminding them that there's a reason most cartoons run about five or ten minutes while this hits the hundred mark. It is, fortunately, able to change things up every once in a while; it may be almost 100% pure slapstick, but it occasionally takes a break from Looney Tunes to do Buster Keaton, and then for a while the gag is basically playing things out like a Super Nintendo game. It's all more or less of a piece but at least feels like it's switching gears every once in a while, rather than seeing just how much of the exact same thing different members of the audience can endure. And, thankfully, the jokes are good, from the opening musical number to the dogs playing poker to the giant gaudy bits of slapstick that had me writing things like "beaver Voltron!" in my notebook.

It somehow works, keeping the energy level up in a way the team's Lake Michigan Monster never quite managed for me, in part because it's never arch. It just goes for the best joke available every minute or so, hits far more often than not, and never forgets that doing the silly thing is almost always funnier than winking at the audience about what a silly thing they're doing. .

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