'Hundreds of Beavers' — slapstick comedy's snowy silliness

  • by Jim Provenzano
  • Tuesday February 13, 2024
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Ryland Brickson Cole Tews in 'Hundreds of Beavers'
Ryland Brickson Cole Tews in 'Hundreds of Beavers'

Set in the wintry Wisconsin wilderness, "Hundreds of Beavers" recalls the early silent film comedies of Buster Keaton with a hint of Wile E. Coyote. Amid its national tour, the wacky film screens at the Balboa Theatre beginning February 23.

Performed with almost no dialogue, except for grunts and exclamations, the film manages to bring an entire landscape of humans, and humans in animal costumes, to cartoonish life in black and white.

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews stars as Jean Kayak, the hunky but hapless hopeful hero of this frostbitten inventive epic, co-written by Tews and Mike Cheslik, who makes his feature directorial debut. The film has won multiple awards at alternative film festivals around the world.

The story tells of applejack seller Kayak, whose ale is popular with local lumberjacks. But when a pack of beavers destroys his orchard and steals a huge barrel full of his beverage, he sets out to seek revenge, that is, if he can survive the winter.

While there's nothing particularly gay about this film, anyone who enjoys seeing a shirtless (and briefly, comically naked), bearded hunk of a man run around in his longjohns while chasing after costumed animals will get a kick out of it.

Said beavers are clearly people in costumes, and through the magic of modern technological effects, are reproduced into the aforementioned hundreds.

Our hero Jean barely survives the cold winter through one hilarious mishap after another. His attempts to catch fish and rabbits leads to pratfalls and visual effects that are highly creative.

When he visits a fur trader (Doug Mancheski) to beg for food, he meets a fur trapper (Wes Tank) who enlists his company, along with his sled "dogs," a few who don leather harnesses.

Ryland Brickson Cole Tews in 'Hundreds of Beavers'  

Jean takes mental notes and gets some clues on how to trap animals. But even those efforts often go to waste until he figures out how to use the traps without getting caught in them himself.

In addition to his mishaps amid survival techniques, he's up against clever rabbits, raccoons, and wolves, who take an almost gleeful joy in evading his traps.

By and by, he learns the skills of becoming a trapper, with the assistance of a Native American (Luis Rico) and the trader's flirtatious daughter (Olivia Graves), who makes him a new suede suit out of an animal "skin" after ripping out the guts of animal costumes.

With each new success in capturing a beaver or a rabbit, Jean exchanges them for more complicated weapons, from a knife to traps and even a catapult, with the eventual goal of being wealthy enough to offer his hand in marriage to the trader's daughter.

But what are the beavers planning? Why the endless chopping down of trees, and building a huge fortress of a dam with a mysterious interior?

For the answers to that, and to enjoy the wild finale, you'll have to see this rollicking funny furry silent comedy with a unique style of its own.

'Hundreds of Beavers,' Feb. 23 at the Balboa Theatre, 3630 Balboa St.
Also streaming on Fandor this spring, and available on DVD soon.

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