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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Courtesy of Wisconsin Film Festival

‘Hundreds of Beavers,’ thousands of laughs at the 25th Wisconsin Film Festival

When you hear a movie title like “Hundreds of Beavers,” do you envision a nature documentary? A children’s story? Or an action movie set to a dynamic score filled with squeamish moments, humor, love and beavers fast-forwarding the advancement of science and technology? 

“Hundreds of Beavers,” directed by Mike Cheslik, was not what I expected it to be, even though it was named one of “Wisconsin’s Own” by the festival. But like many others in the crowded theater for the 25th Wisconsin Film Festival, I enjoyed many laughs and left the theater feeling cinematically satisfied.

The film features a mix of live-action and animation shot entirely in black and white. Although the movie is set in a snowy wilderness, there aren’t any animals — besides those in the form of mascot suits. What also surprised me was the lack of dialogue. Instead, the story was told through the action-packed visuals, the soundtrack and exaggerated mannerisms of the main character. 

The film’s main character is an apple cider farmer who — after a tragic accident of his own accord — is forced to gain the skills necessary to overcome the beavers of the forest and ends up finding love. The storyline is quirky in the best way possible, and this is only heightened by the antics — such as figuring out the best way to trap beavers, maneuvering a beaver-built empire and outsmarting the various woodland creatures — the main character finds himself in.

Given the film’s silliness and lack of dialogue, watching “Hundreds of Beavers” reminded me a lot of “Wallace and Gromit” or “Shaun the Sheep,” both of which feature similarly odd and whimsical storylines with comedic yet idiotic actions from lovable characters. Even though I wouldn’t categorize “Hundreds of Beavers” as a kids movie, the stop motion-esque cinematography and cartoonish graphics woven throughout the storyline evoked a sense of nostalgia. Not only did these details help move the film along, but they added charm to the sometimes crude jokes and subject matter.

Without giving too much away, most of the character’s actions revolve around killing beavers or other animals, which made for some pretty creative but gross scenes. They weren’t overly horrific or gruesome, but they did make you sit back and think, “Oh, ouch.” There were also some sexual undertones to the story, but nothing “R-rated.” Instead, these moments were comedic and lighthearted. Like the rest of the film, they weren't meant to be taken too seriously and instead were there to make audiences laugh.

Although I enjoyed the film overall, my main critiques would pertain to pacing. It wasn’t a terribly long movie by any means, but sometimes action scenes felt drawn out or repetitive. While this was sometimes done for comedic purposes, it made the story feel stagnant in other scenarios.

Aside from this one critique, I thoroughly enjoyed my viewing of “Hundreds of Beavers” and thought it was a perfect example of the value and draw of the Wisconsin Film Festival. It was also named a “Wisconsin’s Own” film, as its filming took place in Wisconsin and its subject matter loosely dealt with the fur trade, which was heavily important to Wisconsin history and culture. “Hundreds of Beavers” differed greatly from what is currently popular in the film industry but was still incredibly well-made and held the audience’s attention. This movie was charming, artsy and showcased local talent in a playful manner that could be enjoyed by many. 

If the silly beaver suits didn’t draw you in for this screening of “Hundreds of Beavers,” I highly recommend enjoying it alongside some apple cider for a lighthearted, comedic evening.

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