USA, Jon Favreau (2003)
Director Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell have created a new Christmas classic.
Buddy is an orphan who’s raised as an elf after he stows away in Santa’s pack one Christmas Eve. Thirty years later, it finally dawns on the six-foot Santa’s helper that he doesn’t quite fit in, so he decides to leave the North Pole and his happy home with adopted father Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) to find others like himself. He journeys to New York City to reunite with his father Walter, a heartless children’s book publisher. Walter’s surprised to learn that he has another son. Buddy’s surprised to learn that Walter’s on the “naughty list.” And I was surprised to learn that I really liked a movie starring Will Ferrell.
Remember the ongoing Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon as hyperactive, loser high school cheerleaders? Ferrell takes the excessive positive energy, slightly vapid delivery and enthusiastic singing from his SNL cheerleader to create Buddy, the absolute embodiment of Christmas spirit. Buddy works because he’s so sincere; he’s like a child, full of wide-eyed wonder and excitement. He’s also full of energy, which probably comes from his elfin diet of candy canes, candy corn, maple syrup, and sugar.
Supporting players include Zooey Deschanel as the department store elf who catches Buddy’s eye and Ed Asner, who IS Santa Claus. James Caan plays the businessman who’s too busy for either of his sons. It’s almost worth the price of admission to see Buddy ask tough guy James Caan to tuck him in bed and then spring into a ticklefest.
Special touches abound that make this movie really special—
- The North Pole looks like one of the classic holiday Rankin-Bass TV specials come to life, complete with Styrofoam snow drifts, big fake snowflakes falling from the sky, and 3-D animated animals who talk in funny stuffed-nose-like voices. There’s even an homage to Burl Ives’ snowman, voiced here by Leon Redbone.
- When Buddy begins his journey to Manhattan on an ice flow, complete with Northern Lights on the horizon, time passes and when he steps off the flow, it’s shrunken down to the width of his feet.
- TV news footage of Buddy in Central Park perfectly imitates the film clip of Bigfoot walking into the forest, turning back toward the camera in that famous freeze-frame. And on and on.
Like my favorite annual holiday film, A Christmas Story, Elf has that timeless heartwarming charm that will doubtless make it a perennial favorite as well.
Here’s the Gist: Elf is a thoroughly enjoyable sleigh-full of humor and holiday spirit. [****]