NOTE: At Christmas time, this article has
become a perennial favorite of readers, and in fact, is popular throughout the
year. The film is now considered a modern classic. It's also now available on
Blu-ray disc. This was originally posted on this site on December 15, 2004.
Thank you to our readers for not only supporting this site, but for keeping
"Elf" alive in our holiday hearts. Happy holidays!
Although this is
located in the DVD Review section, this is not the usual FSTD DVD review
that you might be accustomed to. There are no picture and sound quality
reviews, nor are there breakdowns on the DVD features. Rather, it’s an
appreciation of the film, “Elf.”
As a kid growing up
in the 1970s, I made it my mandate to watch every single Christmas special.
This ritual always, almost without fail, started on Thanksgiving weekend.
It started with the dreadful “Santa And The Three Bears” (1970), and then
progressed to the specials I looked forward to: “Rudolph The Red Nosed
Reindeer” (1964), “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965), and “How The Grinch
Stole Christmas” (1966).
Reality checked in
and I grew up. My yearning to watch these specials began to wane. The
newer Christmas specials lacked the charm and quality of those made in the
churn out more Christmas-time mediocrity at the movies like “Santa Claus:
The Movie” (1985) and “Jingle All The Way” (1996), and decent but what were
essentially over-budgeted TV movies like “The Santa Clause” (1994). I had
become Scrooge about annual yuletide celluloid fare. There were occasional
films that broke out for me, like “A Christmas Story” (1983), and “Planes,
Trains And Automobiles” (1987). But holiday film and television
entertainment wasn’t fun anymore.
happened. My wife and I had a daughter. The cycle of Christmas specials
and movies started over again.
My daughter watched
every DVD ever made about the holiday season, and I thought most of them
were pretty bad. After drudging through countless direct-to-video specials,
I had lost all hope that there would ever be another Christmas film or
special that I could share together. It’s one thing to get a kick out of
Chuck Jones’ version of “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” but it’s entirely
another for me to warm up to Ron Howard’s version of 2000.
Then, “Elf” arrived
on DVD this year. It came out in 2003 in theatres and became a hit, but I
didn’t see it. I didn’t think it looked very funny. Will Ferrell is a
funny actor and I’ve enjoyed many of his character skits on “Saturday Night
Live,” but the commercials for this film reminded me of his portrayals on
that show like Craig, the Spartan Spirit Cheerleader. Not a bad thing, but
I was hoping that he’d be performing in a role that was original and not
something ripped off from “SNL.” I figured I’d catch the film at some point
in my lifetime. I just wasn’t eager to rush out and rent it.
After a trip to
Costco with her mother, my daughter ran into the house carrying a copy of
“Do you want to
I grumbled, “Sure,
I was already tired
of TV ads for Christmas sales that had been on since November 1st
And I was sick of hearing the opening bars of “Have Yourself A Merry Little
Christmas” from just scanning through my FM dial. And there were two
local Los Angeles radio stations that played Christmas tunes 24-hours a day. Christmas songs are best
heard on Christmas Eve, not the day after Halloween
But “Elf” got
me back into the Christmas spirit. It charmed me into submission.
The story begins
with a book opening up to reveal a fairy tale, one very reminiscent in feel
to the old Rankin-Bass stop-motion television specials like “Rudolph.”
Buddy (Will Ferrell), a human living in Santa’s world and raised by elves,
is a wide-eyed innocent. His only goals in life are to be happy, smile and
make everyone else happy. But one day, he finds out that he’s human and has
a father living in New York City. Thus, Buddy’s quest begins. He’s an
elf-out-of-water in the big city. There he meets his father, a cold and
fairly distant man played by James Caan. Buddy isn’t deterred and continues
to try and warm his father’s heart.
“Elf” is never
cynical about the holidays and it’s never superficially sweet. Ferrell
conveys a childlike innocence that is never annoying and often hilarious.
The jack-in-a-box testing scene creates big laughs. My daughter and I
laughed hard when he discovered chewed gum wads planted all over a subway
rail, and proceeded to eat each and every one of them.
In another actor’s
hands, Buddy could easily be portrayed as an obnoxious grown-up trying to
act like a kid. Perhaps Ferrell took his cue from Tom Hanks in “Big”
(1988), who made audiences believe he was a kid in a man’s body. Here,
Ferrell convinces us that he’s indeed an elf from the North Pole where
everything is happy and fun.
The film is also
touching. Not in an “It’s A Wonderful Life” way (1946), but in its own
subtle manner. When Buddy tells Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) that she has the
most beautiful singing voice in the whole
world, I believed his sincerity.
A line like that could come off poorly, but Ferrell plays it with simple
conviction, and it works.
You might think I’ve
put this film on a pedestal with greats like “Lawrence Of Arabia” (1962) and
“Gone With The Wind” (1939). Not quite. But in the realm of Christmas-time
movies, this ranks right up there with “A Christmas Story” and “Miracle On
Street” (1947). “Elf” has enough going for it to make it a
Jon Faverau, who
directed this film, has a spot for references to old Christmas films
throughout “Elf.” The film has a classical film-style which fits in
perfectly with the film’s story. The colorful stop-motion puppetry, the
reference to Gimbels (from “Miracle On 34th
Street”), and even
the optical wipes are fun nods to films past. David Berenbaum’s script hits
all the right notes. And
’s score is almost instantly
The entire cast of
“Elf” is wonderful. Deschanel is cute as Buddy’s romantic interest. Who
wouldn’t fall for her? She’s got a sultry singing voice that reminds me of
how Peggy Lee sang (and I mean that as a compliment), and she looks good in
an elf costume. I have my Zooey, my wife has her Ben, ahem, Affleck. But
Deschanel is the real deal in this film. She plays off of Ferrell’s
outrageous Buddy with an understated performance. Others in the cast
include Caan, Edward Asner as “Santa,” Bob Newhart as “Papa Elf,” and Mary
Steenburgen as Caan’s wife, Emily.
You don’t have to be
a cotton headed ninny muggins to enjoy “Elf.” You could say that I’ve got a
spot in my heart for this movie. As long as my daughter doesn’t play it one
hundred times before New Year’s Eve, I can easily place this on the DVD
shelf with our other perennial Christmas classics. Move over Rudolph.
“Elf’s” comin’ to town.
Photos: © New Line Cinema. All