Elf is easily one of the best Christmas movies ever made. This is no small feat, either. I think it’s really hard for holiday films to earn the designation of “classic.” For a movie made a mere 11 years ago (I can’t believe it’s even that old) that stars Will Ferrell to be so well received is kind of special. I know that it’s just not Christmas unless I’ve watched Elf, and it’s one of only two holiday movies I feel that way about (the second is coming up next).
Will Ferrell is Buddy Hobbs, a human who was raised by elves after Santa accidentally brings him back to the North Pole one Christmas. He is naive and unflappably optimistic, wanting only to bring Christmas cheer to the world. This is one of Ferrell’s best roles, and yet quite the opposite of most of his well known characters. So often Ferrell plays jerks (in film– Zoolander, The Campaign, Blades of Glory; on SNL— Alex Trebek showing complete disdain for Celebrity Jeopardy! contestants, Neil Diamond as a racist), but he truly shines here. Buddy is just so kind and gentle that you can’t help but love him, and I can think of no one better to play this role than Ferrell.
Elf also succeeds by paying homage to the Christmas classics that came before it. There are many references that are obvious, notably the stop-motion animation used to portray the North Pole. This is lifted straight from the TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to great effect (the elf outfits worn by Ferrell and others are also from this show). However, some of my favorite nods to older films are much more subtle. There are small nods to Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life, but the best is a cameo by Peter Billingsley, a.k.a. Ralphie from A Christmas Story.
While I love these little reminders of other holiday favorites, Elf is definitely its own movie. It’s silly and a bit crude at times, and also addresses the cynicism that now permeates our culture. At the same time, Elf fully embraces the Christmas spirit, not really caring if it’s uncool or not. This movie is full of pure joy, something you don’t see very often anymore.
Will Ferrell is always at his best when he is playing a kid trapped in an adult’s body and there is no movie that shows this better than Elf.
Ferrell plays Buddy, a human who stowed away on Santa’s (Ed Asner) sleigh when he was a baby and has been raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). Buddy is horrified to learn he isn’t really an elf, despite the fact he is an average toy maker and over six feet tall. When Buddy realises the truth, he sets out to find his dad (James Caan). His dad Walter, lives in New York and also happens to be on Santa’s naughty list. Buddy finds his biological dad and tries to bring some Christmas cheer into his life. Buddy also has to acclimate himself to life in the big city where candy found on the floor is not to be eaten and Christmas spirit is at an all-time low. Buddy’s relentless cheerfulness brings Walter and his family together during the Christmas season when they had been drifting apart.
Elf never fails to make me laugh. There is something so innocent and lovely about Ferrell’s portrayal of a human raised by Christmas elves. Putting him in the real world setting of New York makes for some laugh out loud moments. In my opinion, this is Will Ferrell’s best film and plays to all of his strengths so well. The supporting cast is solid too including Caan, Mary Steenburgen and Zooey Deschanel. Peter Dinklage also makes a small appearance as one of Walter’s associates who Buddy mistakes for an actual elf. His scene is one of the film’s funniest.
I was surprised to see that this film was directed by Jon Favreau. This was before his days behind the camera on Iron Man and he does a good job here.
Elf is my favourite Christmas film (Sally can have A Christmas Story). It does exactly what I want from a Christmas film: I walk out of it laughing and feeling a little better about human beings.