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"A charming, wholesome Christmas film with a lot of holiday spirit."
"Ferrell walks a fine line between oddball comic and a dewy-eyed child."
"Buddy the elf is comin' to town!"
Elf  

Cast

Buddy: Will Ferrell
Walter: James Caan
Santa Claus: Edward Asner
Papa Elf: Bob Newhart
Emily: Mary Steenburgen
Jovie: Zooey Deschanel
Review November 2003

There's something inexplicably funny about a grown man in yellow tights, especially when that grown man happens to be former SNL alum Will Ferrell. After the adult comedy "Old School" in which Ferrell plays the obnoxiously sophomoric Frank "The Tank" and drinks like a frat fish, he switches gears completely in this unexpectedly warm family comedy. In "Elf," Ferrell plays an orphaned human child raised by elves, but who ultimately grows up yearning for the affection of his real father. Directed by Jon Favreau, also known for his cameo appearances on "Friends" and his lead role in "Swingers," "Elf" is a charming, wholesome Christmas film with a lot of holiday spirit.

"Elf" relays the story about a young orphan who crawls his way into Santa's bag on Christmas Eve and winds up in the North Pole. Rather than return the baby to the human world, the elves adopt him. Specifically, he is brought up under the careful watch of Papa Elf (Newhart). Through the years, Papa Elf raises Buddy as he would his own son. Eventually, however, Buddy grows into a young man, taller and larger than the rest of the elves. He works diligently in the toy factory, but not as diligently as the other elves. After getting re-assigned to lesser duties, he suddenly realizes his differences. He is not an elf, but a human. This realization sets in motion a journey of discovery, to find out who his real father is.

With a snow globe and picture of his father in hand, Buddy ventures to New York City to find his father (Caan), a publishing bigwig and workaholic. Walter does not believe Buddy is his son and repeatedly kicks him out of the office building. Discouraged, but not dismayed, Buddy searches for a little Christmas spirit in New York City and winds up on the steps of a large department store all decked out for the holidays. Here, Buddy fits in, as the store prepares for a visit from Santa Claus. Even the store manager assumes he is an employee and partners him up with Jovie, a female employee dressed up as an elf who takes a liking to him.

Through determination, Buddy is able to convince Walter and his wife, Emily, that he is connected to Walter's past in some regard. Through a doctor's recommendation, the couple invite Buddy to stay with them, despite his odd behavior, and he makes friends with their son Michael. But Walter is still skeptical and after Buddy accidentally ruins Walter's career saving opportunity, it would appear that nothing could help Buddy win Walter's affection - except maybe a visit from the real Santa Claus.

"Elf" is a conventional holiday comedy with a lot of charm. The plot and characters are your stereotypical Christmas ploys: A scrooge like father who doesn't believe in Christmas let alone his elf-like son, a mother and son who become instant Buddy believers, a romance that defies logic, and a possible Christmas without a Santa Claus. That's the Christmas film mix. Yet despite its convention, "Elf" remains engaging entertainment. Why? Because it recognizes its traditional presentation and goes about its storytelling in unconventional ways.

For starters, the supporting cast for the film was surprisingly accurate. The traditional roles are filled by James Caan as the tough, unbelieving father, Mary Steenburgen as the accommodating, happy homemaker; Zooey Deschanel as the love interest (with a nice voice); Ed Asner as Santa Claus; and Bob Newhart as the lovable, dead pan Papa Elf. But there are a few odd roles that are simply delightful. Peter Dinklage plays Miles Finch, the inspirational author who gives Buddy a lesson he won't forget a la Mini Me and Austin Powers. And Faizon Love's Gimbels manager, who supervises the arrival of Santa Claus, is unforgettable with his short slacks, waddling, and obsessive behavior. All of these characters combined bring life to the script because they know their role, major or minor, and complement Will Ferrell to perfection.

And speaking of Ferrell, who knew that he could have such a widespread appeal? Ferrell walks a fine line between oddball comic and a dewy-eyed child. Whether it's eating spaghetti with syrup and candy, instigating attacks by raccoons, walking in front of oncoming cars, or participating in snow ball fights, Ferrell plays Buddy with gaping naivet? and animated humor. But the comedy is not all physical. For instance, he provokes the undersized Peter Dinklage by asking: "Did you have to borrow a reindeer to get down here?" It's jokingly bitter. Yet, Ferrell's performance has another layer. In "Elf" we see a range outside of comedy, a sentimental side. It is this appeal that transforms the film from strictly bathroom humor into a tender comedy. Sure, I love burp and fart jokes just as much as anybody, but Ferrell does more than garner laughs - he wins our hearts.

These days, it's so hard to find a good, wholesome holiday movie. In fact, if you're like me, you're stuck watching re-runs of "It's a Wonderful Life," "Miracle on 34th Street," and "A Christmas Carol" every year. Hollywood just doesn't make them like they used to. And if they do make a Christmas film, it happens only once a year. In year's past, I've been disappointed by "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" "The Santa Claus 2," and "Jack Frost," but fortunately this year's "Elf" can be added to the fun list that includes such recent films as "The Santa Clause" and "Jingle All the Way," entertaining movies that make you laugh hysterically and can be watched over and over again without boredom.

Though "Elf" is not the best or funniest Christmas movie I have ever seen, it is certainly amusing holiday fare. And it's a film that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Rich with humor, romance, action, and drama, it has something for everyone. But more importantly, it imparts a wonderful, little reminder: "Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas" (Calvin Coolidge). Happy holidays everyone. Buddy the elf is comin' to town!



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