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
"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!