As I have mentioned before, Christmas movies are their own special brand of films. Much of what makes them good is centered on how well they tie into this wonderful holiday season. You can’t separate them from the holiday and their success depends on that relationship to Christmas. Jon Favreau’s “Elf” is a perfect example. Soaked with Christmas lore, “Elf” captures the sentimental spirit of Christmas within its clever and often times hilarious story. “Elf” is inseparable from Christmas and your perception of the holiday will naturally impact your perception of this movie. That’s probably why I can forgive its few flaws and appreciate it as a true holiday treat.
Will Ferrell stars in the film and that’s usually something that throws up red flags for me. I’m not a fan of Ferrell fan and this movie follows a formula that he has overused in the past. As in his movies such as “Semi-Pro” and “Blades of Glory”, he plays someone in an absurdly out-of-place position. But unlike those movies it really works here. He plays Buddy the Elf. He’s a toy maker at Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. But there are several noticeable differences between Buddy and the other elves, none more obvious than the fact that he’s 6’5 and not a good toy maker. His father Papa Elf (hilariously played by Bob Newhart fully decked out in an elf costume and tights) decides it’s time to reveal to Buddy that he’s really a human being. Feeling uncertainty about where he belongs, Buddy sets out on a journey to find his real father who he learns lives in the magical world of New York City.
It’s here that the absurdity really kicks in. Buddy arrives in New York City in full elf garb and with the full elf mentality and is faced with the concrete jungle that we are all familiar with. He comes face-to-face with many new things including New York cabbies, coffee shops, commercialized Christmas, and the overall lack of Christmas spirit. It’s truly side-splitting fun watching Buddy’s wacky elf sensibilities clash with the big city realism. This script gives us plenty of these moments but it never milks it dry. It’s a fish-out-of-water story that never overplays its hand and that is key to making it all work. Now of course it gets a little sappy at the end and it’s fairly predictable as well. But I go back to the type of movie it is and to end the movie any other way would be to subvert everything it’s trying to do.
There are also some really good and committed supporting performances worth mentioning. I love James Caan as Buddy’s real father. He’s a shrewd children’s book publisher who spends more time with his work than with his wife and young son. Caan is perfect for the role. I also really liked the lovely Zooey Deschanel as a Gimbel’s department store worker who catches Buddy’s eye. Like Buddy’s father, she too has lost her Christmas spirit, something that Buddy is eager to help her rediscover. Even the often times annoying Ed Asner is a nice fit as Santa Claus and Faizon Love has several funny scenes as Gimbel’s toy department manager. It’s a wonderful supporting cast who have a lot of fun with what they’re doing.
“Elf” is pure absurd silliness and I thoroughly enjoy it each time I see it. Even if you aren’t a Will Ferrell fan, something I can easily relate to, you’ll find this to be a fun holiday treat. It’s fairly simple and it does go heavy in the sentimentality at the end. But it’s also a warm and clever film that serves as great family friendly entertainment. Now I fully realize that this may not be up everyone’s alley, but for many others this is a picture that has become a true “must watch” movie of the Christmas season. That’s certainly the case at our house.