Every year there is a flood of new Christmas movies (mostly on cable but one or two will be theatrical releases) but a new classic will only emerge every five or ten years and, in my opinion, Elf is one of those new classics. Ferrell changes up his screen image as the lovable and innocent Buddy, and filmmaker Jon Favreau does an excellent job of keeping the comedy kid friendly, yet clever enough for adults.
Buddy (Will Ferrell) was raised by elves, after sneaking into Santa’s sack as a baby. Despite his obvious difference in appearance, Buddy never questions his status as one of Santa’s elves, until he overhears dome elves discussing it. He learns his real father lives in New York City and isn’t the greatest of guys. Buddy sets off to the Big Apple and quickly finds his dad, Walter (James Caan), who never knew Buddy ever existed and is skeptical of his story at first. Buddy does not give up or let his spirits damper, but he does get a job working in the toy department of a local department store where he meets the cynical but beautiful Jovie (Zooey Deschanel).
Ferrell was a break-out star when he was a Saturday Night Live cast member but, true confession, he was never one of my favorites. I found many of his characters a little too weird or manic. His transition to the big screen wasn’t the smoothest but Elf was his first starring role and was radically different than anything we had seen him in. One thing Ferrell is known for is his angry outbursts. His fellow SNL castmates always said it was always great to see the mildmannered Ferrell erupt in rage. However, I find this side of him uncomfortable. I much prefer when he plays the man-child. As Buddy, he sees the world in absolute wonder and is completely charming. While Buddy is childlike, he isn’t the buffoon Adam Sandler specializes in. While there is only so many scenarios this type of character can find himself in, this will always be my preferred role for him.
This film also marks most people’s first look at Zooey Deschanel who has since become everyone’s favorite manic pixy dream girl. This also was the first showcase for her singing voice and she has now recorded albums as part of the group She & Him. It’s hard to tell what path her career would have taken had she not done this film.
Some say the film has a strong beginning and middle but falters in the last act. I wouldn’t completely disagree. Buddy having to come to Santa’s rescue against the naughty Central Park police horses doesn’t seem to fit the tone of the rest of the movie. Also, everyone singing to save Christmas is a little tv movie. I think the issue does lie in the first two acts. There’s not a lot of action. It’s very much a fish out of water story, with Buddy finding himself in a variety of foreign situations, that doesn’t allow for a very dramatic climax. However, the wonder of the first two acts and Ferrell performance is enough to make you look past the somewhat weak ending. A great pick to share with the family.