ELF (2003) 

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Will Ferrell
James Caan
Bob Newhart
Daniel Tay
Zooey Deschanel
Ed Asner
Mary Steenbergen
Faizon Love
Peter Dinklage
Amy Sedaris

Jon Favreau




Time: 95 mins.
Rating: PG
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Holiday

Favreau merges old-fashioned holiday charm with 21st century physical humor in the character of Buddy, a 30-year-old human raised by elves in the North Pole. Ferrell gives his most complete and charming performance to date, perfectly capturing the innocence and exuberance of this man-child as he journeys to find his real father. It's Ferrell's unrelenting cheerfulness and willingness to go to any lengths for a laugh that make this film so funny and entertaining. The story is a classic fish-out-of-water tale that only succeeds because of him. There's nothing terribly new about the situations Buddy finds himself in and yet Ferrell's upbeat energy gives these tired antics a fresh new life. Seeing him dressed as an elf should get old fairly quickly, but it never does. Mostly because a 6-foot man in yellow tights and a pointy hat is completely hysterical and partly because Ferrell never breaks character, creating a simple, honest, caring person you can't help but want to spend time with.

Unfortunately, his supporting cast (with the exception of Asner and Newhart) is just not up to snuff. Caan is clearly out of his element as Buddy's long lost father. Since he's blind-sided by Buddy's sudden appearance – his ex-girlfriend failed to inform him she was pregnant – his trepidation at welcoming a stranger into his life is fairly understandable. When the person claiming to be his son shows up dressed like an elf and believes he grew up at the North Pole, he has genuine cause for concern. That Caan looks at Ferrell like he's dog poo he just scrapped off his shoe is inexcusable. Didn't he read the script? Hey sourpuss, it's a comedy about an elf. Yes, it's silly. It's like he doesn't get the humor and would rather be enduring a root canal than playing the straight man. He's supposed to be a curmudgeon, but his half-hearted rants and ho-hum attitude ruin every scene he's in. Clearly he took the job for the paycheck. Steenburgen, as Buddy's new step-mom, Deschanel, as his love interest and Tay, as his little brother, all handle their duties with grace and humor; though ultimately fail to keep up with Farrell. Not an east task to be sure. Asner and Newhart are the only ones who seem to believe in this story as much as Ferrell, but it's probably easier to buy into such a tale when you're playing Santa or an elf.

"Santa's coming? I know him."

Another disappointment is the film's look. While Buddy's at the North Pole the style is colorful and clever with a nod to the old school claymation Christmas flicks. When he reaches New York everything turns drab and lifeless. Having grown up watching such holiday cartoon classics like RUDOLPH and SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN, the opening sequences brought back the joy of those old-fashioned tales, setting an instant cheerful mood. Granted dragging Buddy into our reality really makes him stand out, however; it also detracts from the film's initial fantastical quality. There has to be differences between the two worlds, but that doesn't mean they both can't be magical. Buddy's love of all things Christmas does pervade the various sets, but it's just not enough when compared to the wonder of the opening scenes. Thankfully, as long as Ferrell's onscreen the joy of Christmas is never far away. The execution may be uneven, but Ferrell's performance is a joy to behold. He's always been one of the most talented actors to come out of SNL, it's just taken a simple, yet well-developed character like Buddy to make him a star. ELF may not be one of the best holiday movies ever made, succumbing, like most in this genre, to a super-sweet, over-the-top ending overflowing with strained Christmas cheer, however; Buddy is destined to be, like Hermey, an elf that everyone will remember.

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