Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa’s elves. Unable to shake the feeling that he doesn’t fit in, the adult Buddy travels to New York, in full elf uniform, in search of his real father. As it happens, this is Walter Hobbs (James Caan), a cynical businessman. After a DNA test proves this, Walter reluctantly attempts to start a relationship with the childlike Buddy with increasingly chaotic results.
There is simply nothing quite like being a kid and getting in the holiday spirit by watching some of your favorite Christmas movies. When I was a kid, most of my fellow classmates and friends loved to watch flicks such as The Polar Express, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and Elf. I, on the other hand, absolutely adored watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, even when I was around eight or nine years old. It was my absolute favorite and it still is to this day.
But I did see Elf a number of times during my childhood and I do remember having extremely fond memories of the film. I remember it being funny and lighthearted with an emotional undercurrent. Even all these years later, it is still widely regarded as being one of the greatest Christmas movies of all-time.
So I was curious as to what it would be like years later. The last time I watched Elf in its entirety was probably middle school, so my memory as to what happened in the film is fairly vague. That’s why I decided to give it a rewatch today and was absolutely delighted to discover that it was just as cheerful and heartwarming as I remember it being.
Elf has an incredibly magical quality to it that’s shockingly difficult to put into words. It doesn’t matter how old you are, Elf will make you feel like a kid again. That’s really one of the points of the movie, and Jon Favreau succeeded tremendously in that regard and many others too. There is just something so oddly endearing about watching Will Ferrell as a happy-go-lucky but hilariously clumsy elf coming to New York City and getting up to various misadventures and annoying all the people around him.
Some people will call Buddy the Elf a tedious character to watch because he does a lot of goofy things throughout this movie. I’m talking Dumb and Dumber levels of goofiness. But it’s part of what makes his character so endearing. He’s not stupid, he just has never been exposed to anywhere else in the world besides the North Pole. Watching him adapt to city life is equal parts hilarious and heartwarming.
And I honestly cannot see anybody else portraying Buddy. Will Ferrell struck a chord of magic with so many people all around the world, and his joyous performance as the titular character is partly the reason why the film has gone on to hold such a classic status in the Christmas genre.
For the most part, Elf boasts some truly excellent humor with many jokes able to make me laugh out loud and bring a gigantic smile to my face. Sadly though, there are a handful of gross-out jokes throughout. The biggest example of this is the scene in which Buddy drinks an entire two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola and then burps for a solid ten seconds or so. It’s the kind of scene that was designed to make the little kids laugh super hard, but the adults will be watching it just shaking their heads.
Also, it would have been nice to have gotten a little more character development for some of the other characters. Since Buddy is the main character of this story, you would expect him to be greatly developed throughout, and he is. Unfortunately, though, his love interest Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) doesn’t get much development whatsoever. She’s only ever in the movie whenever Buddy is around, and her sole purpose for existing in this movie is for Buddy to act awkwardly around her.
It’s definitely something to complain about, but it certainly doesn’t take away from the absolute delight of a film that Elf is at its core. It brings out the inner child in us. It makes us feel like a kid on Christmas morning again, and in a year like this, I think that’s what we all need right now.
Overall Grade: A-
MPAA Rating: PG for some mild rude humor and language
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Release Date: November 7, 2003
Running Time: 97 minutes