Elf wears its message on the sleeve but it has enough charm to help you overlook that
Will Ferrell has been a bit hit and miss with me. Land of the Lost and Bewitched were rather "meh", but I absolutely loved Stranger Than Fiction. In Elf, however, Ferrell is tapping into some giant reservoir of childlike innocence that is very refreshing in movies today.
The story follows a human who, one Christmas as a baby, crawls into Santa's sack while he's leaving toys at the orphanage where he's being kept. Somehow Santa (Edward Asner) makes it all the way back to the North Pole without noticing that there was an oddly lifelike doll left in the sack.
Anyway, the elves decide to raise the child and name him Buddy (Ferrell).
When Buddy gets older and finally learns the truth—that he's not an elf with a simple glandular problem—he goes to find his biological father, Walter (James Caan). He's been told that his father is on the naughty list and decides to try to bring some Christmas spirit into his life. He meets a store worker named Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) and spends the whole movie sticking out like a frost-bitten thumb.
At times, Elf fits in with other Christmas movies the way that Weird Al fits in at the Grammy Awards. It deserves recognition, but some of that is due to poking fun at its peers. The opening sequence, for instance, hearkens back to and pokes fun at those Rankin/Bass holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
It's also very fun to see Ferrell's portrayal of a man who was raised in what may be the happiest place on Earth, then heads out to New York of all places. Not to disparage the Big Apple, but that many people in the same city at the same time can't all be happy at once. At least, I don't think it's happened yet.
I mean, how many times do New Yorkers answer the phone by saying something like "This is Buddy the Elf. What's your favorite color?"
Zooey Deschanel is also good in this one, if a little bit understated. It's a far cry from her super-bubbly character from New Girl, but she's very pretty, has a nice singing voice, and works well in the role of Jovie.
Also, pay attention to MingMing, the head elf at the workshop. If he looks at all familiar, you may recognize him as Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) from A Christmas Story. Billingsley co-produced Made with this movie's director, Jon Favreau, in 2001 and went on to be executive producer of Four Christmases in which Favreau appeared; executive producer for Iron Man where he shaved half his head for a small part while Favreau executive produced, directed and appeared as Happy, Stark's driver; co-producer for Zathura: A Space Adventure with Favreau directing; as well as director of Couples Retreat, featuring Favreau. I'm beginning to believe they like to work together.
But most of that doesn't really mean anything for this movie. I just enjoy movie trivia.
Elf is a nice clean Christmas movie that captures the wide-eyed innocence of the season.
While I am getting tired of so many movies that focus on the fact that Christmas isn't what it used to be—and this film makes that point one of the big overarching messages—it's so pure and innocent in how it goes about it that I find it very easy to overlook my opinion on the matter and just have fun.
This one gets a 7 / 10.
Elf is rated PG for a couple moments of mildly crude humor and a little bit of language.
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