Saturday, July 28, 2012

#712. Elf (2003)

Directed By: Jon Favreau

Starring: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart

Tag line: "This holiday, discover your inner elf"

Trivia: Will Ferrell suffered from headaches throughout filming, as he had to actually eat all of the sugar infested foodstuffs in the Elf food pyramid on camera

I realize it’s a bit off-season to be watching Elf, but what the hell? If department stores can have Christmas in July, why can’t I?

Directed by Jon Favreau, Elf was a breath of fresh air, at least as far as Holiday films are concerned. For example, in almost every Christmas special I’ve ever seen, Santa’s Elves are making toys I never would have played with as a kid. After loading my Christmas list with goodies like Stretch Armstrong, Star Wars and Atari 2600 games, I'd have been deeply depressed if all I found under the tree were wooden trains, marionettes, and tug boats painted red and white. 

This was one of the first smiles Elf gave me; in this version of a North Pole workshop, the elves are busy building Etch-a-Sketches and Bob the Builder plush dolls, while others push buggies filled with board games like Monopoly and Life.

Now that’s more like it!

With the look and feel of the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials I grew up with (right down to the North Pole set pieces and a snowman who is a dead ringer for Burl Ives’), Elf tells the story of Buddy (Will Ferrell), a human who thinks he’s an elf. 

It all started one Christmas Eve years ago, when Santa (Ed Asner) was delivering toys to an orphanage. Distracted by a plateful of cookies, the big guy didn’t notice baby Buddy crawling into his bag of presents. Inadvertently transported back to the North Pole, Buddy is turned over to Papa (Bob Newhart), who raises the young tyke as an elf. 

But as Buddy grew, he noticed that he was different from everybody else, at which point Papa told him the truth, of how Buddy’s mother died, and his real father, Walter (James Caan), doesn't even know he was born. Intent on reuniting with his dad, Buddy sets out to find Walter, who works for a publishing house in New York City that specializes in children's books. To Buddy’s great dismay, Walter is on Santa’s naughty list, and has little time for Christmas. 

Hoping to change his father’s “naughty” ways, Buddy tracks Walter down, and discovers that he's now married to Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and has another son named Michael (Daniel Tay). Emily invites Buddy to stay with them, and the energetic "elf" does what he can to bring a little Christmas cheer into Walter’s life. As for Walter, he’s ready to have his newly-discovered offspring committed to an insane asylum!

Elf is an innocent bit of Christmas charm, one destined from the start to become a Holiday tradition in the vein of A Christmas Story. The majority of the film’s appeal comes courtesy of Will Ferrell, who gives everything he’s got to the role of Buddy, playing the "fish out of water" to wonderful comic effect. His arrival in New York is hilarious; along with a few painful run-ins with taxi cabs, Buddy thinks the discarded chewing gum he finds on railings is ‘free candy’, and pops some into his mouth. Ferrell conveys Buddy’s innocence perfectly, and we admire his genuine enthusiasm for life even as we're cringing whenever he's confronted by the real world. Also good in support are Asner, Newhart, Caan, Steenburgen, and Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, Buddy's eventual love interest.

Every year, Hollywood churns out all sorts of Holiday fluff in an attempt to cash in on those December family dollars, and I can only take so much Christmas spirit in one sitting. With Elf, I at least have something to laugh at, and for that I am truly grateful.

1 comment:

David John Griffin said...

I'm not sure if watching this film would be good for my elf....