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 go. To begin with, in almost every Christmas special I’ve ever seen, Santa’s Elves are making toys I would have never 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 on (right down to the North Pole set pieces and a snowman who's 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 as Santa (Ed Asner) was delivering toys to an orphanage. Distracted by a plateful of cookies, he didn’t notice baby Buddy crawling into his bag of toys. 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 began to notice 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 kid'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, learning he's now married to Emily (Mary Steenburgen), and that he has another son named Michael (Daniel Tay). Emily invites Buddy to stay, so he moves in with them, determined to introduce some Christmas spirit into Walter’s life. As for Walter, he’s ready to have his newly-arrived offspring committed to an insane asylum.

Elf is an innocent bit of Christmas charm, one destined 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 some 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 has to deal with the real world.

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....