Because I don't go to the theater as often in December (Oscar-bait movies are things I wait to see), I decided to review a holiday movie I enjoy every week this December. It worked pretty well for horror movies for October!
Back in 2003, Jon Favreau was still the dude from the Swingers movie, and had not yet become the director who would launch the MCU with Iron Man. Will Ferrell had just left Saturday Night Live, and was ready to begin his movie career. The two of them teamed up to create what I would call a really fun Christmas movie that would then go on to spawn a Broadway musical.
Elf begins with a baby crawling into Santa’s bag while he is delivering gifts at an orphanage. He gets taken back up to the North Pole, and is raised by Papa Elf as an elf called Buddy and works in Santa’s workshop. Buddy grows up at the north pole, thinking he is an elf, but because he’s actually human sized, inevitably Papa Elf has to tell him the truth. He’s actually the son of Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells. Susan has died, but Walter is alive and well, and working for a children’s book publisher, having no idea that Buddy exists. After learning from Santa that Walter is on the naughty list, Buddy heads to New York to attempt to meet and redeem his father.
Buddy gets into the building where his father works, but the meeting goes about as well as you would expect between an uptight New Yorker and a nearly six-and-a-half foot man dressed as an elf, and Buddy gets kicked out by security. He then goes to Gimbel’s department store and gets mistaken for an employee due to his elf outfit. While ‘working’, he meets Jovie, who is not thrilled about Christmas, or Buddy, or anything really. When Buddy learns from the manager that Santa will be at the store tomorrow – Buddy uses his elf skills to decorate the store overnight.
Buddy gets into it with the ‘fake’ Santa, because he is used to the real Santa, and ends up in jail where Walter does come to bail him out after having run a DNA test to find out that Buddy is his son. Walter takes him back home where he meets his stepmother (Emily) and half-brother (Michael). Everyone finds Buddy really annoying and weird, but Emily insists that he stay until he can get back on his feet.
Michael pretty quickly befriends Michael, since they act the same age, and Buddy can make and throw snowballs faster than anyone else. Michael encourages Buddy to go on a date with Jovie, which actually goes pretty well. Meanwhile, Walter is struggling at work, and needs to deliver a brand new book. He attempts to bring Buddy to work with him, which goes very poorly, costing Walter a book deal, and causing him to kick Buddy out. Buddy, depressed, is going to head back home and Michael goes to tell Walter, who suddenly and conveniently realizes the importance of family over profit (hey, it’s a Christmas movie, that’s how these things go), and goes to help Michael find Buddy.
Santa’s sleigh crashes in Central Park (hey, again, it’s a Christmas movie, these things happen) due to a shortage of Christmas spirit (because that is what powers the sleigh). Buddy is helping him fix it when Michael and Walter find him and realize everything he’s been telling him about his upbringing is true. Jovie leads the slowly assembling crowd in singing, which raises enough Christmas spirit to get the sleigh in the air just in time to evade capture. This leads to a happy ending for everyone as Walter starts his own business, and Buddy and Jovie get married and have a baby.
Jon Favreau has a wonderful touch with this movie, really letting Ferrell shine with this character. Sure, it’s over the top with the super-sugary holiday cheeriness, but honestly, that’s what you want from this type of flick. It’s short enough to not wear out its welcome and has become one of my newer holiday favorites. The cast is just about perfect, and really helps to sell the story.
- Will Ferrell is often just a bit too much for me, but here, that ‘too muchness’ works perfectly for this character, and he is the heart and soul of the movie. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in his love of Christmas.
- James Caan plays Walter Hobbs – and is the perfect old grump to play an old grump.
- Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie, and her bland flatness actually pairs perfectly with Ferrell’s outrageous joy.
- Mary Steenburgen plays Emily, Michael’s mother and Buddy’s new stepmother. She does what she can to be patient and kind even when Buddy is really annoying everyone else.
- Ed Asner plays Santa, who keeps the kid he accidentally picked up at an orphanage?!? I guess that’s okay? Hey, people are a resource and he needs folks to staff the workshop, I suppose.
- Bob Newhart plays Papa Elf, who raises Buddy and has near-infinite levels of patience with him.
- Faizon Love is the manager of Gimbel’s and is there to attempt to tolerate Buddy’s overflowing Christmas spirit.
- Peter Dinklage has basically a cameo as Miles Finch, a best-selling children’s author who Buddy mistakes for an elf.
- Amy Sedaris plays Deb, Walter’s secretary, and works some hilarity out of the couple of scenes she has.
- Andy Richter and Kyle Gass play Walter’s co-workers.
- Artie Lange plays the fake Gimbel’s Santa who Buddy claims “sits on a throne of lies!”
Overall, it’s charming, sweet and fun, and if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while – I’m sure it will be on TV several times this season, go ahead and check it out. It’s sure to elevate your Christmas spirit levels – maybe not enough to fly a sleigh – but certainly higher than they were.
8 out of 10 – It’s not perfect, some of it is just way too much, and watching Buddy eat makes me a little nauseous. But it is really super fun.