Elf is a feel-good Christmas movie that brilliantly balances Will Ferrell’s typical silliness with James Caan’s perfectly delivered tough-guy cynicism. Whichever humor is better suited to your personal funny bone, there’s plenty of it to raise a smile or guffaw through to the film’s epilogue.
With a touch of “The Ugly Duckling,” Ferrell’s title character grows up with the elves in Santa’s workshop at the North Pole after having crawled, unseen, from his crib in an orphanage into Santa’s bag of toys one Christmas Eve. The pathos of an orphanage existence is furthered by the scene in a sterile nursery being shot in darkness and shadows, in sharp contrast to the festive ambience of Santa’s North Pole. But rather than open on that dreary note, director Jon Favreau (Iron Man and Iron Man 2) introduces us to the story through a visit with the adoptive elf-father (a pointy-eared Bob Newhart, in his trademark deadpan delivery that imbues the far-fetched tale with an earnest honesty).
“Buddy” (named from the label on the diapers he was wearing on his arrival) grows up with all the positive self-esteem the elves can encourage in him, although it’s obvious to everyone but him that he just doesn’t fit in — literally as well as figuratively, as he spills out of his school desk, squeezes through doorways and nearly smothers Papa Elf when he sits in his lap. But his idyllic existence is shattered when he overhears two elves refer to him as “human.”
So Buddy sets off to find his real father (James Caan as Walter Hobbs), and the snow-globe essence of the scenes changes to real-life when he hits New York City. Misadventures and clumsy emotional overtures follow. Zooey Deschanel provides Ferrell with a sweet love-interest, and Daniel Tay becomes his compatriot as Caan’s other, emotionally starved, son.
There is some mild profanity and discreet sexual innuendo in this 2003, PG-rated, award-winning family film from New Line Cinema, but possibly more disturbing is the reference to unbelievers who think “parents leave the presents under the tree” and eat the cookies put out for Santa — although the film’s resolution affirms that Santa is as real as Christmas spirit.
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