by Erica Noboa
From the December 2015 IssueAs Santa Claus (Edward Asner) makes his annual trip to deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he stops at a Catholic orphanage. Unbeknownst to Mr. Claus, an infant resident crawls into his toy sack and is whisked away to the North Pole. Upon realizing his accidental kidnapping, Santa and his elves unanimously agree to raise the orphan baby as one of their own. As the human named Buddy (Will Ferrell) is brought up in the elves’ foreign lifestyle, he acquires toy-making skills and learns the importance of Christmas, as well as how to maintain a positive outlook on everything. Even when he grows into an adult that towers over the elves, Buddy remains completely oblivious to his unavoidable humanness, but receives a rude awakening when he overhears two of his elf colleagues gossiping about his heritage.
Instantly, Buddy knows that he must leave the North Pole and venture out into the human world to find his biological parents. When asked, his adoptive dad explains that his mother passed away long ago and his father (James Caan) never knew that he was even born. Giving Buddy a snow globe of New York City, he informs his son that his biological father works inside the Empire State Building. With this information, the human elf sets out alone to the big city. Upon arrival, Buddy soon learns that his quest is much more complicated than he anticipated and comes into contact with numerous obstacles never found at the North Pole: Revolving doors. Elevators. Taxi cabs. The New York residents. Romantic attraction. And his father.
Elf highlights the importance of fatherhood and family bonding. With a protagonist that has a heart as big as the Arctic North—one who is innocent, compassionate and optimistic—it’s hard not to root for Buddy in his quest to gain his estranged father’s acceptance. The conflict of this story lies with said father, a curmudgeonly publisher named Walter (James Caan) who would be a top candidate for Santa’s naughty list. He’s an egotistical workaholic who cares more about making money than making his customers happy. Walter puts his profession before his family, alienating himself from his preteen son. The last thing this man wants to hear is that he has another son, let alone one that dresses as an elf and claims he’s from the North Pole. Walter’s faced with a huge decision: bond or reject his own flesh and blood. While his wife is very encouraging and compassionate about of the situation, Walter remains uncooperative and unwilling to accept Buddy as family. But by the film’s end, he is willing to quit his job and embrace the Christmas spirit in order to salvage his relationship with both of his sons.
With a pure-heart and an adorable naiveté, Buddy finds love when he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a somber-looking young woman working at a department store. Their relationship has a rocky start when Buddy sneaks into the women’s bathroom, innocently harmonizing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as Jovie showers; however, with his elfish charms and only pure-intentions, she can’t help but fall for the strangely dressed man. Even though he is miles away from the North Pole, Buddy remains adamant about keep the Christmas spirit alive and thriving in a cynical New York. It is not until the end of the movie that Buddy is able to prove himself as a full-fledged elf. By helping Santa fly his sleigh and raising the Christmas morale for all New Yorkers with a little help from his family, Buddy finally finds a place for himself in a world that initially seemed to want nothing to do with him.
Directed by Jon Favreau, a seasoned actor who has also dabbled in screenwriting (Chef, Swingers), Elf is a charming family Christmas movie that spreads holiday joy—something recent Christmas films have been lacking. The movie succeeds due to its viscous good-hearted cheer that wildly overdoes it (to a hilarious degree). But a counterbalancing sense of restraint comes from a witty script by David Berenbaum, and also from the performances of two beloved old sitcom personalities—Ed Asner and Bob Newhart—as Santa and his “Papa Elf,” respectively. The responsibility for the overdone quality belongs to the oafishly adept Will Ferrell. Favreau’s direction has a relaxed, swinging rhythm to it, which reflects his acting style and while the big, chaotic scenes sometimes lack polish and precision. Elf happily forgoes the slick, hyper-active aggression that makes so many live-action holiday comedies so exhausting.
This movie is an instant Christmas classic that highlights the importance of family and wants its younger audience to walk away with the knowledge that being odd is nothing to be ashamed of: It only makes you unique.
4 out of 5 stars