USA (95 mi) 2003 d: Jon Favreau
Probably my wife and daughter’s all-time favorite movie. Sure it’s cornball, described as “so profoundly ridiculous that it has to be admired,” but the terrific cast, well designed Christmas sequences, some truly inspired musical choices, and out and out laughter makes this a terrific holiday pick, the kind of movie that’s sure to pick up some of those lagging spirits. Will Ferrell plays the role of his lifetime as a human that mistakenly ends up at the North Pole raised by Santa (Ed Asner) and the Elves, specifically Papa Elf, who is none other than Bob Newhart. As an elf named Buddy who is incapable of being anything but nice, Ferrell is a misfit, as despite having the Christmas spirit, the primary goal of all elves, he towers in size over them in their tiny workshops and doesn’t possess their flair for making toys. When he overhears the other elves talking about him, as he can never make his Christmas quota, he realizes, at last, that he’s human, and goes to New York City in search of his dad, passing through a winter wonderland that resembles movies from Christmas past like RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964).
Immediately the film turns on a dime. To the upbeat, jazzy sounds of Louis Prima singing “Pennies from Heaven” Pennies from Heaven (From "Elf") - YouTube (2:24), we see Buddy’s incomprehensible innocence, his honest charm of age 30 going on 10 mix with the cut throat cynicism of New Yorkers, expressed by the choice of his real dad, James Caan as Walter, always the hard ass ever since his role as Sonny Corleone, a guy who’s so wrapped up in his job, he hardly ever looks at his wife (Mary Steenburgen) or son Michael (Daniel Tay). Buddy, dressed as usual in his bright green elf suit, wanders up to Walter’s office suite at a publishing firm in the Empire State Building and the entire staff gathers around thinking he’s a Chistmas sing-a-gram, cheerfully waiting for a funny message. When Buddy tells him he’s his father, Walter yanks him out of there pronto believing he’s a nut case, but Buddy screams out the name of his mother, which registers distant memories. When the security guards suggest as a joke that he join the elves at Gimbels across the street, they never dreamed that they saved Buddy’s life, as the department store manager, seeing him dressed as a green elf, immediately assumes he belongs in the North Pole display where Buddy spots the positively delightful Zooey Deschanel as Jovie decorating a tree. After she tells him to back off when he approaches, she’s amused when Buddy flips out when he hears Santa Claus is coming the next morning at 10 am, and promptly spends the entire night decorating for Santa’s visit.
Buddy awakes in Gimbels to the sounds of Jovie singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” Elf - Baby Its Cold Outside - YouTube (1:24) in the employee shower, blissfully joining in after awhile which scares the pants off of both of them, Buddy fleeing immediately when he realizes she’s naked. But they become fast friends when she realizes Buddy possesses a strange honesty, getting kicked out of Gimbels after exposing a department store Santa Claus as being a fraud, telling him “You sit on a throne of lies!” Meanwhile, even after a paternity test, Walter can’t believe this “deranged elf man” can possibly be his son, but when they realize he has nowhere else to go, he stays with them, rearranging their decor into holiday cheer. Michael is embarrassed by him as well until he rescues him with a dazzling display in a snowball fight, taking renewed interest on the spot, actually encouraging Buddy to ask Jovie out on a date, which is priceless moment in the film, as he exposes her to his infectious charm of silly fun, beautifully sequenced together to the voice of Frank Sinatra singing “You Make Me Feel So Young” Buddy & Jovie's Date ("Elf" the Film) - YouTube (2:02).
By this time, despite the breezy, lightweight quality of the film, the audience gets swept away into Buddy’s world, which Farrell renders as totally harmless, beautifully expressed in a hilarious fight scene with a real midget, Peter Dinklage, who takes serious offense to Buddy’s repeated references calling him an elf. There’s a lot to like in this film, which despite being completely family oriented for kids of all ages, has the tiniest bit of edge to it for adults, such as Santa’s snide reference to the horse mounted New York City Police Rangers, who, after their offensive display at the Simon and Garfunkel concert in the park in 1985, forced him to put them on his naughty list. It’s a feel good film that actually has a delightful sweep about it, remaining intelligent throughout, briskly paced, closing with a festive note, not the least of which is Ray Charles voice singing “Winter Wonderland” Ray Charles Winter Wonderland - YouTube (3:27) over the end credits.