Every year, my friends and I watch this movie to celebrate the end of finals and the beginning of the winter holidays. Nearing its tenth anniversary, Elf has become a modern Christmas favorite, especially for those that consider themselves to be “too cool” for old flicks like It’s Wonderful Life, ebullient rom-coms like Love Actually, or even the nineties hits like Home Alone. By offering delightful tongue-in-cheek humor and a clever balance of ironic goofiness and sweetness, it manages to push for and satirize its own feel-good narrative. The script is always one step ahead of its audience, as it indulges viewers with the most farcical and comical scenes with excellent rhythm and timing. This movie possesses all the ingredients for a Christmas hit—humor that ranges from laugh-out-loud to tongue-in-cheek to awkward, witty dialogue, and heartwarming familial and romantic subplots.
Will Ferrell plays Buddy the Elf, an overgrown man-child who has been raised by a doting elf (Bob Newhart) in the North Pole. After not fitting in for over thirty years, Buddy finally learns that he is a human. In order to reconnect with his roots, he embarks on an epic journey to New York City, where his father works as a children’s book editor in the Empire State Building. Even more out of place in the human world, with his bright green elf suit and yellow tights, Buddy is completely unaware of the snickers and ridicules that trail behind him in his attempts to win the affections of his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), an uptight workaholic who has little time for his family. With its grime, busyness, and mercenary population trying to “get through” and capitalize on the holidays, New York City differs from the North Pole in every single way. Even though Buddy’s effervescence often irritates and overwhelms Walter, Walter’s wife (Mary Steenburgen) and son come to accept him as part of the family. Adding to the zest of this plot is Buddy’s romantic courtship of the lackadaisical yet lovable Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), who begrudgingly works at the department store. Buddy realizes that his talent for bringing forth the Christmas spirit is very much needed in the real world.
Do yourself a favor by turning off your hyperactive brain and simply sit back, relax, and start rooting for Ferrell’s protagonist Buddy, who will do anything in his power to reconnect with his father and spread the holiday cheer. The first and second acts prove to be very solid with excellent jokes. It takes a comic holy fool like Buddy to question the merits of lining up to see a fake Santa Claus and making work more of a priority over spending time with family and friends. Near the end, the narrative feels a little rushed and arguably cops-out by providing a sentimental and sappy antidote to the lackluster Christmas spirit. This seemingly formulaic move can be interpreted as an homage to past Christmas movies that illustrate the power of holiday spirit in creating a stronger community.
As he portrays a hilariously manic persona, Ferrell exudes childlike eagerness and enthusiasm. He summons his inner child in such a convincing manner. Viewers must also suspend their disbelief and get in touch with their inner child. For example, both Walter’s wife and Jovie unquestioningly welcome such an eccentric man-child into their lives. Also, the gimmicky depiction of the North Pole evokes the claymation version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. This calls for skipping down memory lane. Audiences must set aside their skepticism and cynicism and enjoy this holiday romp.
Besides the humor, there are a lot of heartwarming moments of bonding between the two brothers, father and son, and the two love birds. Of course, even Walter learns to lighten up a bit. Like most of our beloved Christmas films, Elf encourages viewers to evaluate and be grateful for people in their intimate circles. The musical soundtrack invites viewers to dance along to these syrupy and lovably offbeat scenes.
While some of the jokes and comic routines may be more appropriate for an older audience of teens and up, young children will also find Ferrell’s childlike character to be relatable and endearing. Some of the racy innuendos will probably fly over their heads. Elf would be a great movie to watch with friends, parents, and even extended family members. Even though I have watched it over and over again for Christmas, the jokes continue to feel fresh and delightful, and I find myself reciting some of the lines at the beginning of every holiday season. With its scintillating wit and uplifting story, Elf has established itself as a beloved modern Christmas flicks.