Urban Cinefile
"It's like an alien that lives inside you, a la Ridley Scott's Alien (laughs) that pops out and you're left bleeding on the floor and the alien's run away"  -Sam Mendes on making films
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Buddy (Will Ferrell) is a human who was mistakenly taken as a baby by Santa Claus (Edward Asner). Although raised by Santa's Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), Buddy finds it difficult to fit in with the elf lifestyle. When some other elves let slip that he's really a human, Papa Elf explains to him that he was put up for adoption before his adventure with Santa, and his father Walter Hobbs (James Caan) is living in New York City. Buddy sets out to find his dad; but when he arrives in New York, in elf clothing and talking about Santa, he's treated like a nut and rejected by Walter. He finds sanctuary in a toy store, where he's mistaken for a sales assistant. There he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), and almost immediately falls for her. But he still needs to connect with Walter.

Review by David Edwards:
Comedian Will Ferrell and actor/director Jon Favreau are hardly the first people to spring to mind when considering Christmas movies. But with Elf, the unlikely pair has created a charming Yuletide confection that's sure to prove a winner with kids and adults. The story is as old as the hills, as Buddy's journey to find his real father leads to some cynical characters re-discovering the Christmas spirit. While the film certainly has its festive heart in the right place, it's also very funny, with a slightly warped sense of humour. The sight of the lanky Ferrell waltzing down crowded New York streets dressed in green elf gear is hilarious, while the fish-out of-water scenario provides plenty of ammunition for writer David Berenbaum to work with He comes out with some punchy moments along the way. Towards the end, when sentiment starts to take over, the humour wanes somewhat; but what would a Christmas film be without a little sentiment?

While the film has plenty for older viewers, youngsters will be captivated by the improbable elfish antics. The opening scenes set up a magical land at the North Pole complete with cute animals, before Buddy makes his trek south. For parents concerned that the film might disabuse their offspring of their belief in Santa, have no fear. Despite sailing a little close to the wind on one occasion, the film proceeds on the explicit premise that St Nick is real. The production design is sparkling, and Greg Gardiner's cinematography is spot on. And in a year dominated by special-effects laden blockbusters, who would have thought that that one of the most impressive special effects sequences would involve a jolly old man trying to get a magic sleigh off the ground.

Saturday Night Live alumnist Ferrell makes for a wonderfully engaging Buddy. As the wide-eyed, if rather dorky human turned elf, he gives a performance sure to win new fans - although hopefully they won't be rushing out to see his last effort, Old School. James Caan plays the Scrooge-like Walter to a tee, while Edward Asner is the most convincing Santa since Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street. Indie favourite Zooey Descahnel gets her chance in a more mainstream picture, and doesn't let the chance go by, making Jovie a sweet and captivating love interest for Ferrell. Most will relate to its Christmas, and there's unlikely to be a dry eye in the house during the emotional climax. All that adds up to Elf being pretty close to being the perfect family movie these Christmas holidays.

Special Features reviewed by Craig Miller:
Having taken almost a year to get from cinema to DVD, it's not unreasonable to think Elf would be something special. Unfortunately, the so-called "ginormous" two-disc edition of Elf comes as a bit of a disappointment.

The disc's four main featurettes are, collectively, nothing of any real interest, but they do contain some snippets of worthwhile viewing. The Kids on Christmas or "Tug on the heart strings" featurette as I like to call it, is a blatant attempt to get adults to reveal their "AAWWWWWW" faces, by showing a bunch of kids giving cute, fluffy bunny answers to questions about Christmas and Santa. The remaining three (Deck the Halls, Santa Mania and Christmas in Tinseltown) offer more of that festive holiday cheer with footage of the popular yuletide phenomenon of decorating the outside of your house with lights, plus there's a look at a surfing Santa and interviews with the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, as well as some lesser-known film personalities showing off their Chrissy spirit.

The Ferrell and Favreau commentaries are both fairly reserved approaches to the popular DVD exercise, and you can't help thinking that these two guys would have been much better off indulging in a joint commentary, as opposed to the ho-hum offerings presented to us here. Likewise, the trivia track is another dull affair. It pops up sporadically to let us know where Ferrell went to university, the history of Christmas holidays in the States and to give us the specs on the tallest living Christmas tree in America (122 foot, 91-year-old Douglas Fur in Woodinville, Washington, just in case you are interested. Thought not!), but essentially, it's a missed opportunity.

The best is the hour-long behind-the-scenes feature. Make-up, costumes, music, script development, pre-production drawings, storyboards etc, it's all covered in this above-average look at the shooting of the film. It really serves as a video diary on the production, and when the camera follows around Will for the day as he prepares to shoot some of the film's more interesting scenes, the feature hits its stride.

There are some other bits for the little ones, an annoyingly chipper Karaoke feature, the story of Buddy the Elf told ala children's book story-time style, as well as a number of clunky DVD games. These kid features are well put together, but really, as a whole, the package struggles with substance and looks weak in its overall appeal to attract both adults and children.

Published November 11, 2004

Email this article

(US, 2003)

CAST: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel, Amy Sedaris, Kyle Gass

DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau

SCRIPT: David Berenbaum

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 1.85:1, Dolby 2.0, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Disc One: Audio commentary with director Jon Favreau, Audio commentary with Will Ferrell, Fact Track.[BREAK]Disc Two: Kids on Christmas, Deck the Halls, Santa Mania, Christmas in Tinseltown, Behind-the-scenes, Elf jukebox, Deleted scenes, Elf Karaoke, Read-A-Long, Buddy's Adventure, theatrical trailer.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Village Roadshow

DVD RELEASE: November 11, 2004

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020