The one-joke premise becomes worlds funnier once we learn that the elf in question is played with positively-charged whimsy by Will Ferrell. Best known for his ensemble work in Saturday Night Live and Old School, Ferrell has chosen the ideal project to test his skills as a leading man. And he keeps his clothes on, which means all ages are welcome (and encouraged) to attend this holiday party.
After its imaginative set-up, Elf follows Buddy south to Manhattan where he hopes to connect with his biological father (James Caan). Dressed head-to-toe in his traditional elf garb, Buddy encounters a world of people in need of some Ho Ho Ho, from a cynical Gimbels employee and inevitable love interest (Zooey Deschanel) to a gruff store manager and dear old dad, himself.
The concept of a misfit toy searching for his identity traces all the way back to the claymation Rudolph and Frosty specials of our youth, which director Jon Favreau (Made) makes a knowing wink toward in the early goings. The difference is Ferrell, whose comedy cup runs over with Christmas cheer. Elf races by on a sugar rush fueled by Buddy's sweet tooth - he has a taste for maple syrup, candy canes, and 2-liter bottles of soda.
Minor and unnecessary subplots keep the sidewalks bustling, from an energy crisis caused by a lack of believing children to Buddy's father's troubles at work. They're thin setups aimed to illustrate a strange stranger in the strangest land of all; New York City. Favreau relents, allowing Ferrell some freedom to test out his newfound world, much like Tom Hanks' character in Big. And like Hanks' turn, Buddy's adventures are charged with Ferrell's kindly innocence and undying enthusiasm that warms the heart and carries the film.
Supporting players get swept up in the good-natured holiday cheer. Wide-eyed Deschanel is the gentle glowing angel on the top of this gooey tree. Asner's in the spirit, and makes the best Santa seen on screen is years. Only Caan, a true Grinch, earns a spot on the naughty list by phoning in his performance. In comparison to the rest of the cast, he's the crusty fruitcake you're eager to re-gift. Not that it matters. They're all window dressing in the display case at Gimbels, while the hilarious Ferrell is the storeroom Santa taking requests from eager children. For those of you with a belly laugh on your wish list, Christmas has come early this year.
Netflix pulls out all the stops for the Elf DVD, including endless documentaries, commentary tracks, deleted scenes, and some games for the kids. It all fills up two full DVDs -- so Christmas can come early this year too!
"Can you blow this up for me?"
In Theaters: Friday 7th November 2003
Box Office USA: $173.4M
Box Office Worldwide: $173.4M
Distributed by: New Line Cinema
Production compaines: New Line Cinema, Guy Walks into a Bar Productions, Gold/Miller Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 149 Rotten: 29
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: David Berenbaum
Starring: Will Ferrell as Buddy, Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, Daniel Tay as Michael, James Caan as Walter, Bob Newhart as Papa Elf, Ed Asner as Santa, Amy Sedaris as Deb, Andy Richter as Morris, Mary Steenburgen as Emily, Kyle Gass as Eugene, Artie Lange as Gimbel's Santa, Faizon Love as Gimbel's Manager, Peter Dinklage as Miles Finch, Michael Lerner as Fulton, Leon Redbone as Leon the Snowman, Peter Billingsley as Maymay