Okay, I have to fess up. I went into Elf expecting it to stink.
Now this kind of thing is pretty rare. As a reviewer, I try very hard
not to go into a film with any preconceptions. But, I've never found
Will Ferrell particularly funny and the storyline and coming attractions
trailer looked a little stupid. There is also the fact that it is a
movie starring a former star of Saturday Night Live. Even the
cast members I've liked have much more have often stunk on the big screen,
and the cast members I never really liked... well, the names Corky
Romano, Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo and Beverly Hills Ninja come
to mind. Christmas comedies in recent years have been pretty tough
to take, too... The Santa Clause or Jingle All the Way anyone?
So, I have to admit, I went into Elf steeled for a truly painful
Well, I'm happy to say that I was dead wrong. Elf isn't a
perfect film, but it is actually a very charming fable. The movie is
loosely based on the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials. The credits
and the early scenes in the North Pole are a brilliant pastiche of those old
TV classics like Santa Claus is Comin' To Town and Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer. One year when Santa (Ed Asner) is making his
rounds, he mistakenly picks up a baby who climbed into his sack at an
orphanage. He is adopted by the head Elf (Bob Newhart, using his
deadpan humor to glorious effect) and raised as an elf. Of course,
eventually he grows to be a full-sized human and feels strangely out of
place. So his adapted father sits him down and tells Buddy the truth.
Buddy sets off to New York City to meet his real father. James Caan
plays the dad as a workaholic bad-tempered children's publishing executive.
At first, he wants nothing to do with the crazy guy in the green suit
who claims to be his son and love him. But his good-hearted wife (Mary
Steenburgen) insists they take him in and soon their disaffected younger son
(Daniel Tay) is bonding with his new big brother.
sets off a series of fish-out-of-water gags as Buddy the elf learns about
life in the big city. You've seen variations on this theme hundreds of
times... the naive traveler facing New York for the first time... but it is
done with enough good humor and lack of cynicism that you're willing to give
the film a pass for its lack of originality. Of course there is a
beautiful woman Zooey Deschanel) who has become hardened and has to be
melted by Buddy's innocence, and reminded of the true meaning of Christmas.
And of course, Buddy has to save Christmas when Santa's sleigh crashes in
you can see, the film is not exactly original, but it still works
surprisingly well. The biggest revelation here is Ferrell. His
characterization of Buddy is winningly optimistic in the face of all
obstacles. The portrayal is dazzlingly un-ironic; something quite
amazing in these cynical times. Ferrell throws himself into the
mindset of this child in a man's body and is almost constantly on target.
I could have lived without the belching contest, but otherwise Buddy truly
is impossible to dislike. Caan and Newhart also provide laughs by
toying with their images.
I have to come clean. When I'm wrong, I'm wrong. Elf is
much better than I ever thought it would be.
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Posted: December 21,