Elf (2003)

Directed by Jon Favreau

Appropriately released on DVD in time for the holiday season, Elf is last year’s bid for cinematic longevity as a Christmas classic. Some think it succeeds. Myself? I think it’s a likable film but doesn’t quite make it. It’s a bit too cookie cutter in it’s plot and sentimentality for me. And while to some extent this is required of films like this, they also need to have a modicum of originality and restraint within those confines.

But Elf, much like Bad Santa (also from last year, though with the opposite tone), relies too much on a single gag – in this case, a tall human who thinks he’s an elf. It’s an idea with potential, but there isn’t much development of the idea.

The elf idea is then placed in a standard Hollywood holiday template. There is a Scrooge like character who rediscovers the meaning of Christmas.

And there are a few down-on-their-luck, warm-hearted characters who, despite circumstances, carry the Christmas spirit with them, and so on.

In Elf, Will Ferrell as Buddy, the human-elf, goes to New York City to find his father, James Caan as Walter, who is unaware he has another son, much less one who thinks he’s an elf. Walter is totally absorbed by his publishing business, so much so he’s become cold and indifferent to everyone and everything. He cares only for his business success which, at this point, is threatened by his cavalier attitude.

So the naive but good-hearted Buddy comes to town and is soon filling it with his effervescent Christmas cheer and childlike wonder of Christmas, especially of Santa.

Christmas, by the way, is at risk because Santa’s sleigh has been losing power for quite a few years now. It relies on Christmas spirit to run but, as the spirit wanes in the world, it becomes increasingly difficult for the sleigh to fly.

As you might expect, it’s Buddy’s Christmas enthusiasm that saves the day as his bubbly spirit begins affecting everyone.

It’s an okay enough story as it goes, particularly when you’re thinking of a family audience (i.e., children). You don’t want an Ingmar Bergman Christmas movie for families (or even a Fanny and Alexander).

But I would have liked a bit more from Elf. It’s essentially a TV holiday movie with a slightly larger budget.

Still, despite my complaining, Elf definitely has charm and is quite an enjoyable movie, especially for Christmas fare. I can’t imagine anyone disliking it and there are those who absolutely love it. But, for me, it falls a bit short of the Christmas Classic category. And this is only disappointing because it had the potential to become one. However, who knows? Time may prove me wrong. I wonder what I’ll think when I watch it again next Christmas.


This is a two disc set with both widescreen and full-screen versions on it. Image and sound both come across well, about what you would expect for a movie where, I assume, the expectations are high for good sales (given what it did in theatrical release).

And it certainly has a fistfull of additional materials. Unfortunately, this is one of those New Line infiniFilm deals and that means lots of features but utterly baffling menus. I gave up after a while. I couldn’t be bothered hunting down the material I was actually looking for.

This is much like the recent Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban which also had bewildering menus with titles that made absolutely no sense. In both cases, it looks like we’re dealing with marketing departments that are a little too cute and clever.

© 2004 Piddleville Inc.

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