Elf Movie Review

On Christmas Eve, an infant crawls into Santa's sack and hitches a ride back to the North Pole. Upon finding his imported cargo, Santa passes the bundle of joy off to a paternal elf (played with care by Bob Newhart), who names the baby Buddy and raises him up to be a full-sized man in a miniature world.

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?"


Elf Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: PG, 2003


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