elf1

Disclaimer: Intoxicatingly humorous, including one scene where the elf is, in fact, intoxicated.

Elf is an instant holiday classic and one of the best festive releases in recent years. When boiled down, Elf is a clever blend of familiar elements from other holiday favorites including a plot from Miracle on 34th Street, a cameo by Peter Billingsley (Ralphie from A Christmas Story), and several characters from claymation specials such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

David Berenbaum’s story follows elf2Buddy (Will Ferrell), an orphan who crawls into Santa’s (Ed Asner) sack of toys one Christmas and returns with him to the North Pole. Thankfully, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) adopts the enormous infant, who spends his days preparing toys for Christmas. Thirty years later, Buddy starts to realize he’s different when he can only assemble 85 Etch-a-Sketches a day. Papa Elf breaks the difficult truth to Buddy, who then travels to New York City to find his father (James Caan), a “naughty list” scrooge and failing publisher of children’s books. In the spirit of Miracle on 34th Street, Buddy lands a job at Gimbel’s and must restore the waning Christmas spirit.

While Ferrell is a comedic delight as Buddy, his film résumé tragically indicates the SNL alum is often typecast into a tired formula. Typically he stars as an eccentric professional, who used to be on top of his game, but has since fallen off the charts and must face his inner demons to return to his former glory. Elf, thankfully, sways from that formula and shows what Ferrell can accomplish when he’s given a chance to shine. Ferrell’s genuinely innocent portrayal reminds us of Tom Hanks’ wonderful turn in Big.

Buddy is a delightful character, who elf3kids and parents alike will surely enjoy. Take, for instance, his 17-second belch, his reaction to a showering girl, chowing down free gum, hitting a kid in the face with a snowball, or placing the star on the tree. He’s the kind of person who sings all the time, gives everyone hugs, subsists on a diet of sugar and cotton balls, sleeps 40 minutes a night, and enjoys snow activities and tickle fighting. In familiar Ferrell fashion, there’s also loads of repeatable lines such as, “You sit on a throne of lies,” “I like to smile; smiling’s my favorite,” “I’m sorry I ruined your lives and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR,” and “You smell like beef and cheese, you don’t smell like Santa.” When he visits the human world for the first time, Ferrell reacts to such foreign items as escalators, revolving doors, toilets, taxis, or loudspeakers in a way that you’d expect of any child. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just asked Ferrell to improvise these priceless moments, while letting the cameras role.

Unfortunately Buddy’s character carries such appeal that other wonderful characters played by Zooey Deschanel (as a love interest), Amy Sedaris (as a secretary), Andy Richter and Kyle Gass (as children’s book authors) receive relatively short screen time. Directed by comedic actor Jon Favreau (the Iron Man director who also has a cameo as a doctor), this film takes place in a cynical world where the number of scrooges is ever-increasing and Santa’s role is rapidly diminishing. But Elf reminds us once again what’s really important.

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