Weekend Review – “Elf”

This year’s Christmas review is based on a relatively recent holiday film.

Cast and Crew Information

Will Ferrell as Buddy
James Caan as Walter Hobbs
Bob Newhart as Papa Elf
Ed Asner as Santa
Mary Steenburgen as Emily
Zooey Deschanel as Jovie
Daniel Tay as Michael

Transportation Co-captain: Kevin Flynn. (Why am I suddenly picturing Jon Favreau on a light cycle?)
Written by David Berenbaum
Directed by Jon Favreau


A human child is raised at the North Pole as an elf. He doesn’t quite fit in, and comes to New York to meet his biological father. Hijinx ensue.

High Point

Bob Newhart. Pick any of his scenes.

Low Point

I raved about Will Ferrell’s work in Stranger Than Fiction, saying that “Ferrell has some serious dramatic chops, and doesn’t feel obligated to revert to his traditional comedic stylings just because it’s what he’s known for. He’s working opposite some great thespians, and he more than holds his own.” This is not that Will Ferrell. This is the overdone, extreme slapstick, completely unbelievable Will Ferrell most people know.

The Review

This is more original than some Christmas specials. We’ve seen the “Santa’s real, bring on Christmas spirit” and the “fish out of water” tropes repeatedly, but they are at least used effectively here. It delivers what people would be looking for based on the trailers. I give it 4 out of 6.

The effects are really in two categories. The size variation effects are well done, with some nice sight line alignments during the classroom scenes. The flying scenes at the end are pretty poor, even if they are short. I give it 4 out of 6.

The story is minimal, and has logical inconsistencies. Buddy comes to town, and (spoiler!) revives the Christmas spirit in those around him. I’m just not sure how he managed to do that in some cases. The plot hinges entirely on an endearing, likeable lead character. That’s not the way I see Will Ferrell in his typical roles, so I had a hard time seeing it. Not to mention the problems with strapping a jet turbine onto a sleigh with soft reigns leading the reindeer and turning it on… I give it 3 out of 6.

The acting from those around Ferrell is actually pretty good. Bob Newhart makes every scene he’s in. The acting from Ferrell himself is, I’m sure, exactly what the studio wanted from him when they signed him up. I look at him and see John Ritter, only with less visible talent. Unfortunately, the entire movie hinges on Ferrell’s performance. I give it 3 out of 6.

The production is relatively weak. You can see glimpses of the work that would later come from Favreau in Iron Man, but at this stage, the movie’s inability to take itself seriously cripples the production. The uniform comedy lighting and drawn out gags just ruin it for me. I give it 3 out of 6.

The emotional response was pretty poor. Don’t get me wrong; I laughed a few times. In fact, three times. In a movie that’s trying to make you laugh about three times a minute. That’s not good. Your mileage may vary; this is typical Will Ferrell stuff, so expect to react to it the way you react to typical Will Ferrell stuff. I give it 2 out of 6.

Overall, it’s not horrible. It has a very specific market, and it’ll hit that market well. The rest of us will be less enthused. I give it 3 out of 6.

In total, Elf receives 22 out of 42.

4 replies on “Weekend Review – “Elf””

  1. My wife, bless her gentle soul, loves this movie and runs it as background TV every season. Including this one. I think it’s kinda creepy in a couple o places, like the singing scene outside the women’s showers, but of course the whole point of THAT is to prove BUDDY’S innocence. I musta missed the scene where BUFFY comes to town and kicks vampire butt to protect the elf population from assisted ensanguination. Perhaps that scene was supposed to be in Elf 2, in which Ferrell turned down $29 million to reprise his role as Buddy. I kid you not.

  2. Call me crazy, but I do really like this movie. It ranks up there with The Santa Clause as one of my all time favorite holiday films. Of course, as stated in the review, Farrell is MUCH better in Stranger Than Fiction, but this is a much different type of movie than that.

    Besides, Farrell is not as over the top in this as he is as Ricky Bobby! So that’s a plus. :-)

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