Elf is probably the perfect all-round Christmas film: humour that appeals to both adults and children, nostalgic sentimentality, stop-motion animation, an abundance of Christmas songs, a loveable lead, an angry dwarf and Zooey Deschanel in the shower. Released in 2003, Elf has gone on to be a Christmas classic, featuring on TV runs year after year.
Will Ferrell is perfect as Buddy the Elf, a human raised by Santa’s elves after sneaking into his sack from an orphanage when just a baby. Quickly outgrowing the small spaces designed only for the little elves and constantly taunted by his peers, Buddy decides to set out on an adventure into the real world to find his biological Father. As can only be expected, Buddy’s overbearing passion for Christmas and his sense of dress clash with the alien world he finds himself in, with only hilarious results.
Elf is the kind of kids film that really speaks to adults. Buddy is a man-child, raised by elves at Santa’s workshop on a diet of hot chocolate and cookies, candy canes and marshmallows: everything a kid can only dream of eating for tea, he scoffed everyday. When thrown into the real world full of cynicism and bah-humbug misery, Buddy is a bright beacon of child-like enthusiasm, Christmas spirit and of faith in the big fat man in red. Not only does this speak to the characters in the film who are misers, cynics and neglecting of others but also it kind of speaks to us as adults, reminding us of the enthusiasm and the blind faith we had when we were children.
James Caan’s character Walter Hobbs embodies this perfectly. Struggling with the idea that a man dressed as an elf might be his biological son, he is also neglecting his own younger son in place of work, trying to meet impossible demands in place of quality time with his son. Through Buddy and through this fantastical story, Walter is able to reconnect with his inner child and discover the magic of Christmas.
And that is what Christmas films are all about: they appeal to children but they also appeal to our inner child and there’s no better grown-up child than Buddy, the enthusiastic man-child we all secretly want to be. Whether its his teenage heart fumbling with feelings for Zooey Deschanel’s Jovie, his bursting enthusiasm for Santa’s imminent arrival at the department store or his approach to the fake Santa (“You sit on a throne of lies!”), his comedic and innocent interaction with Peter Dinklage’s writer or his ability to bring his long-lost family together through sheer Christmas spirit, Buddy is our hero and the reason why this film works so well.
“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for everyone to hear.” The final scene of the film is entertaining, comedic and heart-warming. Everyone’s inner child simply bursts with happiness as Jovie starts the New York crowd singing in order to fire up Santa’s sleigh, powered by Christmas spirit, that has crashed into Central Park. Buddy’s half-brother Michael reads from Santa’s list, cementing the faith of all in the crowd and watching on screen (some with hilarious results). And as the film ties together the rest of the story into a fitting and remarkable Christmas film.
Like all great Christmas films, this story is timeless. It will forever appeal to audiences because of its familiarity, nostalgia and relatable comedy. A sequel would only ruin the unique take on the Christmas genre this film has, and the unusual appeal of such identifiable characters. With impressive special effects, beautiful colours, great songs and impeccable performances, Elf is most certainly a Christmas classic.
TOMORROW: The Christmas Special