It’s the Christmas season again and time to review another classic Christmas comedy. Director Jon Favreau, best known for directing the “Iron Man” movies, brings us the 2003 motion picture simply titled “Elf”. It’s actually quite rare for a Christmas comedy from the 2000’s to stand the test of time as a holiday classic. Most of them like “Fred Claus” and “Eight Crazy Nights” just crash and burn. I’ll be honest, while I do like this movie, I certainly wouldn’t call it one of the best Christmas movies I’ve ever seen. There are some problems that way it down, but it still has its charms and it certainly has it's laughs. So to kick off my Christmas posts for 2013, lets look at this early 2000's comedy and see what either works or doesn't.
The plot goes like this, one Christmas Eve a baby accidentally stows away in Santa’s bag and is whisked off to the North Pole. This baby was already an orphan, so one of Santa’s elf’s decides to take him in as a son and names him Body. As you’d expect, this guy doesn’t fit in with the other elves and longs to learn who his real family is. Once he discovers that his father is alive, and working in New York city, so he sets out determined to meet him. But there’s a catch, his dad is on the knotty list, now nothing will stop Body from bringing holiday cheer and family togetherness to him. I like this premise a lot, but the way this story is told can feel very corny, and the jokes come off as hit or miss.
Before I get into all of that, let’s talk about the absolute best thing this movie has to offer ... and that's Will Ferrell as Body the elf. Holly smokes, how could you not love this guy? This was actually Will Ferrell’s very first movie after he left “Saturday Night Live” and it’s easily one of the best performances of his carrier. He is so innocent, so energetic, so adorably naive that you can’t help but smile whenever he’s on screen. Not only is the performance fun to watch but the character himself is just wonderful. He’s so full of Christmas spirit, and is so determined that everyone else is feeling the same amount of holiday cheer. His hyper active joy is so contagious, I can't get enough of the guy. Most of his jokes are side splitting, including a laugh out loud funny montage that involves him arriving in New York city for the first time. My favorite joke by far is when he exposes a "fake Santa" for what he is. Unfortunately, I have to admit that some of his jokes are painful, most notably his jokes that involve un-healthy food. Personally, I'd like this movie so much more if they'd just remove all the gross-out food jokes.
Well, it’s a good thing that Will Ferrell is so much fun because personally, I don't think the remaining characters are that great. Their dull, boring and most of the actors feel so tiered. You may argue that some of the characters like the Dad played by James Caan are supposed to be like that, and fair enough, but then there’s Santa and the elf’s who all come off as either grouchy or boring. Now I love Ed Asner, and on some level it's great to see him in the role of a Santa. Unfortunately, despite having a great actor in the role, nothing else about this Santa ever stuck with me. Oh and there’s also a girl friend, who really doesn't amount to much more than an average girl friend. James Caan at least is good in the role of Buddy's father, but I feel like the character is all set-up with a rushed and predictable payoff. The only other credible performance aside from Will Ferrell has got to be Peter Dinklage as a children's author, and who Buddy confuses for an Elf do to his height. While Peter Dinklage is very well known now, largely thanks to "Game of Thrones", he was still mostly unknown at the time of this film, and I think this small role helped kick start his recognition.
Now being a Christmas movie, this film at least has plenty of genuine holiday charms. The opening credit scene get’s things started on a good note, with some colorful visuals, an upbeat musical score and some charming stop-motion animals that are very reminiscent of the classic Rankin Bass specials that we grew up with (and possibly suffered through). Even the North Pole is populated with stop motion animals, even a snow man character called Leon the Snowman, who's clearly inspired by Sam the Snowman from the 1964 special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". There’s also a candy cane forest, which I really wanted to see more of because that's a very imaginative setting for a Christmas movie. Unfortunately, everything else about this portrayal of the North Pole sucks. The workshop and homes are all so dull and ugly, with no color. There’s no magic in the air and it has this slightly depressing overtone. Aside from the colorful uniforms worn by the elf’s, all you get to look at are ugly white walls and white furniture, but thankfully this is only a small problem. There’s still plenty of other scenes that are worth looking forward to, including a wild snowball fight and a scene in which Buddy goes all out decorating a shopping mall for Christmas.
The only big problem I have with the movie is the ending, as I feel the whole third act of this film completely forgets about our lead elf and his family problems. Instead, we transition into this other story that involves Santa crashing in New York, and he can’t fly the sleigh because no one believes in him. There’s a group of evil park rangers that want to see Santa dead and it’s up to our supporting characters to bring Christmas cheer to everyone else. Meanwhile, our main character, who we’ve been invested in and rooting for get’s very little to do in the climax. Plus his family problems, which have been the main focus of the whole movie get resolved so fast, it makes you wonder if there was any point to the whole thing.
I give “Elf” 3 stars out of 5, which means, it’s okay.