Fifteen years ago, New Line Cinema released a new Christmas film into theaters. The movie told the story of a young man named Buddy, a human raised by elves at the North Pole. I was fortunate enough to see the film in theaters that December.
Little did I know, I’d be seeing a film that would become a modern Christmas classic, and also, my personal favorite Christmas movie. This movie was Elf, starring comedic talent Will Ferrell and directed by Jon Favreau, the man currently working on the upcoming Lion King remake.
But what exactly is it about Elf that makes it the best Christmas movie? Well, let’s take a look and find out.
The story begins by introducing the viewers to sitcom legend Bob Newhart (in the first of many perfect casting choices) as Papa Elf, Buddy’s adoptive elf father. You see, buddy’s mother put him in an orphanage as a baby, and later passed away. And his real dad Walter (James Caan) never knew he existed.
One Christmas Eve when Buddy was a baby in the orphanage, he crawled into the bag of Santa (Ed Asner in another perfect casting choice). Santa accidentally took him back to the North Pole without knowing where he came from. So everyone at the North Pole decided to keep Buddy there and raise him as an elf.
Buddy grows up and has some trouble living as an elf. You see, his physical human traits make him an outsider at the North Pole. But when he later returns human world, his elf-like personality makes him a bit of an outsider there as well.
Papa Elf eventually tells Buddy that he is a human and sends him off to New York City to find his real dad. This is the point where the movie becomes a great comedy film through the use of the classic fish out of water story. Buddy is naive about how the human world works. And he’s definitely challenged in a place as fast-paced as New York City.
SNL alum Will Ferrell absolutely nails this role. The childlike enthusiasm he gives to Buddy makes him a treat to watch. You can tell he had a ton of fun playing this part. And his comedic delivery is really on point. Honestly, he should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination. Yes, he’s that good.
Buddy then meets his dad Walter, who is unfortunately on Santa’s naughty list. Now, Walter is a bit of a Hollywood character cliche. He’s the grumpy guy who doesn’t like a lot of people. He needs to learn to lighten up, be nicer and get into the holiday spirit. But there’s a little more to him than that.
Walter is not a terrible person. But you can tell his job has brought out the bad side of his personality. His character is not one-dimensional. He has moments throughout the movie where he is a decent guy. And surprisingly, he shows some real patience with Buddy at times, despite finding him incredibly annoying. For the most part, his character felt genuine.
Then there’s the love interest Jovie, played by the lovely and talented Zooey Deschanel. She’s a bit of a grump at first as well, but it doesn’t take too long for Buddy to bring out her nice side. He just has a way of winning people over. And the scene later in the film where the two of them go on their first date is the definition of charming.
Buddy is somewhat of a complex character too. Once again, he has the childlike innocence where he’s basically a little kid in an adult’s body. He’s very kind but can also be tough when necessary. And he can occasionally feel shame when he needs to. He also has certain talents and skills that impress the humans around him.
Elf is a movie I watch every single year around Christmas. I mean, what’s a better movie to get you into the Christmas spirit than a movie that’s literally all about spreading Christmas cheer?
Favreau does a great job with adding a holiday vibe to this movie. Everything from the music to the sets and the costumes do an excellent job at giving the viewer that wholesome feeling we all desire this time of year.
Even early in the movie, we have the scenes that take place at the North Pole, filled with references to the classic special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
But what also makes this movie a Christmas classic is the heart. The best example of this is the scene towards the end where, spoilers, Walter goes through his redemption. Caan does a great job with the acting here and it really just warms your heart.
Then there’s the second-to-last scene in the movie, where everybody has to come together to help out Buddy and save Christmas. It’s a great scene that will likely help you get in the spirit of holiday. And the last moment of this scene is absolute perfection. Everything from the editing to the music is all done flawlessly.
This movie isn’t perfect. It definitely has its share of cliches. And at times it perhaps comes off as a little inappropriate for its family audience. I definitely wouldn’t show this movie to really young kids. Maybe wait until they’re at least 7 or 8 years old.
But overall, I think it’s great and consider it essential viewing this time of year. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out.