Brief Review: Elf (2003)

Part #4 of the 2017 Christmas Countdown.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in this charming Christmas comedy.  Ferrell is at his awkwardly hilarious best as Buddy, an “elf” who is going through something of an identity crisis.

One Christmas Eve during Santa Claus’s visit to an orphanage, a baby boy crawls into his sack and is accidentally whisked away to the North Pole.  Rather than return the boy, Santa’s elves adopt him, name him “Buddy” and raise him as one of their own.

After nearly thirty years of being different to all of the other elves, Buddy finally learns that he is not one of them, so he sets off on a journey to find his real parents.  The journey leads him to New York City, and there he finds his biological father Walter (James Caan).  Walter isn’t the friendliest of characters, however, and he’s reluctant to accept Buddy’s true parentage.

Watching Will Ferrell pretend to be a man-sized child is surprisingly fun.  He handles the innocence, the high energy and the fish-out-of-water awkwardness with remarkable ease.  So good is Ferrell that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the role.

James Caan turns in a predictably fine performance as Buddy’s bewildered dad.  Walter clearly had no prior knowledge of Buddy’s existence, and it takes him a while – as well as a blood test – to finally accept that he really is Buddy’s father.  It’s a solid turn that anchors Buddy’s fantastical character in reality.  Caan lends credence to Walter’s transition from initial rejection to begrudgingly accepting this strange man into his family’s life.

Elf is a hugely entertaining festive comedy with an infectious energy and innocence to it.  It’s a charming story held together by two fine performances and boasts a supporting cast who are clearly enjoying the ride.  Essential Christmas viewing.


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