As this is Holiday-Palooza, I decided to go back into my childhood and review a Christmas movie I love. However, I deliberately picked a movie I haven’t watch since I was a kid. It had to be something fresh so it could be a legitimate review and I wasn’t just relying on something I watch over and over again. I picked the modern Christmas classic, Elf.
It’s kind of surprising I haven’t re-watched Elf. I remember my younger self just adoring the movie and seeing an adult do really silly things was right up my alley. It had a lot of heart and it knew what kids love about Christmas. At least, that’s what I thought about Elf at the time. Now that I’m adult and my tastes have aged and refined, I really wondered how I would see it with grown up eyes. Well, I didn’t have to worry any longer because I did just watch Elf recently!
Elf is all about Buddy, a human boy who accidentally wound up in Santa’s Workshop after he climbed into Santa Claus’ magical sack. He is then adopted by the elves and Buddy grows up thinking he’s one of them. When he finally is an adult, he is then told the truth and he’s actually a human. The elves then tell Buddy that his biological father, a bigshot publisher of children’s books named Walter Hobbs, is on Santa’s Naughty list. Buddy then resolves to go to New York and try to get his father off the Naughty list.
While I was watching Elf again after so many years, I could feel the nostalgia waves washing all over me. The movie does have a very distinct feel of innocence in a world that should be full of cynicism. I guess, it’s like what a traditional Christmas movie should feel like. I think what does really carry this overall feel is Will Ferrell as Buddy. He does manage to give his hyperstylized performance of how a kid in an adult body would behave if he was super innocent and knew nothing about the harshness of the real world.
However, at the same time, Will Ferrell does tend to get on my nerves here. Not all the time but it’s when he goes super hyperstylized with is when he starts to grind my gears. He’s actually funny a lot of the times here, like when he mistakes a little person as an elf and him complimenting that person looks like he’s insulting him. On the other side of the coin, unfortunately, there are moments when he acts like a hyperactive manic child who ate too much sugar. The scene with him running around in a revolving door while screaming at the top of his lungs was really grating to me.
The really strange thing is, when I was a kid, I really laughed a lot at the revolving door scene because I could empathize with Buddy. It may be a simple door to you adults but, for us kids, this is like having a mini amusement as your front door! This was something I would’ve wanted to do when I was younger. Now that I’m older, this just came off as really annoying. Not to bash Will Ferrell or anything but, now that I’m an adult, his schtick here can come off as too juvenile for my current, more mature, tastes. However, based on my experience with the film as a child, it does work for little kids. So, you can say, as an adult, the humor in Elf is more hit and miss rather than the outright home run when you’re a kid.
The other performances are also pretty hit-or-miss in Elf. I do like Ed Asner as Santa Claus. He’s not exactly the most jolly of Saint Nicks on film but I do like how he’s not overly happy as that would eat away at Will Ferrell’s childlike mannerisms. I also like Bob Newhart as Papa Elf as his deadpan delivery also works as him being a straight man against Will Ferrell. James Caan is definitely a standout here as there’s a part of me that believes he’s either holding back his laughter at Will Ferrell’s antics or he’s holding back from punching him in the face for being too annoying. Frankly, it’s how I would be reacting around him. Watching James Caan trying to hold it all together was a highlight for me.
The really disappointing performance has to come from Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, Buddy’s eventual love interest. I actually forgot she was in the movie but, after seeing Elf again, I know why. Her performance here is so… blah. I know she’s supposed to be apathetic towards Christmas and the holiday spirit for most of the film. However, when we get to the climax of the movie and she’s supposed to climb out of her shell, I expected an explosion of emotion. I’ve seen her in New Girl. Watching an indifferent performance from Zooey Deschanel is not what I expected nor wanted.
The overall presentation of Elf is still pretty good. Even though almost 2 entire decades have passed, the special effects are still incredible. I love how they used things like stop motion animation to mimic the style of classic children Christmas movies when Buddy goes outside of Santa’s Workshop. It really makes it feel the people behind the scenes were doing their best to capture the nostalgic feel for this modern Christmas classic. I also love how they use a lot of practical effects to make it look like Buddy is a giant when compared to the elves.
The costume design is where things become a little iffy for me. It’s not necessarily bad but there are a few niggling things which bug me. I don’t get why Buddy’s elf outfit as well as the department store workers’ costumes are mostly green. They didn’t add a single piece of red there? That just seems wrong because it doesn’t scream Christmas without that color combination. Oh well.
The weakest part of the entire film would have to be the climax as it just comes out of nowhere. All of a sudden, you have this action scene involving Santa Claus’ downed sleigh and he’s being chased by park rangers. It just feels shoehorned in and just written in because the writers couldn’t figure a way to close the film without some action.
These shortcomings, however, aren’t enough to bring Elf down. I can see why a lot of people, kids and adults alike, see it as a modern Christmas movie classic. I personally enjoyed watching it again after all these years. There is a genuine good-hearted story here and, while some adults might find Will Ferrell’s antics irritating, children will love his overall general whimsy he put in the character. If you have kids, I say give it a watch with them. You might not be as entertained as they will be but, hey! Let them have fun with it while they find it amusing as all heck.
Have you seen Elf? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below!