ELF (2003)

Movie Info

Movie Notes

Much is being made of the 20th Anniversary of the delightful film ELF, so I am bringing it up from VP’s archives. This review originally appeared in the Dec. 2003 issue, which precedes the issues available on this site. There are two other good films that came out 20 years ago, Love Actually and Pieces of April, so look for reviews of them also.

Movie Info

Jon Favreau
Run Time
1 hour and 37 minutes

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★★5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."

            Mark 10:15

Buddy (Will Ferrell) thinks he is an elf, having been raised at Santa’s North Pole headquarters by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). True, it seems strange that he has grown to twice the size of Papa and the other elves, but you know how hormones can get out of control. Finally the time comes when Papa must take the young man on his knee and tell him the facts of life (actually, Papa has to sit in Buddy’s lap): Buddy is not an elf, but a human baby who had apparently crawled into Santa’s sleigh one Christmas Eve and had not been discovered until his return to the North Pole. There was nothing to do but raise the infant as one of the elves. Armed with the knowledge that his human father lives somewhere in New York City, Buddy sets out for a family reunion. Manhattan is just the place for the young Innocent Abroad to demonstrate how naïve he can be in this fish out of water tale.

Walter, head of a children’s publishing firm, is Dad (James Caan), and he is definitely not pleased when a young guy in a green doublet, yellow tights and a pointy hat barges into the office and claims to be his long-lost son. At his home, however (a DNA test proving that Buddy is indeed of his flesh), wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) proves to be a good candidate for sainthood by accepting with equanimity both the shocking news about an unknown son and Buddy himself. There follows a series of events that include Buddy working for a brief time in Santa land at Gimble’s, where he meets Santa helper Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), and of course is very attracted to her. She, along with everyone else who encounters the strangely attired man, thinks he is goofy in claiming to be from the North Pole, and when he calls the hired Santa (who has an affinity for booze—don’t they all in these films?) a fake, he is quickly fired by the pompous head of the toy department.

There is also a crazy moment when Buddy sits in on a meeting of Dad and his board with a temperamental author whom they must placate if they are to bring their book firm out of its doldrums. The author is a dwarf, played by Peter Dinklage, the star so charming in The Station Agent. When Buddy sees him, he thinks he has found a “fellow” elf. The author, extremely height conscious, thinking that Buddy is mocking him, reacts angrily, so when Buddy calls him “an angry dwarf,” the little guy jumps onto the conference table and charges down to Buddy’s end, literally kicking our hero out the door.

The climax of the film is a bit like that of Peter Pan, with Santa (Ed Asner) landing in Central Park because his reindeer and sleigh have run out of power, there being not enough people who believe in him and Christmas anymore. (Can we discern a hint of Mark 6:5-6— “And he could do no mighty work there”—here? Certainly, Buddy’s loving, innocent character makes one think of Jesus’ words about a disciple becoming “like a child” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven.)  How Buddy saves the day in the face of the sophisticated cynicism of the city will leave you feeling a bit more hopeful during this season in which crass commercialism seems to reign. It is too early to say that director Jon Favreau and writer David Berenbaum’s film will become a Christmas classic, but I will not be at all surprised next year to see the film playing on cable and TV and being promoted in video stores.


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