“Elf” debuted in 2003 to rave reviews, and saw Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell assume a decidedly non-Will Ferrell role. Ok, so there were sparse moments of crude humor, but overall Jon Favreau’s adorable Christmas tale presents a drastic departure from typical Ferrell humor, while delivering a bundle of laughs. It’s comedic, sweet, and highly quotable.
A small baby at an orphanage crawls into jolly Santa Claus’s (Ed Asner) sack of toys, and unbeknownst to Santa, the child makes the return trip to the North Pole. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) offers to care for the wee lad, who sprouts into Buddy (Will Ferrell). The human child grows into a tall, lanky adult, but he’s reared as an elf. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite fit in physically, or developmentally, lacking the proper toy-making skills. Due to his evolution into adulthood, and decline in manufacturing, the elves locate his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), explaining that his mother gave him up for adoption, and Hobbs never knew of his son.
Buddy departs for New York City to meet his father, Walter Hobbs, who works at a big name publishing company. According to the elves, Hobbs is on the infamous Naughty List. Buddy arrives at his father’s office building in the Empire State Building, and all seemingly goes well until he name-drops his mother, Susan Wells. Hobbs kicks him out of his office, and Buddy ends up in Gimbels, where the management assumes he’s a fake elf helper for the department store’s Santa display. Walter eventually comes to the aid of his son, and gets a paternity test from a doctor (Jon Favreau). When it comes back positive, Hobbs brings his new son home to meet his family, stepmother Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and half-brother Michael (Daniel Tay).
The plot of “Elf” is unabashedly predictable, but the Christmas comedy is incredibly endearing. It’s a tale about fitting in, holiday cheer, and family. Buddy the elf is charmingly out of place, a child in a man’s body. His innocent charm helps him win over Gimbels employee Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). Deschanel and Ferrell share a lovely dysfunctional chemistry, with one partner being essentially a kid and the other painfully shy. Walter Hobbs is perfectly cast as the constantly perturbed Scrooge who plays prominently into the Christmas miracle.
Possibly the most enjoyable aspect of “Elf” derives from the familial message. The Hobbs clan is by no means perfect. Similarly, the smiling, pristine Christmas card stock family with matching sweaters is a façade. Nonetheless, the Hobbs’ are family, and despite their differences, they function through their dysfunction. Jon Favreau’s delightful holiday film is a sweet Christmas romp, and refreshing Will Ferrell flick, sure to infuse even the most crotchety bah humbuggers with a hearty dose of cheer.