Written by Marisa Carpico
Elf Plot Summary:
When an orphaned child crawls into Santa’s (Edward Asner) bag of toys and accidentally gets taken back to the North Pole, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) offers to raise him. Buddy (Will Ferrell) grows up believing he’s an elf until he overhears some idle gossip and Santa tells him that he is a human and his father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), is still alive. Unfortunately, he’s also on the Naughty List and Buddy sets off to find him in New York City hoping to reconnect and maybe give him a little Christmas spirit in the process.
Despite being only 11-years-old, Elf feels older—not in a bad way. It was designed to feel like a classic Christmas film and it does, at once familiar and comforting even on first viewing. Whether it’s the Rankin/Bass-esque animals that populate the North Pole or the choice to include the now defunct Gimbal’s as the department store Buddy works at instead of the equally iconic Macy’s, there’s something old-fashioned about it.
Part of that is because it steals a few elements from great Christmas movies past: a curmudgeonly character who needs to be saved like A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge or the titular green monster in How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, a plea for more Christmas spirit of A Miracle on 34th St., even Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’s underdog story. The most important similarity, though, is outlook.
The thing that defines most Christmas movies is that they have an unflappable optimism, they operate on the belief that everyone can be redeemed. Buddy is the embodiment of that idea. He finds an un-jaded joy in everything and it’s infectious when it should be annoying. When he sees a sign reading “World’s Best Coffee” outside of a NYC lunch counter, he runs in to congratulate the befuddled staff on their achievement. When he hears that people believe a child’s parents deliver presents on Christmas Eve and not Santa, he can’t even fathom it. He is childlike wonder personified and seeing the over-6′ Will Ferrell act that out makes even the simplest gags hilarious.
I must have seen this movie a dozen times now, but I still crack up every time Buddy screams, “Santaaaa! Oh my God!” when the Gimbal’s manager announces he will come to the store the next day. Ditto the scene where Buddy burps for a full 30 seconds straight and then says, “Did you hear that?” as if anyone at the dinner table could have missed it. So simple, so stupid, but inescapably funny—which is kind of the point. Buddy does the same thing to all the characters. He makes being jaded or bored impossible. Every adult in the movie–maybe with the exception of Mary Steenburgen as Walter’s very understanding wife–is a modern, grumpy New Yorker and Buddy wins them all over. They’re charmed by him no matter how hard they try to resist or how ridiculous they know he is. You would have to be quite a Grinch, indeed, to resist Elf’s charms.