Elf (2003)



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Elf is eighteen years old and long ago became a beloved holiday classic for many. Elf was Jon Favreau’s second feature film and elevated his status enough that he became the first director in the Marvel Cinematic Universe with 2008’s Iron Man. Will Ferrell stars as Buddy the Elf on a journey to find his birth father. He crawled into Santa’s toy sack from his orphanage and was raised in the North Pole as an Elf, despite being three times their size.


Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie, a department store elf. James Caan plays Walter, Buddy’s father, and Mary Steenburgen plays Emily, Walter’s wife, and Buddy’s stepmother. Most Santa-focused holiday films focus on the innocence and wonder in a child, but Elf maps that into a grown adult. Buddy’s upbringing and isolation allow for an easily believable child-like performance. This is contrasted by the loss of wonder worldwide to the point that Santa needs a jet engine to assist his sleigh. It is more pointedly focused on Walter’s loss of a sense of familial obligation and Jovie’s jaded view of the world that keeps punching down on her.


There are a lot of funny jokes that hold up around the holidays. In a call back to films of yore, there are lots of physical comedy bits too; slapstick humor is too few and far between for my taste the last few decades. It is nearly impossible to not be put into a better mood by this film. It is the kind of thing that you would pause on and lose a half-hour as you were channel surfing because you can pick it up anywhere along the way.


The messaging is age-old and focused on family making time for each other around the holidays. It is a good message that bears repeating even if it feels too common; family is more important than work. They can help relieve stress, make you happier, and even lead to more productivity. Jovie and Buddy’s relationship is layered on top of starting a new family. The world can feel like a cruel place when you are alone, but when two people team up they can conquer a lot more. The strengths and weaknesses in a couple can offset each other and lead to happier lives for both. It is impossible not to do a little self-reflection when you watch this film.


Jon Favreau is a stalworth in Hollywood and hit his stride early in his career. He harnessed the seemingly endless energy of Will Ferrell to perfection. He forced Zoey Deschanel out of her typical character by the end of the film. The story may be simple but sometimes that is what you want, especially around the holidays which can be stressful. Like it or not, this film will make you appreciate your family during one of the toughest times for most of us. This is a Christmas Classic for a reason, and it is deserved.

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