Published in the December 2003 AAMC Courier
For the past 10 years, at least, I’ve been going to the theaters during the holiday season, hoping to see a movie that recaptures the Christmas spirit I saw in films when I was a child. Needless to say, I’ve had none such luck. Lately, it seems that Hollywood no longer views Christmas as a time of good-natured cheer and family togetherness.
Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both Harry Potter and both Lord of the Rings movies (as have many of you) they just don’t fit into the mold of what I grew up expecting from a holiday-time movie. But, this year is different. This year, I met Buddy.
Buddy, played by former Saturday Night Live cast member Will Ferrell, is the central character of director Jon Favreau’s latest movie Elf. As an orphan who mistakenly climbs into Santa’s toy sack years ago, Buddy grows up in the North Pole, and despite his enormous size for an elf, epitomizes the warmth and good-cheer we expect from Santa’s little helpers.
Perhaps best known for his striking impressions of President George W. Bush or his antics as Craig, the awkward, sweaty Spartan cheerleader, Ferrell manages to portray a beautiful child-lie innocence as his character travels via iceberg to New York City in search of hi birth father, Walter, played by James Caan. Caan is also well cast as a hardened book publicist, neglectful of his other young son Michael and none-too-thrilled with the prospect of bringing the “elf” he never knew existed into his life.
At first glance, you may roll your eyes and groan, thinking this is another sappy, syrupy-sweet flick (though Buddy puts syrup on everything — including spaghetti) that runs the formula for a warn-hearted Christmas movie into the ground. But, it’s just not so. Ferrell’s grown-up spin on childish humor and the fact that we’re not left to languish on any sentimental moments sweeps both you and the movie along.
Overall, though, the main draw of Elf is its child-friendly qualities. Though some mild crude language is interspersed in the dialogue and some toilet humor is included, the “offenses” are so minor that they almost slip right by you without even being noticed. Of course, if you have small children, you might want to think about for how many days they would find a very long, loud belch hysterical.
The humor in this movie is simple. Buddy has never been in human society before, so he’s astounded by everything — cars, the tall buildings, revolving doors and even a coffee shop’s claim that it serves the “World’s Best Cup of Coffee.” Simple of not, Ferrell brings the humor alive on the screen in a way that is fun (and funny) for both kids and adults alike.
Other than cartoon-type trips, falls and scuffles, there is no violence to speak of in this film. There is no gore, and the closest we get to bloodshed is the finger-prick Buddy undergoes to have a DNA test in the doctor’s office. There is also no home for sexual content in this movie. Buddy meets his love interest Jovie, an elf at the department store Gimbel’s where Buddy accidentally lands a job. We see one innocent kiss in the movie — and you can count on hearing no overt sexual innuendo.
Now, don’t get me wrong, no movie is perfect. This one, despite its “feel-good” qualities does ask you to stretch the outer boundaries of your imagination a bit. Truly, what is the likelihood that an elf, who ultimately ends up saving Christmas could safely make his way to the Bi Apple on an iceberg? Is it possible for a human to survive on a diet of confections and still look not-so-bad in green tights? Favreau asks you to take a leap of faith to believe that Walter’s wife (Mary Steenburgen) would so gladly take in her husband’s illegitimate son and treat him as her own. But, for this movie, it seems to work, if for no other reason than you want it to.
Ferrell and Favreau prove that you don’t need curse words or suggestive dialogue to entertain and transport your audience for an hour and a half. It can be done with a kind-hearted storyline and a sincere desire to recapture the wonderment you felt as a child during the Christmas season. Amidst the other epic tales on the big screen this year, those that depict war or struggles between good and evil or even those that strive to thrill rated-R audiences, Elf will assuredly be the bright, shining star. You can take your family to this movie and walk away smiling and feeling good about everything — I did.