Synopsis: Once upon a Christmas Eve, an orphan baby crawled into Santa’s bag of gifts and was taken to the North Pole. Raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), Buddy (Will Ferrell) comes to realize he doesn’t fit in with the other elves. Determined to find a place where he belongs, Buddy searches for his real dad – in New York City!

In the Big Apple, Buddy finds out why his dad (James Caan) is on the Naughty list! But most importantly, he sees that the world is seriously lacking in Christmas spirit. Which causes Santa all kinds of problems!

So with the help of a beautiful department store elf (Zooey Deschanel), Buddy tries to teach his dad and the world the true meaning of Christmas spirit and to prove to everyone that Santa (Ed Asner) really exists!


Elf 6.5

eyelights: its secondary cast. its core conceit.
eyesores: its main cast. its simple-minded writing. its lame gags. its crummy CGI. its terrible sets. its awful editing.

“Son of a Nutcracker!”

I wish I understood the appeal of ‘Elf’. The picture, which was released in 2003, was not only a surprising hit (garnering 200 million on a 30 million budget), but it has grown a following through the years. Even some of my friends with more discerning tastes enjoy this picture.

And I can’t figure out why.

It tells the story of Buddy, a human who was raised by Santa’s elves and who one day discovers he’s not one of them. He decides to track down his real father, who is not aware of his existence. The picture revolves around his attempts to win over his dad, who’s on Santa’s naughty list.

Frankly, I just can’t do it.

Firstly, it stars Will Ferrell as Buddy. Ferrell is such a terrible actor that he’s managed to spoil ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, an otherwise excellent film, and utterly devastated ‘Melinda and Melinda’, one of Woody Allen’s lesser comedies. Ferrell is incapable of a single genuine moment.

He can’t even manage to be sweet and naive: instead, he either goes for a vacant look, or grins creepily while googling his eyes. It’s like he doesn’t know how to emote. Even the way he speaks is unrealistic, turning in more of a whine than a proper affectation. It’s really f-ing grating.

Maybe Jim Carrey would have pulled it off, had he taken the part ten years earlier!

Then there’s the casting of James Caan as Walter Hobbs, a moody children’s book publisher. Caan would seem like the right person for the part of someone gruff, but he’s also not a stellar actor. Pair him up with Ferrell in any scene and there’s not one convincing moment between them.

Of course, the script doesn’t help: ‘Elf’ was clearly written for pre-teen children, an audience that doesn’t have much of a critical perspective. The plot is simplistic, the gags are soft and unoriginal, and much of it doesn’t hold up to any form of scrutiny – even though it’s a fantasy.

For instance,

  • Does it make sense that Buddy would be the only child in the whole ward of his orphanage?


  • Does it make sense that he’d be able to take down the bars of his crib, climb down and get into Santa’s bag if he’s not even old enough to walk?


  • Does it make sense that Santa wouldn’t notice until her returns to the North Pole?


  • Does it make sense that Santa would keep the child instead of simply returning him to the orphanage?


  • Does it make sense that the elves raised a human child given that he’d be four times their size and not fit anywhere?


  • Does it make sense that Buddy would only eat candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup for 30 years?


  • Does it make sense that Santa and the elves would lie to him all this time so that he believes he’s one of them?


  • Does it make sense that he would walk all the way to New York from the North Pole and not get frostbite or get lost?


  • Does it make sense that he would be hired by Grimbles even though he has no papers?


  • Does it make sense that he’d befriend Jovie, a jaded employee at Grimbles?


  • Does it make sense that he’d be allowed to stay alone overnight to prepare the store for Santa’s arrival?


  • Does it make sense that the store would actually have showers in their changing rooms?


  • Does it make sense that Walter would bail him out after he’s arrested for assaulting Grimbles’ Santa?


  • Does it make sense that curmudgeonly Walter would take Buddy home with him (even though they’re related – they’re total strangers)?


  • Does it make sense that he would only tell his spouse, Emily, on the way into their apartment?


  • Does it make sense that Buddy can fight off bullies with super-snowball throwing powers, being a human?


  • Does it make sense that Jovie would agree to a date with Buddy after his creepy delivery?


  • Does it make sense that Walter takes Buddy to work because he and Emily agree he can’t be left alone?


  • Does it make sense that Buddy gets drunk in the mailroom because he confuses maple syrup and alcohol?


  • Does it make sense that Jovie is charmed by Buddy acting all creepy on their date?


  • Does it make sense that Buddy or Daniel can just walk in on their dad’s business meetings?


  • Does it make sense that Walter would suddenly choose his son over his career without hesitation?


  • Does it make sense that Santa’s sleigh happens to break down over New York City?


  • Does it make sense that Buddy and Walter and Daniel all happen to separately be there to help?


  • Does it make sense that Daniel would bring Santa’s list to the media and that just reading it makes a difference?


  • Does it make sense that Jovie and Emily would actually find them in the large crowd and chaos?


  • Does it make sense that Jovie would start singing and that the whole crowd would be won over?


And even if that can be ignored, how can we believe that he would try to find his dad, but not his mom? But, then again, this is a macho film with no female elves, with the only women in the picture mostly reacting to men instead of having their own personalities. Forget Buddy’s mom.

Naturally, Buddy wins everyone over with time, including Walter, but we never really understand why. We see what he does to charm them, but it usually defies the characters’ core personalities. Walter is an @$$hole, and there’s little chance Buddy’s simpleton routine would soften him up.

It would actually get on his nerves.

But it doesn’t here.

The picture’s brand of humour is Walter telling Buddy that he’ll need to lose the elf costume and, after telling him to lose the pants now, he takes them off and shocks Emily as she walks into the kitchen. Or he downs a complete 2 liter of Coca Cola and then proceeds to belch for 12 seconds.


Le sigh…

Even the production is dumfoundingly crappy. The North Pole sets look like complete garbage: Frankly, the ones from ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer‘ (on which these ones were actually based) looked more realistic – and they were designed in the ’60s for a stop-motion animated short!

Even the CGI is of a much lower grade than the year they were made in, so poor that stop-motion would have been better. And the editing of Buddy’s pratfalls was so unbelievably bad that you could always tell when the director cut between Ferrell and his stand-in and/or stuntman.

It hurt my eyes.

At least the secondary cast was decent enough, with Ed Asner playing an okay Santa, Bob Newhart doing an okay job as an elf (though he looks unhappy to be there), Peter Dinklage turning in a terrific performance as Miles Finch and Andy Richter and Kyle Gass were fun as Walter’s assistant.

Sadly, Mary Steenburgen is wasted as Emily, and Zooey Deschanel is so numbed-faced that you wonder if she’d been shot by a stungun. Otherwise, the cast is decent. Which is all I’ve got to give to ‘Elf’, a simple-minded, incredibly artificial picture that completely failed to win me over.

Bah humbug!

Date of viewing: December 25, 2016


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s