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2003 - PG - 95 Mins.
Director: Jon Favreau
Producer: Kent Alterman
Written By: David Berenbaum
Starring: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner
Review by: Joseph Kastner
Christmas seems to be arriving earlier every year. Halloween and Thanksgiving are now the forgotten holidays as stores and businesses strum up garland and other holiday decorations in order to prepare for the hopefully fruitful shopping season ahead. The movie industry must be thinking the same thing starting this year especially after the success of last year’s The Santa Clause 2, which opened the first weekend of November to nearly $30 million. New Line offers up their pre-holiday treat entitled Elf, which features the former Saturday Night Live comedian Will Ferrell, who has recently become a new rising star in Hollywood. After the dismal first half of the year with flops like A Man Apart and The Real Cancun, the studio bounced back in the second half with Freddy vs. Jason, Secondhand Lions, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and hopes to continue the trend until their mega-success The Return of the King opens near Christmas. Can Elf do that? If it’s anything like The Santa Clause 2, it easily could but the Ferrell’s comedy faces a lot more competition then Allen’s did. Not only does the film open up against The Matrix Revolutions, the yuletide feature goes head to head with the highly publicized The Cat in the Hat and Disney’s The Haunted Mansion later this month. Until then the film will have to build up pretty good word of mouth for it to still hear cash registers ringing come Christmas Day, let alone Thanksgiving.

The story focuses a larger then usual elf who learns he is actually a human and travels to New York City to find his father. Up at the North Pole, elves are busy getting ready for Christmas but there is one elf that is learning that he doesn’t quite fit in. Buddy is not the typical elf, his large size being the biggest factor. He eventually finds out from his adoptive father that he is actually a human that as an orphan baby climbed into Santa’s gift bag one Christmas Eve and found his way to Santa’s Workshop. After learning his true origin, Buddy travels to New York City to meet his father and be part of a real family. But this is easier said then done as his father is a real Scrooge and is prominently found on the naughty list. Buddy, who has never been to the human world, is unfamiliar with many of the things we are accustomed to like revolving doors and food products that don’t include sugar. The unusually happy elf must find a way to change his father’s workaholic attitude and help his new family find the true Christmas spirit. The story for Elf, though on the predictable side especially as the feature starts to wind down, works surprisingly well. This happens mostly in part to Ferrell’s performance but there are also plenty of moments that come off as hilarious even without the lead stars

Though the feature doesn’t have an exceptionally large cast, the film doesn’t have to with some lead characters picking up any slack left over by that. Will Ferrell, who was featured earlier this year in the hit comedy Old School, once again proves he has as much comedic timing and talent as he ever did on Saturday Night Live and probably even more so. Ferrell is able to make Buddy the elf both lovable and hilarious without pushing the personality of the character too far as to make him annoying and pathetic. James Caan, who takes on the role of Buddy’s real father, has the grizzly workaholic business man down pat. The only problem lied not with Caan’s performance but the character itself in how quickly the character changed his attitude at the end without really having a change-of-heart experience. And a big highlight came from the performance of legendary comedian Bob Newhart as Buddy’s adoptive father. Newhart looks like he had a lot of fun with this role and gives a delightful performance that many will remember despite being only a supporting character rather then a lead.

Overall, Elf joins the ranks of such holiday features as The Santa Clause and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas that shows Hollywood is still able to make a yuletide classic as good as the old days. It’s the wonderful atmosphere and Will Ferrell’s exuberant performance that makes this film a delightful treat for the whole family can enjoy without one member of the family being alienated by certain material. There are relatively few complaints that can be made about comedy. The only one that is prominent in most minds would be that film tends to be bit predictable at the end of the feature but the filmmakers pull it off so well that many write it off and they should. The slightly-predictable ending shouldn’t ruin the overall amusement and delightfulness that the rest of the film presented up to that point. Ferrell’s over-the-top performance should be a decisive enough reason to venture to the local movie theater and see Elf but if you are not truly convinced, here may be a better reason: Elf will keep the children busy for an hour and a half while the parents do their Christmas shopping. Smart, huh?!
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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