Big Holiday Surprise
Will Ferrell usually makes us laugh by squeezing every ounce of humor out of each character he plays. Sometimes, as in Old School, it's not a pretty sight. For his role in Elf, however, Ferrell reaches for innocence and vulnerability as well as humor. The result? An endearing comic performance designed to please moviegoers of all ages.
For thirty years, Buddy (Ferrell) thought he was an elf. As a baby left in an orphanage, he stowed away in Santa's (Ed Asner) bag of toys one Christmas Eve and ended up at the North Pole. Raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), Buddy soon outgrew everything in sight and was given simple assignments because of his "special" nature. After finding out he's human and not a true elf, Buddy goes to New York City to find his real father (James Caan).
Forming a relationship with a dad who's on Santa's "naughty" list presents challenges for Buddy, but he persists. Because of his sweet personality, he wins important allies -- such as his half-brother (Daniel Tay), his father's wife (Mary Steenburgen) and a luminous toy department clerk (Zooey Deschanel) who shows an "affinity for elfin culture." He even surprises Santa by helping to save Christmas.
But, hey, the plot of this fantasy isn't important. It's Ferrell's uncanny ability to project an all-consuming Christmas joy that carries the day. I found myself believing that Buddy would, of course, spend an entire night festooning a toy department with paper snowflakes and streamers and cotton snow in order to turn it into a glorious holiday display. (It's so beautiful the manager thinks a professional decorator has been brought in by his supervisors.) With his charming smile and sense of wonder at everything he sees, Ferrell's Buddy won me over completely. He's good. He's very good. He almost persuaded me to do my Christmas shopping early this year.
And I've been humming "Baby, It's Cold Outside" ever since leaving the theater. Ferrell and Deschanel (Big Trouble) do a poignant duet of that number in one of the movie's best scenes. I guess Buddy knows the lyrics because it's about snow -- he LOVES snow, especially snowball fights. Other musical delights here include "You Make Me Feel So Young" and the children's holiday favorite, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."
Elf, directed by Jon Favreau (Made) and written by newcomer David Berenbaum, may be a family fantasy flick, but it also contains an extremely well-filmed and exciting chase. With its stirring background music, thundering horses and near misses, the sequence featuring New York's Central Park Rangers trying to catch Santa and his reindeer roars across the screen like something out of an action/thriller. Nevertheless, it works perfectly here.
Giant candy canes, huge Christmas trees, a talking snow man and a New York winter wonderland add to the film's cinematic cheer. I'm betting Elf could convert even the grumpiest Scrooge.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated "PG-13" for some mild rude humor and language.)