Stuff I Watch in December: Elf (2003)

Happy Holidays and welcome! We are counting down the days until December 25th and, in that time, I will be reviewing each and every Christmas/holiday film I watch during the month. They’re mostly a selection of films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

Holiday Inn (1942)
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Bishop’s Wife (1947)
White Christmas (1954)
Santa Claus (1959)
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972)
Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983)
I Believe in Santa Claus (1984)
Lethal Weapon (1986)
Die Hard (1988)
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Scrooged (1988)
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Home Alone (1990)
Die Hard 2 (1990)
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (1992)
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Jingle All the Way (1996)
The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
Home Alone 3 (1997)
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999)
Olive the Other Reindeer (1999)
Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (2002)
I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown (2003)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: Elf (2003)


DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau who directed the outstanding comedy Swingers before going on to direct (and star in) the first two Iron Man films. He plays Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s driver/assistant in those films.

WHAT IS IT?: One of the best Christmas films to come out in the last decade.

THE PLOT: Back in the 1970’s, Santa Claus (Ed Asner, yet again) visits an orphanage where a baby escapes its crib and stows away inside of Santa’s toy sack, hitching a ride all the way back to the North Pole, unbeknownst to anyone. When Santa does find out about it, he decides to keep the child, dubbing him “Buddy”, and raising him with all the other elves. The problem is that Buddy (Will Ferrell) is a human being and grows as such, taller and stronger than every elf in the North Pole.

After once again failing to meet his toy-making quota for the season, Buddy is demoted to Quality Control where he not only learns that he’s not cut out to be an elf, but that he’s not an elf at all and that his biological father (James Caan) resides in the outside world. Trying to find his place in the world, Buddy ventures to New York City where he quickly learns that it lacks the magic and optimism of the North Pole and that his father isn’t quite the man he expected.

WHAT DID CRITICS THINK?: The film received positive reviews. Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars and said that it was smart and had heart, while Peter Travers of Rolling Stone thought it was fair — though did note that Will Ferrell was incredible in the role of Buddy the Elf. The film was also voted “Best Christmas Film of the 21st Century” by Fandango users.


WHAT DID I THINK?: I will never understand the absolute vitriol this movie is subjected to in some circles. Elf is everything Christmas was, is, or could be. Maybe it’s the objection to Will Ferrell as “Buddy the Elf”. Maybe it’s the unavoidable awkward feeling that Buddy is a child in a man’s body and that it’s disturbing to see him dating a woman half his age. I really don’t know. Then again, there are those (I’m looking at you, Keith Phipps) who think that Evil Christmas constitutes a spot on any sort of “all-time” list. If that’s your thing, so be it. So, why shit all over Elf? The movie is unbelievably charming, funny and, at times, moving. Buddy is everyone we once were, before we were jaded and corrupted by the rampant cynicism this world serves up like so much ice cream.

There’s magic to be had in this film, whether it comes from Buddy’s child-like wonder when shown the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree for the first time or Santa (Ed Asner for, what, the fifth time?) trying so hard to keep his sleigh in the air because of the lack of that very wonder in the air. It’s a thoughtful film, almost completely void of toilet humor and cheap fart jokes Hollywood defaults to when they can’t come up with something funny. And if none of this sells you, consider the fact that Jim Carrey turned the role of Buddy down so that he could star in the soulless live-action version of The Grinch.

And we all know what a masterpiece of special holiday film-making that was.


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