[Editor's Note: Welcome to Reel Insight's 25 Days of Christmas! For the next 25 days, we'll post our thoughts on a different Christmas film everyday. Fear not! It won't be all warm fuzzy, kiddie fun. We have our naughty and nice lists, so you'll get several film genres, from comedy and drama to action and horror. We won't be posting our regular features during this time, but come back to see which films made the cut and which list they landed on. Or if you just need some depraved way to get into the holiday spirit.]
When Will Ferrell's Christmas movie first came out, I was such a skeptic. It looked ridiculous, and the commercials always play on the stupidest moments in the movie - like Ferrell running around a turnstyle, or putting maple syrup on spaghetti, or burping. And from a distance, this movie doesn't seem all that different from the other insanity that Ferrell made famous - Ricky Bobby does Christmas? However, like many great Christmas movies, the annual repeat watching provides the time and ability to look at the movie a little more deeply. I would argue that instead of being compared with Step Brothers or Blades of Glory, Elf more closely resembles Stranger than Fiction in Ferrell's canon of work, in that he totally commits to a character, and is that character from beginning to end, it's the people around him who go through changes in order to accept him.
Buddy the Elf (Ferrell) was a baby who crawled into Santa's bag on Christmas eve at an orphanage and is brought back to the North Pole where Papa Elf (Bob Newhart - also the narrator of the film) decides to look after him. We see the obvious jokes of a regular sized boy growing up and learning the life of an elf, for which he is dismally qualified. After growing despondent about his failures, Papa Elf tells Buddy about his real father, Walter (James Caan) in New York City, and Buddy walks to see him. Buddy has been raised with the spirit of Christmas and has an innocence that is almost untouchable. However, that innocence is paired with a lot of super-human (elvish) abilities to support Christmas. Buddy has to find a way to become part of Walter's new family, wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and teenage son Michael (Daniel Tay), both of whom get along with Buddy. The other person who gets Buddy is Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a Christmas elf at Macy's.
The whole movie comes down to getting people to believe in the spirit of Christmas, and ultimately Santa Claus (a brilliant curmudgeon in Ed Asner). But it's Ferrell's commitment to the innocent nature and complete knowledge of the good of people tempered with the insanity of his skills and knowledge (he's pretty sure Peter Dinklage, a famous author, is also an elf from the North Pole) that really make this movie work. All Christmas Day my family, extended as well, answers the phone with "Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?", which is how Buddy answers the phone when he works for Walter. I love this movie, but it took me quite a while. But the bonus of Christmas movies is that eventually they'll find a way into your heart or they'll disappear altogether.