Reviewed by: Chris Monroe
Starring: Will Ferrell, Edward Asner, Mary Steenburgen, James Caan, Bob Newhart | Directed by: Jon Favreau | Produced by: Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki, Shauna Weinberg | Written by: Jon Favreau, David Berenbaum | Distributor: New Line Cinema
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As usual this year, Santa Claus is coming to town, but before he does, so is an innocent, six-foot three-inch tall, wide-eyed, loveable, pure-as-the-driven-snow Santa helper, whose gift is not a sleigh full of material goods but what people need even more this season: a dose of Christmas spirit. “Elf” delivers a fair amount of holiday cheer, along with a host of homages to tales from Christmas Past and a sack full of humor.
Raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) and Santa Claus (Ed Asner), Buddy (Will Ferrell) leaves his family of elves at the North Pole and ventures into its antithesis—New York City—in search of his biological father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan). The contrast between these two settings, as well as between the trusting, child-like character of Buddy and the jaded, cynical businessman character of Walter, sets up most of the comedy for this fish-out-of-water scenario. The script is rooted in comedy and nearly every scene plays for a laugh, but eventually weaves into a well-rounded, family-friendly film that’s hoped to fit into the cannon of Christmas classics.
Director John Favreau (“Made,” “Swingers,” “Rudy”) has “taken a few clubs out of his bag” in order to make this film. Walter Hobb’s Scrooge-type character is the roughest around the edges, which shows in some of the language he uses. The film is rated PG for mild rude humor and language. Apart from father’s bad attitude (and perhaps a few other isolated incidents) the worst language you’ll hear in this film is “h*ll” and “up yours” which are both said twice as an angry exclamation.
Buddy’s naivet and simplicity also provide many scenarios for him to unintentionally misbehave. For example, Buddy hears his friend, Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) singing in the shower and goes to listen to her. When she discovers he is in the bathroom, she confronts him and tells him to leave. Similarly, Buddy literally drops his pants in the kitchen when Walter tells him to “lose the tights,” and later Buddy gets drunk with a co-worker at his dad’s company when he adds liquor to his coffee thinking it is a kind of sweetener. The faux pas of each situation is intended to be humorous due to Buddy’s innocence.
Whether or not you support the idea of Santa Claus at Christmas, this film at least uses it to promote a clear biblical concept: faith. At one point, Santa’s sleigh is having trouble flying due to people’s lack of Christmas spirit. Seeing that the “Clausometer” (instrument that measures Christmas spirit) is low, Santa enlightens us with the theme of the story saying, “Christmas spirit is about believing, not seeing.” This is a simple definition of faith and the idea plays out through the rest of the film until its climax. [Learn about the real meaning of Christmas]
“Elf” appeals to kids, as well as to the “kid” in each adult. There is a lot of slapstick humor, but overall “Elf” inspires us to think about what true goodness can do to affect even the most hardened people.