By Shawn McKenzie 11/07/2003
I consider Will Ferrell one of the funniest new comedic actors working today. He and Jack Black are the new generation of comedy in my mind. When I saw that he was the lead in a Christmas movie called Elf, directed by actor turned director Jon Favreau, I got excited. I was even more excited when I saw the trailer, which I thought was hilarious. After I saw the movie, I was just slightly disappointed.
One year, on Christmas Eve, a baby in an orphanage climbed into Santa’s (Edward Asner) sack. Santa didn’t know this until he got back to the North Pole. He had Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) raise the baby thinking he was an elf. As the baby, now named Buddy (Ferrell), grew up, he began to suspect that he wasn’t an elf, since he towered in size over every other elf. He eventually learns that he is human after overhearing a conversation about it, and Santa comes clean, telling him that his real father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), is a book publisher of children’s books who lives in New York City, though he is on the naughty list. Buddy wants to meet his real father anyway, and he leaves the North Pole to finally meet the man who doesn’t know he even exists. He finds Walter pretty quickly, and Walter doesn’t believe him at first, but a DNA test administered by his doctor (Favreau himself) confirms it. He brings Buddy home, and Walter’s wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen), is shocked at first, but accepts him right away as her stepson. Their son, ten-year-old Michael (Daniel Tay), isn’t quite as accepting at first. Buddy drives Walter crazy at work with his need to spend time with him. After an unsuccessful stint working in the mailroom of the publishing company, Buddy gets a job at Gimbles when the department store manager (Faizon Love) mistakes him for one of his Christmas workers. While working there, he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a young woman who hates her job and apparently doesn’t make enough, since she has to shower there because her landlord shut off her water. She thinks Buddy is a freak at first, but warms up to him after he shows examples of Christmas spirit. Christmas spirit is needed more anyway, because it is the thing that fuels Santa’s sleigh (who knew?) The backup power booster is conking out on Santa, so he needs the Christmas spirit to get the sleigh off the ground. Buddy tries to get all the Scrooges around him to give a little cheer, and hopefully find some love from family and friends for the first time in his life.
The movie had many funny moments. I loved how the scenes at the North Pole were filmed to look like a Rankin/Bass Christmas TV special (for those who don’t know Rankin/Bass, they created the classic annual Christmas special “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”) Most of what you see in the trailers are the funniest parts of the movie. I was also shocked to learn that Deschanel, an actress who has become one of my favorites through her performances in movies like The Good Girl and Big Trouble, can sing!
A few things bugged me though. Caan is originally set up to be a cold-hearted Scrooge, and if anyone can pull that off, it is Caan. The problem is that his heart warms up to Buddy just a little too quickly. That can be said for virtually everyone in the movie, from the son Michael to the love interest Jovie. I thought Ferrell and Deschanel had a little chemistry, but Ferrell looked like he could be Deschanel’s father.
I was really hoping Elf was going to be funnier than it was. Favreau as a director showed promise in his debut picture Made. I think the problem might be that he didn’t write the screenplay as well on this one. A new screenwriter named David Berenbaum, who also wrote the upcoming Eddie Murphy vehicle Disney’s Haunted Mansion, wrote it. Favreau wrote Made as well as the classic Swingers, so I’m thinking maybe he might want to stick to projects he wrote himself. As I said before, Ferrell is hilarious, and he is here as well, but I don’t think the movie overall is worth paying movie theater prices to see it. Check it out at a matinee, or rent the DVD next year for your Christmas entertainment in 2004.
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