People love Elf (2003). I think it is okay. I do not hate it. I am just not as into it as others. I will watch it if it is on, but nor am I seeking it out when casting about for something to watch. Admittedly, I own a digital copy of it. I bought it to honor people that I have dated whose enthusiasm for it outpaced mine. In such a situation, I do not mind sitting through it, not that it takes up a lot of time. It is only a few ticks over the hour and a half mark. I chalk up my lukewarm feelings to not being the biggest Will Ferrell fan, who plays Buddy Hobbs, or Buddy the Elf. There are a few movies I enjoy him in, but they are usually the ones where he is underplaying the role instead of indulging in his usual over the top antics. Put differently, the sillier he acts, the less I laugh. Hence, I offer few chuckles while watching today’s film. Haha, get it yet, it is a grown man acting like a child-like member of Santa Claus’ (Ed Asner) mythical staff in modern-day New York? Ferrell’s portrayal, along with the material, make the movie a one-joke act that, for me, gets old after the first fifteen minutes. What will always bring me back, though, is its heart, and hopefully this review will speak to it.
Our narrator in Elf, Buddy’s adoptive parent in the North Pole, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), introduces us to our hero as an infant in a Catholic orphanage run by nuns. One night, while Santa makes his rounds in the communal nursery, Buddy sees something interesting in Jolly Ol’ St. Nick’s bag and crawls into it. Buddy then re-emerges in the workshop, and Santa assigns Papa Elf the duty of raising Buddy. Though he grows up thinking he is just another one of Santa’s workers, his abnormal size and inability to always keep up with the hyper-industrious elves obviously bely that Buddy is different. This lack of productivity leads to him being demoted, and Papa finally revealing the truth of his parentage. Buddy’s real father is Walter Hobbs (James Caan), who is a children’s book publisher in New York City and, much to Buddy’s horror, is on Santa’s “naughty list.” The reason for this awful designation is because of the miserly way Walter conducts his business, cutting out pages from books to save money because he believes kids do not care about the story anyway. After getting over the initial shock, Buddy travels to the Big Apple with the unbridled belief that he can get his dad more in the Christmas spirit. Once Buddy gets to the Empire State Building where Walter works, he manages to find his way into Walter’s office. Since Buddy is dressed like one of Santa’s helpers, Walter assumes Buddy is a singing Christmas gram. The confused song that Buddy performs suggests his true purpose, and he is immediately thrown out of the building. Undeterred, he crosses the street, surviving getting hit by a cab, and enters a department store decked out for the holidays. Given how he is dressed, he is mistaken for somebody who should be working in the toy department where they are preparing for the arrival of one of those mall Santas to take pictures with children. It is there that he meets and instantly falls in love with the less enthusiastic Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). While everyone else goes home for the night, Buddy stays behind and redecorates the area, turning it into a winter wonderland. This is all wrecked the next morning, though, when the mall Santa arrives and is revealed by Buddy not to be the real Chris Cringle, resulting in destructive brawl that leads to Buddy’s arrest. It is Walter that bails Buddy out, and then takes him to the doctor for a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test in order to settle the matter of Buddy’s parentage. Of course, it shows that Walter is in fact Buddy’s father. Now Walter essentially has another child to take care of, in addition to the one he already has with his current wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen). Encouraging him to spend more time with Buddy, and in order to save their house from being destroyed, Walter ends up taking Buddy with him to work. During one of these trips, Walter is attempting to woo celebrated children’s author Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage). When Buddy sees Miles, Buddy is convinced that Miles is an elf, and sets the writer off to the point where he attacks Buddy. Walter lashes out at Buddy, who feels rejected and decides to leave. As he wanders the streets aimlessly, he happens to look up in time to notice Santa’s sleigh coming down for a hard landing in Central Park. The reason for the vehicle’s difficulties is a malfunctioning rocket engine that makes up for the lack of Christmas spirit on which it used to run. Because Papa had worked on the engine and taught buddy about it, Buddy offers to help. Meanwhile, Michael (Daniel Tay), the aforementioned other son, finds the note Buddy leaves announcing his departure and brings it to an important meeting in which Walter is engaged. Seeing the error of his ways, the rest of the Hobbs family go to look for Buddy and find him with Santa in the park. Seeing the need to buy some time and spirit, Michael snatches Santa’s gift list and takes it to a gathering crowd outside of the park. Managing to make it onto the news, his reading of the requests of many people begin to lift the sleigh. What really makes it go, however, is Jovie’s rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to everyone gathered. Thus, everyone’s spirit is returned, and Buddy and Jovie eventually get married. We close with them bringing their child to visit Papa in the North Pole.
I am not going to describe further the so-called comedy in Elf because, as I said in the introduction, I find it to be only mildly funny, at best. That leaves the heart. In many reviews, I have discussed how Jesus asks that in order to inherit the Kingdom of God, i.e. get to Heaven, we must be child-like. He does not say to be actual children, but only like them. This is embodied in Buddy. Sure, you can giggle all you want with him fighting a fake Santa Claus in the mall, or putting maple syrup on spaghetti. What I appreciate most is his unflappable belief in the inherent goodness of people and how he cares for them, particularly Walter. It affects everyone around him. Walter sees it when Michael comes to him and reads the letter Buddy wrote before leaving. This also happens with Jovie when Buddy praises her singing, and then on their subsequent date. My favorite moment from their evening is when he takes her to the diner with a sign in the window proclaiming it to have the world’s best cup of coffee. Buddy so fervently thinks that is true that his enthusiasm, even if Jovie does not agree with this sentiment, endears him to her. It is refreshing because it is so far from the usual cynicism we feel about the world, a feeling that only seems to grow as time passes. The events of the previous couple of years are a case in point. For Buddy, his hope comes from not being brought up in our pessimistic society, and instead in Santa’s workshop where the joy of the Christmas season is year-round. With all the sincerest apologies I can muster, that does not actually exist. What is real is the everlasting hope that God offers us through faith in Him. If only we could harness such feelings as Buddy’s and direct them into our own Faith lives, what a world that would be.
Elf is another one of those movies that there is probably little I could say about it that would change anyone’s minds, good or bad, unless I said that it is awful. No matter how I feel about it, though, it is not an awful film. It is one that I would recommend to most any audience, particularly this time of the year. I just wish it were a little less ridiculous. I find the comedy in it less than clever, but the lessons worth the trouble.