Holiday Movie Month: "Elf" Review

Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

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Holiday Movie Month: "Elf" Review

Rating: PG
Length: 97 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 7, 2003
Directed by: Jon Favreau
Genre: Comedy / Family / Fantasy

Making a Christmas film that is scheduled for release over the holiday season has it rewards. Because Christmas is a period of love, warmth, and friendship, most viewers are willing to overlook the flaws of any film that promotes the festive spirit. However, the dark cloud to this silver lining is that, outside the holiday season, when people are no longer in forgiving moods, many Christmas-themed movies are almost unwatchable because of how weak the script, directing, or acting is. Fortunately, "Elf" excels in all three of these areas.

Starring Will Ferrell, thisJon Favreaufilm revolves around an elf who attempts to reconnect with his human roots. The story begins with a short scene that takes place three decades before the main event. During his routine Christmas rounds, Santa Claus unwittingly takes a baby to the North Pole after the baby crawls into Santa's sack. A decision is made to raise the baby as an elf, naming him Buddy. The ruse remains in place for thirty years, until circumstances and obvious questions—such as those concerning Buddy's towering six-foot frame—force the head elf to reveal the truth to Buddy about his origins. Confused yet delighted, Buddy sets out to reconnect with his father, who works at a children's book company. Events unfold quickly after that. Unsurprisingly, Buddy struggles to adjust to a world in which things move at a much faster rate and people smile way less frequently than he is used to.

Any movie in which the lead character spends a third of the period dressed in green-and-yellow tights is hard to be taken seriously, but "Elf" simmers with serious intent. The film is not just a about how not to raise an illegal elf; it also focuses on human connection and the importance of making enough time for friends and family. It is a story about outsiders and their eternal struggle to be accepted by the in-crowd—a story ultimately about love and understanding.

The movie is directed by Jon Favreau ("Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2") and features Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, and Edward Asner in starring roles. "Elf" marks Jon Favreau's second outing as a director, but it is a testament to his skills that viewers will not notice it. The film moves at a brisk rate, with the scenes nicely cut and balanced. The jokes are delivered with great timing, and the colorful use of lighting gives the film a magical, almost Disney-like glow, particularly in the scenes featuring the North Pole.

For the most part, "Elf" works because the producers and director made brilliant casting and stage decisions. Instead of using CGI in making Buddy appear taller than other elves, Favreau went with the forced perspective technique that would later be used to brilliant results in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The result is that the film bubbles with a natural visual energy that adds to the beauty of the script. Casting Ferrell as an elf was also a shrewd move. With his bungling style and ability to maintain a straight face in the middle of the oddest situations, Will pulls of Buddy with great results. Next to "Stranger than Fiction," "Elf" may just be Ferrell's best acting performance.

Ferrell's strong performance is also supported by that of the rest of his cast. James Caan, known for his tough-guy roles in films such as "The Godfather," is perfectly cast as the reluctant father who suddenly has to adjust to life with a long-lost son. Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, the female employee who falls for the six-foot elf, is an adorable bundle of smiles. The scene in which she sings simply lights up the movie. As Caan's wife,Mary Steenburgen dominates the screen, while Bob Newhart literally becomes Santa Claus. Granted, the movie's final act is a little predictable: the holiday season is in trouble, and it is up the Buddy to save Christmas. Santa's magical sleigh makes an entry and conveniently runs out of gas right over New York. However,David Berenbaum's witty script manages to infuse the final twenty minutes with just the right mix of humorous and heart-tugging moments.

Most Christmas movies have sadly become predictable in their formulaic approaches to exploiting the season cheer. Fortunately, with plenty of laughs, great acting, and a warm story, "Elf" is one of those rare exceptions, making it not only a good Christmas film, but also a good film.

Rating: 3 out of 5