Written by guest contributor Dave Fox
For a few years here in the UK, Elf would be shown annually on one of the national TV stations, Channel 4. There was one day every year, in December, when the whole country could sit down together and watch Will Ferrell's modern Christmas classic.
Okay, so it probably wasn't the whole country. I very much doubt the Queen was watching, but it could feel that way when scrolling through your Facebook and Twitter feeds. These days, the rights to Elf have been taken away by the subscription service Sky, in a move worthy of the Grinch himself. "Elf Day", as some called it, no longer exists, but plenty of people still watch the 2003 comedy as a festive ritual, like others do with It's A Wonderful Life, or Die Hard.
Elf's story is a simple one. Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) lives at the North Pole with Santa and the other elves, making toys for Christmas. But despite his name, Buddy isn't really an elf at all. Buddy is a human, an ophan who accidentally made his way into Santa's sack one Christmas. Kind-hearted Santa Claus (Ed Asner) keeps the child at the North Pole, where he's raised as an elf by, well, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). As Buddy grows he becomes much taller, stronger, and clumsier than the other elves. Realising he's adopted, Buddy ventures to New York to find his real father Walter Hobbs (James Caan).
There's nothing hugely new or ground-breaking about Elf. For the most part it's your standard fish-out-of-water comedy as Buddy - constantly wearing his green and yellow elf costume complete with tights, pointy hat and shoes - raised in the magical North Pole alongside anthropomorphic animals has to adjust to real world New York. He has to deal with escalators, racoons that don't talk, and people who think it's weird when you smile at them. The jokes may be obvious, but Ferrell's wide-eyed childlike enthusiasm sells it. It's the role his overgrown manchild schtick was made for, and Buddy's arrival in the Big Apple contains many of the film's best scenes.
Ferrell is surrounded by a solid cast who are happy to allow him to take centre stage. Zooey Deschanel (pre-hipster glasses and dark hair) plays Jovie, a love interest for Buddy at the Gimbles department store where he finds accidental employment and James Caan is full of growling, barely contained menace as Buddy's biological father Walter, an overworked publishing executive who could not care less about Christmas and who is Buddy's polar opposite. There are also small but funny roles for Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Kyle Gass, Andy Richter director Jon Favreau and a pre-fame Peter Dinklage. It's hard to look past Ferrell when it comes to Elf, though, and it's almost a one-man show. Even during a slightly sagging and slow moving second act, Ferrell's career best performance is never boring.
Elf is not a perfect film, but as Christmas films go, it's up there with the very best. It deserves a viewing in your house this Christmas, whether you're watching it for the first or forty-first time.
Elf Director: Jon Favreau Writer: David Berenbaum Studio: New Line Cinema Running Time: 97 Minutes