Ah Elf. Every millennials’ most beloved Christmas film. A classic for sure, despite being only 12-years-old. It perfectly embodies that magical Christmas feel and always puts me in a Christmas mood. Between its wonderfully enchanted soundtrack, its sunny representation of rough and tumble New York City, Will Ferrell’s playful and innocent portrayal of Buddy the Elf and its subtle adult undertones, there is no better example than Elf of a movie for the whole family.
The number one reason Elf is so believable and doesn’t come off as a simple children’s movie is it’s jam packed with terrific actors. Will Ferrell himself is perfect playing Buddy, but then we have James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Marry Seenburgen and Peter Dinklage all in supporting roles. Probably not the cast you’d immediately think of when casting a Christmas film, but they come together so perfectly in their roles that it gives Elf a real believability. As far as Christmas movies about magic and elves and Santa go, this is the most grounded in reality.
Elf tells the story of Buddy who was orphaned at a young age and brought to the North Pole by mistake one Christmas. 33 years later, Buddy’s whole world is shattered when he learns he’s not actually an elf like everyone else. He sets out on an adventure to New York City determined to find his biological father. Buddy’s journey is of course a physical journey – through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forrest, past the sea of Twirly Swirly Gumdrops, then through the Lincoln Tunnel – but it’s also just as much an emotional journey. He’s been told his whole life he’s an elf, that he’s free to act like a child, to love making toys and all things sugar. All of a sudden one day he’s not allowed to live his comfortable life anymore. Then, when he gets to New York, he’s told he doesn’t fit in there either. The entirety of the movie is funny, sure, but it’s also very despairing. He gets struck by a vehicle, receives death threats from someone whom he thought to be his friend, rejected by his father who he traveled across continents to find and contemplates suicide at his lowest points. When we stop our laughing, Elf isn’t a story of Buddy’s magical adventures through New York City, it’s a story of the depressing realities of life weighing on him and his innocence being demolished.
However, like all Christmas movies, Elf is about finding Christmas spirit, even adding to Christmas canon that Christmas spirit is imperative for Santa’s sleigh to fly. Buddy’s own Christmas spirit is constantly spit upon, but it never dies. His Christmas efforts, though rejected at first, ultimately succeed in bringing the spirit back to a city we thought too far gone. Walter, obsessed with work and neglecting his wife and son at Christmas time, realizes how special they are and blows an important meeting on Christmas Eve. Once pessimistic towards the holidays, his girlfriend Jovie finds not only her Christmas spirit, but also her confidence whilst singing in front of dozens of New Yorkers to help save Christmas. Buddy represents everything right with Christmas. His mission at first to find his father, becomes one to save an entire city… or at least those who celebrate Christmas.
Elf is special to me for the same reasons it’s special to everyone else – it just exudes Christmas spirit. There’s nobody in the world who can watch Elf and not have a giant grin on his or her face by the end.