When anticipating a large special-effects-laden blockbuster such
as “The Matrix Revolutions,” the common practice is to
appeal to the opposite audience with an unrelated genre picture.
New Line Cinema follows the formula wisely with the Will Ferrell
(“Old School”) comedy vehicle “Elf,” in
time for the holiday season and for families not into Neo. Also on
hand is director Jon Favreau (“Swingers”) with his
first attempt at family fare.
Working upon the ridiculous premise of an orphaned baby sneaking
into Santa’s bag unbeknownst to St. Nick and then being
raised in the North Pole as an elf unaware of his human identity,
the movie starts off slowly with the pervasive feel of a
children’s television show. Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell)
lumbers around as a 30-year-old, 6-foot-3-inch elf, out of place to
everyone but himself. As the disparity becomes harder to ignore, he
overhears his true origin and sets off for the coming-of-middle-age
tale that is to be.
As with most things, the movie picks up once Bud reaches New
York City. His mission is clear, to search for his father, Walter
Hobbs (James Caan, “The Godfather”), a curmudgeon
workaholic unaware of his elf son’s existence. The contrast
of Bud’s eternal optimistic naïveté is contrasted
well by Walter’s jaded profit-driven demeanor, and it works.
The initial rejection by his father causes him to wander into a
department store’s Christmas section in full elf attire,
which paves the way for more misunderstandings and the introduction
of the necessary love interest.
It’s fairly clear what path the plot is following and
where it will reach. But what matters is how fun Will Ferrell makes
the journey there. Ferrell knows comedy and he knows exactly how to
milk a role with such obvious schmaltz while steering clear of the
histrionics of a Jim Carrey or Adam Sandler. The physical comedy,
facial expressions and innocence all fall into place for Buddy and
for some reason you believe it. Ferrell is truly a man who spent
the first 30 years of his life building children’s toys in
the North Pole.
This film is unique in its unabashed embrace of its love for
Christmas and the sentimental holiday spirit it encompasses. With a
director and lead actor not known for producing family fare, the
film manages to avoid a feeling of suppression and pandering jokes
that struggle to find any audience. The humor is fairly universal
although the overenthusiastic ending, only a small step away from
“It’s a Wonderful Life,” is a bit orgasmic and
plays off of every drop of foreshadowing possible. Regardless, if
you have heard of elves before or seen a gift in your life, you
will laugh. This is a rare sort of holiday movie that manages to
entertain with full confidence in its focus.
Rating: 3.5 stars.