Review: ‘Elf’ holds up as a Christmas classic for its 15th anniversary

by Veronica Winham | 11/1/18 2:05am

It’s the day after Halloween, which obviously means we’re ready to plunge headfirst into the holiday season. This year, “Elf” is celebrating its 15-year anniversary, a holiday in and of itself. Whether revisiting the childhood favorite or seeing the movie for the first time, “Elf” is a classic that is always sure to get me in the Christmas spirit and excited for upcoming festivities. While not ground-breaking cinema, this movie provides the merriment typically expected of the holidays in the best way possible.

Released on Nov. 7, 2003, “Elf” was directed by Jon Favreau and takes place in both the North Pole and New York City. The settings provide a contrast between a busy city and a whymiscal, fantastical village that gets progressively funnier once the main character, who is an elf, first enters the Lincoln Tunnel. Likewise, Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf provides a hilarious juxtaposition as a fully grown man giggling like a delighted child over anything and everything.

The movie, which is about an orphan boy who thinks that he is an elf despite being 6’3” and unable to make toys for Santa like the other elves, is at first glance ridiculous and far-fetched enough that its plot actually works by suspending all means of disbelief. Younger viewers might unironically enjoy terms like “Candy Cane Forest” and “the Sea of Swirly-Twirly Gum Drops,” but viewers rewatching this as adults might find the overexaggeration a cheeky nod to other “magical” Christmas classics.

When Buddy discovers that he is human and his real father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan) is on the Naughty List, he decides to track him down and help him become nice. The contrast between Buddy and Walter provides another moment for laughter, as James Caan’s character plays the straight man to Will Ferrell’s borderline insane persona. Because really, who wouldn’t call the police on a grown man in tights saying he is your long lost son?

In New York City, Buddy is confused by the bustle of city life and has a hard time adjusting to the rules and to rude people. He makes it to his father’s publishing company, where Walter does not believe that Buddy is his son and throws him out of his office. While wandering around Manhattan and admiring the decorations in the Gimbles department store, Buddy meets and falls for Jovie, an employee in their Santa’s Workshop who is played by a shockingly blonde and bang-less Zooey Deschanel.

Upon finally taking a DNA test and moving in with the Hobbs family, Buddy is able to win over Walter’s new wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and their son Michael (Daniel Tay) just by being his eccentric, optimistic self. Michael even helps Buddy try to get a date with Jovie. Eventually, Walter himself begins enjoying Buddy’s presence, until, somewhat predictably, an incident at his company causes a fight between them and Buddy runs away. The rest of the movie deals with classic Christmas-themed issues like reconciliation, family and of course, saving Christmas when Santa’s sleigh crashes in Central Park.

As a child, watching “Elf” made me feel sympathetic to issues in the movie that are now hilarious to me as a college student. When I was younger, I would feel badly for Buddy when things did not go the way he planned, but now it’s both comically and painfully too real to watch him try to take on New York City. As a kid, I thought that the father was rude to Buddy, but now I can understand his frustration and confusion. The only real tragedy in this film lies in my own new ability to sympathize with a figure who was mean and sleazy to me as a child.

The music in “Elf” consists of classic Christmas songs such as “Sleigh Ride” and “Jingle Bells.” This soundtrack is not only important to the film for viewer enjoyment, but also audience participation because, as everyone knows, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” In this somewhat cynical rewatch, the music remains evidence that“Elf” is still a movie that can reach viewers of any age by simply tapping into the nostalgia surrounding its music.

“Elf” was created 15 years ago to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, and it is now time for us to celebrate the movie’s anniversary in return. While a sequel was never made, there was a Broadway production in 2010 and a television special on NBC in 2014, signaling the impact of this somewhat outrageous film over the past decade and a half. The original movie is a childhood classic, but the depth to the interactions between the characters and Ferrell’s scarily accurate comic timing makes it accessible for viewers of any age. Yesterday might have been Halloween, but as this movie reminds us, it is never too early to get excited for Christmas.