The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Elf: The Most Enduring Christmas Film of the 2000s (aside from Bad Santa)

Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer

Image Let’s face it: elves are inherently funny creatures.  They’re small, hard working, and friendly.  They love candy and sugars.  They live at the North Pole and build toys for a living.  They’re all hundreds of years old by some quirk of the Jesus story.  Plus, they supposedly spy on children to separate naughty from nice. 

Growing up I used to always wonder where the elves were hiding, until 9th grade when I found out that Santa simply monitors our internet browsing history.  That was also—coincidentally—the last year I received any Christmas presents, having been forever relegated to the naughty list.

Will Ferrell looks more like an ogre than an elf.  He’s also one of those “love ‘em or hate ‘em” actors/comedians, like Adam Sandler or Dane Cook.  So when I heard he would be starring as a human raised by elves in a new Christmas movie, I thought one of two things: this could be as instantly funny as Old School or it could be more like a Zoolander, one of those sleeper comedy gems that doesn’t reach an audience until it hits video. 

Well Elf became sort of a hybrid of those two extremes, opening at #1 (supplanting The Matrix Revolutions) but quickly fading from our minds.  Only recently, since it’s been airing on cable, have I come to realize that Elf is a damn fine movie, and largely the only Christmas film in recent memory that anyone will want to watch in ten years.

Will Ferrell started filming Elf, I can only assume, before Old School even hit theaters, so his career was still a gamble in 2003.  Everyone knew him from SNL, but very few people realized his potential for anything other than goofy characters in Zoolander or Austin Powers.  Plus there were all those cheerleader sketches on SNL that were only marginally entertaining. 

But with Elf, Ferrell took a major gamble.  He basically plays a character with boundless optimism in a world full of cynics, like a cross between his SNL cheerleader character and Robin Williams in Jack.  Yet the only other film that even broached the subject of an elf in New York City is 1985’s Santa Claus, where Dudley Moore plays a renegade elf working for a rival toy manufacturer.  Needless to say, since we aren’t talking about that film anymore, Santa Claus fell out of favor very quickly.

So what is it about Elf that entertains me and makes me want to sing its praises?  I think its number one redeemable quality is Ferrell’s extreme energy and fearlessness.  Whether he’s staying up all night to decorate everything in sight for Christmas or building a horse rocking chair from random furniture, he’s believably dedicated to the elf way of life.  He eats nothing but syrup and candy.  He picks gum off the streets of New York and eats it.  He can throw snowballs with deadly accuracy.  And his enthusiasm becomes infectious, like when he answers the phone, “Buddy Elf, what’s your favorite color?”

Plus, when you get down to it, Elf is a PG Christmas movie that gets by less on vulgarity—ackem Bad Santa ackem—and more on brains.  Yes, I just said that a Will Ferrell vehicle has brains.  Add a slew of supporting actors to the mix—James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Zooey Deschanel—and Ferrel has a solid crew with whom he can interact. 

I’m not saying that Elf is as good as A Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation, but compared to some of the slop that gets the holiday movie tag this time of year, we could do a lot worse.  I mean, come on people: it’s Will Ferrell playing a giant elf-man.  Can’t you crack a smile?  There you go.  That’s better.  Now have some syrup.