U.S. Release Date: November 7, 2003
Distributor: New Line
Director: Jon Favreau
Producer: Shauna Robertson
Composer: John Debney
Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Edward Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel, Peter Dinklage, Andy Richter, Jon Favreau
Running Time: 1 hour and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and language)

A Surreal Christmas Story
by C.A. Wolski

Buoyed by Will Ferrell's maniacal performance as a human who has been raised by Christmas elves, Elf is both a raucous, surreal comedy and a rather sweet redemptive Christmas story about a misfit who learns how to fit into his world, while remaining true to himself.

Ably directed by Jon Faverau (who has a cameo as a pediatrician) and written by David Berenbaum, Elf is able to walk the fine line between satire, gross-out comedy and sweetness all the while not running out of steam. Except for a finale that's a little bit much, the movie is pitch perfect throughout.

Giving a nod to the old Rankin-Bass stop-animation Christmas specials that should be littering the airwaves anytime now, Elf opens with narrator Papa Elf (Bob Newhart at his understated best), who clues us in on the elf universe and how a human, Buddy, came to be an inhabitant at the North Pole. The sequences at Santa's workshop are just plain weird, but in a fascinatingly goofy sort of way. When Buddy, who is a bit of a bust when it comes to being a Christmas elf (a scene with him as a toy tester is almost worth the price of the ticket alone), discovers he is really a human, he sets off through the seven levels of the candy cane forest and across the swirling gumdrop sea until he makes it to New York to be reunited with his long-lost human father (James Caan). That he's in time for Christmas makes the elf-suited Buddy both joyous and helps him blend in to the scenery.

The culture clash of elf-world meeting human-world is fodder for most of the jokes in the movie. But if the movie was just concerned chiefly with the culture clash, it wouldn't work. It's also, at root, about the Christmas spirit, that sort of wide-eyed, golly-gee approach to life that keeps Buddy going 365 days a year. He's a goof both as a human and elf, but he has a good spirit that wins everyone over from Santa (Ed Asner) to crusty mailroom attendants.

There are a few minor problems with the script. Caan's transformation from "naughty" businessman to good father needed a bit more screen time, and Buddy's sweet romance with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) also could have done with five or ten minutes extra as well. But Farrell's performance is astounding, namely because it should have been just plain annoying, but he plays Buddy with such heart and innocence that even if you wanted to dislike him, you couldn't. To its credit, there are no weepy, obligatory scenes discussing the meaning of Christmas or why Buddy is both a good elf and a good sonówe see it happenówhich is a relief, particularly because this genre usually falls back on the old chestnut of the violin-laden speech.

If you're looking for a good holiday movie this season and want a nice laugh and even a point or two to ponder during the hustle and bustle of the coming weeks, Elf is the flick for you.

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