Elf is somehow over a decade old, but it still remains the most beloved Christmas movie released in my lifetime (Sorry, Christmas with the Kranks.). I have never heard someone with genuinely bad things to say about the film. Actually, there was one guy, but we haven’t heard from him since. I don’t have too much to say; this is simply one more person reminding you that Elf is a Christmas treasure, and that if anyone questions that, they are in all likelihood a cotton-headed ninnymuggins.
Even before you think about how perfect Will Ferrell makes every scene he’s in, consider the rest of the cast: Ed Asner as Santa? Sign me up. Bob Newhart as Papa Elf? We have a hit on our hands. Peter Dinklage involved in any way? This must be something iconic. Andy Richter? Sure! From there, you toss in Will Ferrell in the perfect state between SNL stardom and the eccentricity of his subsequent films, and you have the most uniquely entertaining holiday film in recent memory.
On the surface, Elf is a fairly typical kids holiday movie, filled with family fun and Christmas spirit and the power of belief. For every predictable trope, though, there is a Will Ferrell moment that elevates the movie far above the genre’s contemporaries. Ferrell simply possesses the rare ability to make everything funnier than it should be, from dancing drunk in the mail room to getting excited about seeing Santa. Watching his awkwardly large body flail around (or sit on Bob Newhart’s lap) has been entertaining since his SNL days, and it’s at its best when filling out Buddy’s cheerily tight costume.
Ferrell had done strong work in Old School and Zoolander when Elf was released, but Buddy was really the first vehicle by which he showed off his ability to carry a film with his versatile comedic touch. He quickly went on a prolific run of hilarity with Kicking and Screaming, Talladega Nights, and so on, but I often forget the importance of Elf to Ferrell’s timeline of taking over our popular comedic culture. Without it, we might not have gotten the past decade of zany mania. “Son of a NUTCRACKER” blossomed into the crude exclamations of Anchorman and the like; exasperating James Caan and Mary Steenburgen progressed to driving Richard Jenkins and Steenburgen insane in Step Brothers.
Some people may not love Ferrell like I do. That’s ok. I guess. But they cannot deny his infallibility since Elf. And they cannot deny the pure fun that Jon Favreau, David Berenbaum, and Ferrell created in 2003. Whether you’re 12 or 27 or 84, Elf offers ultimate rewatchability value, managing to disguise itself as a tidy and happy story while actually being a comedic treasure. It stands out prominently during this time of year — on television, on the internet, among the other DVD cases on my shelves — and well it should.
Buddy just likes to be loud and joyous and hopeful, and that’s what we all wish our awkward or infuriating Christmases were really like. Singing loud for all to hear may be the best way to spread the holiday spirit, but watching Elf over and over again is a close second.