The holidays are often referred to as the ‘season of believing’. As we grow older, however, the pressures of daily life and stresses of the holidays can make us forget the magic that once made the season so bright. In the 2003 holiday hit Elf, one jaded family rediscovers the Christmas spirit with the help of a new addition from the North Pole. Through the misadventures of ever optimistic elf Buddy, the film reminds us all that you’re never too old for Christmas cheer and that the greatest magic lies not at the North Pole but in the depths of the human heart.
The story begins with Santa visiting an orphanage during his annual around the world deliveries. When he returns to the North Pole, he is stunned to learn that one of the infants from the orphanage stowed away in his sack of toys. The child, dubbed Buddy, is then adopted and raised by a family of elves. Although he enthusiastically devotes himself to life as an elf, he never quite fits in with his adopted family. When he reaches adulthood he is shocked to learn of his true origins, and mortified when Santa informs him that his biological father is a cynical publisher who has earned a spot on the Naughty List. Determined to find his place in the human world, Buddy sets off for New York City to find his long-lost father and finds himself in plenty of hijinks along the way. Although his arrival in the Big Apple is a matter of culture shock for the cheery elf and those around him, Buddy’s goofy charm and child-like wonder eventually win over even his most cynical critics as he brings a touch of the North Pole to New York.
Through its wonderfully whimsical fish-out-of-water story, the film reminds us all of the magic of Christmas, while imparting lessons in tolerance and acceptance that will resonate throughout the year. Caught between his biological heritage and the culture he was raised in, Buddy finds himself unable to fit into either human or elf society. While both Santa’s elves and Buddy’s family in New York see his uniqueness as a burden, it is ultimately his ability to bridge New York and the North Pole that enables him to save Christmas. Much like his similarly misunderstood predecessor, Rudolph, Buddy serves as a positive role model by inspiring viewers to embrace who they are and highlighting the value of standing out, even as society demands that you fit in. Throughout his struggles to find his way in New York Buddy is aided by the kindness of his new family and co-workers, who in turn find themselves learning to see the world for the magical place that it could be. Through its emphasis upon everyday acts of kindness the film highlights the true meaning of Christmas and reminds us all that is the people around the tree rather than the presents under it that matter most.
The film casts a spell of holiday magic through the charm of tis cast. Bob Newhart infuses his role as Papa Elf with his signature dry wit, and serves as an ideal guide through the story’s zany adventures. Ed Asner captures all the jolliness and warmth of St. Nick in his role as Santa. Daniel Tay is believable and engaging as Buddy’s step brother, Michael. Mary Steenburgen conveys an essential sensitivity in her portrayal of the struggles of Buddy’s put-upon stepmother, Emily. Zooey Deschanel is a dead-pan delight in her role as Buddy’s co-worker turned love interest, Jovie. James Caan hits all the right notes in his turn as Buddy’s workaholic father, Walter, as he evolves from cold businessman to loving family man. In spite of its excellent cast, the film belongs to Will Ferrell, who inhabits the childlike Buddy with an enthusiasm that is nothing short of infectious.
As a heartwarming adventure that the whole family can enjoy, Elf has earned its status as a modern Christmas classic. The film’s by turns slapstick and sentimental script combined with the charms of its all-star cast make Elf a holiday film that will keep viewers coming back year after year. For a guaranteed holly jolly time join Buddy for a journey through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops and through the Lincoln Tunnel for an adventure that you won’t soon forget.