Second Breakfast Christmas Special: ‘Elf’


Ah, Christmas is looming, you know, as it does. I won’t be saying anything new by telling y’all how much I love this time of year, nor will I be breaking into new territory by recommending some Christmas movies for you to watch this week. You’re on top of that. You’ve got Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, A Nightmare Before Christmas, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life… maybe you even have the movies I recommended last year: 3 Godfathers, The Bishop’s Wife, Miracle on 34th Street, and White Christmas. Maybe you’re more into Christmas TV specials, so you’ll be watching “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” and “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire.” Maybe you don’t watch movies or TV, in which case I’m curious as to why you’re reading this almost exclusively movie and TV blog. Well, I recently watched one that I personally don’t consider a classic, though I definitely know people who do. Part of why I don’t agree is because it came out ten years ago, and I guess I define the word “classic” a bit differently. Another contributing factor is that I saw it only once when it came out ten years ago, and only just re-watched it. Nonetheless, I bring you a Christmas article about a movie with which I’m sure most of you are already familiar:

Elf (2003)


New Line Cinema

The Plot: Buddy (Will Ferrell), is a human orphan who, as a baby, crawled into Santa’s (Ed Asner) sack and stowed away back to the North Pole where he was raised by an elf (Bob Newhart), under the belief that he is, in fact, an elf. Eventually, the truth comes out and Buddy embarks upon an epic quest to the fabled land of New York City in search of his Real Dad (James Caan), a high-powered corporate guy who’s firmly situated on Santa’s Naughty List. Will Buddy be able to convince Real Dad that he’s his son? Will he spread Christmas cheer in a world that is rapidly losing faith in Santa? Will he ever stop being so endearing? What will become of his totally unbelievable relationship with Zooey Deschanel?

A confusingly blonde Zooey Deschanel.

New Line Cinema
A confusingly blonde Zooey Deschanel.

Where do I begin? What is there, really, to say about Elf? Answer: Not all that much. I typically don’t like Will Ferrell. Basically I like him in this, Anchorman, and Megamind, and that’s it. Oh, and Zoolander, but that’s really a transcendent experience all-around. In Elf, though, he really abandons the loud, blunt, crude humor that he so often uses and adopts a really sweet, innocent, fun personality. He’s remarkably elf-like, despite how huge he is. That’s something that really benefits the film: Will Ferrell is 6’3”. Elves are not. That, and they just do a really good job guessing how an incredibly nice, sort of childish giant adult man who was raised as one of Santa’s elves would react to certain elements of the big city. Buddy accepts every flyer handout with an enthusiastic “Thank you,” he runs through a revolving door until he gets dizzy, he anxiously studies how shoppers use escalators, and congratulates a crappy diner for having what they advertise as “the best cup of coffee in the world.” Remarkably, there’s no instance of Buddy realizing how soul-crushing and horrible city life can be.

He just never quite gets it.

New Line Cinema
He just never quite gets it.

The message, rather, is about spreading Christmas Cheer. I capitalize “cheer” because it’s almost an entity in this movie, a harvestable resource. It is the force that literally powers Santa’s sleigh. I mean, the reindeer do their bit, but flying far and high can be tough on those little guys without some extra Christmas magic to help. It’s sort of a nice idea. This is a popularized, secularized Christmas, of course. I don’t know if there’s a single mention of the nativity in this movie, but it’s also not saying that Christmas is just about Santa and presents. Well, actually, it sort of is saying that, but Santa is a surrogate for kindness and good will and the meaning of Christmas. The true meaning of the holiday, if you want to get right down to it, is indeed the birth of Jesus, but the act of gift-giving emerged as an effort to continue the gift of the birth. The VeggieTales Christmas special sums it up pretty nicely. Elf is about the giving, the cheer, and the importance of family. Whatever your religious preferences, you have to admit that these are good things to celebrate. That’s what Christmas means for a wider demographic. If you aren’t Christian, you can still celebrate those values, and if you are Christian you should be happy to see people celebrating them regardless of in whose name they do it. Christmas is about unity and joy and generosity and faith and all that other good stuff. It’s not a time to quibble.

Unless you're Peter Dinklage, in which case it is a time to choke-slam Will Ferrell.

New Line Cinema
Unless you’re Peter Dinklage, in which case it is a time to choke-slam Will Ferrell.

Elf really gets at that idea. On the surface it is a comical children’s story about one of Santa’s elves spreading Christmas Cheer in the great wide world, but it does have some nice things to say about Christmas as a holiday. Plus, Ed Asner and Bob Newhart are both great. Also, it has so many excellent nods to the classic Christmas specials, mostly Rudolph. So, this week while you’re enjoying The Muppet Christmas Carol, “Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too” or Power Rangers: Megaforce: Robo Knight Before Christmas, maybe check out Elf, too, if you haven’t already done so. At the very least, make an effort to do something with the people you love, be happy, and be kind.

Merry Christmas!

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