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Review published
November 17, 2003
A.J.'s Rating:  3.5 Candy-Canes
Directed By:  Jon Favreau
Written By:  David Berenbaum
Starring:  Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner, Daniel Tay,
Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel, Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage

MPAA:  Rated PG for some mild rude humor and language.
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    Buddy is one of Santa's elves.  Okay, technically he's not really an elf.  You see, there was a bit of a mix-up one Christmas Eve at the orphanage and, well, to make a long story shorter, Buddy has lived these last 30 years at the North Pole.  After all this time, it has finally occurred to him that he's sort of 'different' than the others.  Sure, Buddy's not the first elf to wonder, "Why am I such a misfit?", but this isn't your average elfin identity-crisis we're talking about. It's one thing when an elf discovers that he's actually a munchkin or a gnome or, Santa forbid, a hobbit.  These matters are relatively easy to handle. What Buddy discovers about himself is something much more shocking... Buddy is human. 
    And so begins Elf, starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, one of Santa's most unlikely helpers.  I must admit that I'm not a great fan of Will Ferrell.  For me, he's funny in small doses, but for 90 minutes in a row?  I was afraid my head might explode.  When I first heard of this movie, I thought, "Ho! Ho! Ho!  That will be funny for about as long as the average Saturday Night Live sketch!"  But, 'tis the season, so I decided to leave those preconceived notions behind.  Annoyance be darned, if there's one thing I can't resist, it's a Christmas movie. 
    When Elf began by recalling fond memories of Christmas past, I found myself actually enjoying it!  Of course, Will Ferrell had not yet made his first gangly appearance.  Instead, the movie starts with Papa Elf, played by Bob Newhart.  Bob Newhart as an elf... now, that's comedy!  Heartily chuckling through the first few jokes, my apprehension toward the inevitable entrance of a bumbling, 6'2" man-child, prancing about in a pointy hat and bright yellow tights, was almost completely forgotten.  It was not until well into the story that I realized I was still laughing, and laughing at Will Ferrell!  I'm not entirely sure how he pulled it off, but Ferrell makes Buddy funny and entertaining, not as some big idiot in an elf costume, but as a one of Santa's elves, albeit a confused elf, but an elf just the same.  Holy suspension of disbelief!
    Some of the credit also goes to director Jon Favreau, who takes a stylistic approach that pays homage to Rankin/Bass stop-animation holiday specials of the 1970's, most notably Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.  He deftly keeps the mood light and fun, even during Buddy's darkest hour.  I especially liked that Favreau rejoices in throwing other film references and in-jokes into the mix, even though a couple of them don't really work for the mass audience. More power to you Favreau!  If it makes YOU laugh, go with it! 
    Finally, in case you're wondering, this is a true family movie.  No sex, no violence (if you don't count snowball fights), and the closest thing to profanity in Elf involves the word 'nutcracker'.  The result is a charmingly innocent little comedy about a great big elf, and a wonderful way to catch the holiday spirit.  Despite my original doubts, it seems that Elf is destined to become a Christmas classic.