In the early hours of Christmas morning back in 1968, Santa Claus is delivering presents to an orphanage, and doesn't see a little baby crawl into his sack, the tot not being discovered until Santa is back at the North Pole. Keeping the child, which he calls Buddy, Santa has him grow up with the other elves in his workshop. And grow up he does, eventually being over six feet tall, walking into door frames, knocking over everything with his clumsiness, and not being very good at making toys. Believing that one of the elves is his real father, Buddy is shocked when he is told that he is a human, and not a real elf. His father is alive and living in New York City and, with a snow globe of the skyline as a map, Buddy sets off for the city to find him, arriving in Manhattan just before Christmas. Buddy tracks down who he has been told is his father, Walter, a grumpy, unhappy man who is the head of the children's books department of a major publisher. Buddy arrives in his office but his childish behaviour gets him ejected without getting to see Walter. Wandering into a department store, attracted by the Christmas scenes in the windows, the owners think that Buddy, still wearing his elf clothes, has come for the job of one of the store's Santa assistants. He starts to help Santa, although he knows him to be an impostor, and has told him so, and is soon captivated by Jovie, a young woman who is also working as an elf. Still wanting to see Walter, he sends his father a photograph of his dead mother, Walter's late wife, and after a DNA test Walter has to reluctantly accept that Buddy is indeed his son and takes him home to meet his family, his wife Emily and Michael, his ten year old son. Things go well for Buddy, living with Walter's family and making a firm friend out of Michael, as well as starting to date Jovie, but a job at Walter's publishing firm is a disaster, Buddy just not being cut out for the adult world. When Buddy manages to upset a visiting writer on Christmas Eve Walter is enraged, and disowns him, never wanting to see him again. He wanders through Central Park, wondering what he is to do, when Santa's sleigh crashes in the park in front of him. Buddy starts to fix the jet engine on Santa's sleigh as Michael and Walter, who has been persuaded to walk out of the office, and possibly his job, try to find him. Being chased by the park rangers, Buddy and Santa manage to get the sleigh airborne once more, but only for a few moments before the engine breaks off and falls to the ground, but Michael and Jovie encourage a group of onlookers to sing Christmas carols, their goodwill and Christmas spirit managing to get Santa airborne to deliver all his presents. Christmas is saved by Buddy, and everybody gets a happy ending.
The concept is bizarre enough - actor and director Jon Favreau (Love And Sex / Made)
helming a feelgood children's Christmas film. What next? Tarantino's Hello Kitty
movie? A runaway hit in the US, making over $145 million in the first five weeks of release, Favreau's handling of the film shies away in the most part from superfluous sentimentality and goes for a more genuine innocence, Buddy being very much a child in a man's body, as well in elf's clothing. Will Ferrell (A Night At the Roxbury / Old School)
is good casting as the man-child, uncomfortably resembling as he does a chubby, slightly glassy-eyed David Hassellhoff (now there's a thought to keep you from your sleep), but Ferrell's character is charming without being cloying, and manages some moments of terrific wit, challenging a department store Santa with a cry of 'You sit on a throne of lies!' being a jarring high point. One can only imagine what a saccharine turn a more bankable name such as Jim Carrey or - worst possible scenario - Robin Williams would have made of the role. Favreau gets the tone right, making a children's film which will appeal to adults, but not to the extent of putting in innuendo or adult gags. Instead he makes what could be sickly quite enchanting, such as the early scenes in the North Pole where Buddy makes friends with a range of fantastic animals such as a puffin, a polar bear cub and a baby walrus, not rendered by photo-realistic CGI but by old-fashioned stop-motion from the brilliantly talented Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns From Outer Space / UHF),
whose creations perfectly fit the fairy tale atmosphere. Casting is spot on down the line, even if everybody is overshadowed by Ferrell, and although the concept sounds cloyingly nightmarish, Elf has to be regarded as one of the surprises of the year.