Tuesday, December 20, 2016

25 Days of Christmas: ELF

Welcome to Day 20 of our 25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS series, where we will be taking a look at holiday classics each day in the lead up to Christmas. Today, we'll be reviewing the Will Ferrell family comedy, ELF.

Thirty years prior to the events of the film, a baby crawls into Santa's sack at an orphanage. Santa unwittingly takes the baby back to the North Pole where it is decided that Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) will raise him. The baby, named Buddy (Will Ferrell), is raised unaware that he is actually a human until his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities cause Papa Elf to tell him the truth. The old elf reveals that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells and placed up for adoption, that Walter never knew Buddy was born, and that he now works at a children's book company in New York. Immediately and full of optimism, Buddy sets out for New York to find his father.

Elf is self-consciously structured in the most academic and basic way screenplays are written. It is screen writing 101 and it knows that. Even though it cannot be commended for a remarkable depth, there is just no resisting the charm and the comedy this film has to offer with what is possibly, still to this day, Ferrell's best performance.

For someone who has always been somewhat of a Ferrell critic, I have rarely been able to enjoy his comedies and sketches, this film really surprised me and that is exactly because Ferrell is cast perfectly in the role of an over-enthusiastic human who thinks he is an elf. His zany and over the top comedy and his exaggerated facial gestures fit this film perfectly and grace us with moments of really good comedy. Director Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book) knows how to build upon this and has always the right camera set-up to enhance the comedic effect. He uses the classic shtick of people or objects entering or exiting into frame to incredible effect and even does some innovative things with the technique that really surprised me and had me rolling with laughter.

The film also has a classic Christmas message and story: the characters by the end need to save Christmas and to do so they have to believe in the Christmas spirit. It is standard stuff, but the film is written very effectively and its colorful characters navigate through a sufficiently original premise and set-pieces which make for an undeniably pleasant flow. You care about everyone involved thanks to some solid work from all the performers. Yet, once again, what really pushes the film a notch above has to be the comedy. It is inventive and always different, it does not go for the same gag over and over again as it would be easy to do with a fish-out-of-water story.

As I said, Elf cannot be praised for bringing to the table something new. The structure is predictable down to every emotional beat. There isn't a sense of overwhelming emotion involved with the characters and their struggle is never really given depth exactly because we know how it is going to go.

Still, the fact that the film is self-conscious about that helps it build a pleasant family movie which is also a very good Christmas comedy with enough flare to keep you pleasantly entertained for the whole duration.

James' Score: 6.5/10

Be sure to stay tuned throughout the rest of the month! We're posting a new Christmas review every day, both old and new! Check back to see what movie we'll have you singing carols next!

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