‘Elf’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

This review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.

“Elf” is a movie which, for all intents and purposes, should have no right being as good as it is when you read its plot description. It’s about an adult elf named Buddy (Will Ferrell) who has been raised by elves. He doesn’t seem to realize that he doesn’t really fit in with the rest of elves, as he’s so much bigger than them and not able to perform some of their day-to-day tasks.  He was adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) after Santa Claus (Ed Asner) took him in.  Before long, Papa Elf comes clean and tells Buddy his real father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), lives in New York.  Walter never knew he had a son because he was given up for adoption by his birth mother, Susan Wells, before she passed away.

For all his life, all Buddy has known is the North Pole.  He loves Christmas with all his heart and soul without being obnoxious about it. If Christmas ever had an ambassador, it would certainly be Buddy the Elf.  From here, the film has your fish-out-of-water storyline with Buddy, an oversized elf, trying to find his dad in New York and navigate the big city.  It provides for some hilarious moments as no one really notices the fact he’s dressed up like an elf.  It’s New York, after all. People dress up and portray other people all of the time, so he doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.  He even ends up being mistaken for an employee at Gimbels.

This is where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), someone who needs a little bit of a spark in her life as she’s struggling to find happiness and pay her bills. Buddy is the perfect person for her to meet because he’s always in a good mood, filled with Christmas spirit, and knows how to put a smile on her face. He also ends up meeting Walter who, at first, thinks Buddy is absolutely out of his mind.  There is no way he could have had a child thirty years ago, and there is no way it’s a human being who thinks he’s an elf. After taking a DNA test, he ends up finding out that Buddy is indeed his son and introduces him to his wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay).

Emily immediately takes a liking to Buddy as he’s thoughtful, kind and a positive soul.  He might make a mess from time-to-time, but he’s so darn lovable that it’s hard to stay mad at him for too long. Michael, on the other hand, is not sure what to make of Buddy as he sees him as embarrassing.  Before long, he sees him as the older brother he never had since they have snowball fights together, and they eventually build a solid bond and connection.  Walter, however, is struggling with his work at a publishing company, and the last thing he needs right now is Buddy the Elf creating drama in his life.

The number one reason “Elf” works is the cast.  Let’s start with Will Ferrell.  This is a performance where he’s totally and completely committed to whatever the film asks him to do.  Sometimes, he needs to play it a little big and over-the-top, and he hits all of the right notes.  In other scenes, he needs to be a little more innocent and naïve, and he nails these aspects of the character.  I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing Buddy the Elf except for Ferrell.  He has the perfect straight man counterpart in James Caan. This is not the type of film you would expect from Caan, but he fits in perfectly as he expresses so much with his face and body language.  Ferrell and Caan produce comedy gold.

One cannot also overlook the great work of Zooey Deschanel.  Her character of Jovie is incredibly sweet, thoughtful and kind to Buddy.  She never judges or thinks less of him.  He also brings out the best in her.  They are perfect together on screen. The same can be said for Mary Steenburgen as she’s always so warm and inviting with all her film performances.  She sees the good in everyone.  There is also solid supporting work from Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter and Artie Lange. Director Jon Favreau even makes an appearance as a doctor.

That is another aspect which works just right: the direction of Jon Favreau.  The film is driven by interesting characters, and he finds just the right actors to portray them.  He also knows how to get the most out of David Berenbaum’s script.  He really lets it breathe, and there are so many great lines of dialogue which have stood the test of time and are still repeated to this day, nearly twenty years later. This is my wife’s favorite Christmas movie, and I think it might be mine as well as we watch it together every Christmas.  It’s funny, sweet, heartfelt, and it has a heart of gold.  It feels like an adult Christmas film that also knows how to appeal to kids as well, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty close.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “Elf” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. It has a running time of 97 minutes and is rated PG for some mild rude humor and language. The film also comes with a digital copy.

4K Info:  This 4K release is absolutely stunning. It’s truly a visual feast for the eyes.  They have upgraded the film in a way as to where it truly feels like you are in New York around Christmas time.  It has great color tones that are enhanced to the max with HDR.  It really is a treat to watch as it looks so bright and colorful on this format.

Audio Info: The audio formats are DTS-HD MA: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English Descriptive Audio, French, and Spanish. Subtitles are included in English, French, and Spanish. The sound is terrific.

Special Features:

Audio Commentary with Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell

Tag Along with Will Ferrell

Film School for Kids

How They Made the North Pole

Lights, Camera, Puffin!

That’s a Wrap…

Kids on Christmas

Deck the Halls

Santa Mania

Christmas in Tinseltown

Fact Track

Focus Points

Elf Karaoke – We Wish You a Merry Christmas, Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells

Theatrical Trailer

Deleted/Alternate Scenes with optional commentary by Director Jon Favreau

Should You Buy It?

If you don’t want to be a cotton headed ninny muggings, you will go out and buy “Elf” on 4K and add it to your Christmas movie collection.  As with almost all of the older films which have been upgraded to 4K from Warner Brothers, they have transported the same special features from the Blu-ray.  However, this is one of the better looking 4K transfers I’ve seen of a film which is nearly twenty-years-old. There is a lot to like with both the audio and visual aspects of the film.  I was really impressed with the audio quality and crispiness of the picture quality.  That is the great thing about 4K—it really gives you a new appreciation for some of your favorite films.  This is a feel-good film, and we need more feel-good films these days, especially with Christmas around the corner.  I highly recommend you pick up the 4K of “Elf.”  You won’t be disappointed!

**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free.  The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.

Adam McKay on the American Economy, Ayn Rand, and ‘The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas’

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“The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” is one of 20 short films which make up “We the Economy,” a series that uses innovative story techniques to give us a better understanding of the U.S. economy. This particular short film was directed by Adam McKay, best known for directing the “Anchorman” movies, “The Big Short” and for co-founding the comedy website “Funny or Die,” and it’s an animated short film and a thinly veiled parody of all those “My Little Pony” cartoons children are still crazy about watching. It takes place in a magical land filled with long-lashed, multi-colored Alpacas who love lollipops, rainbows, and friendship, and they have just graduated from school and are looking to get well-paying jobs in the business world. But once they are made aware of the sharp divide in wealth distribution which mirrors America’s, the growing evidence of inequality gap makes them turn against one another with hilarious results.

A press day for “We the Economy” was held at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California, and McKay was one of the directors who attended it. “The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” is not only the funniest short film in this series but also one the most informative. McKay said the inspiration for it came in part from his kids watching “My Little Pony” cartoons all the time, but another one came from an unexpected source.

“There was actually a documentary about the richest building in New York City on Park Avenue, and it was made by Alex Gibney and it was called ‘Park Avenue (Money, Power and the American Dream),’” McKay said. “He describes how the children of the super billionaires would always come through the lobby and be so friendly with the doorman, and the doorman would go, ‘How was your soccer game?’ And then the doorman described how one day when they were like 11 or 12, the light just went off. It was like someone had told them you were different and they no longer connected with the doorman. The guy was talking how sad that is, and so I think just vaguely that was in my mind that when you’re a kid, these differences don’t mean anything. And then when they become real, all of a sudden you’ll notice all the alpacas start fighting with each other and they’re no longer friends. So yeah, I think we’ll give Alex Gibney credit for that.”

Making this short film also proved to be very educational for McKay as it made him fully aware of just how bad income equality is in the United States.

“I was shocked,” McKay said. “I came in knowing that the U.S. had a problem with income inequality, but I didn’t know just how bad it was and that our upward mobility was so stagnant and that it’s actually not that great in the U.S. I was shocked about the numbers about the middle class. Our middle class has almost completely evaporated. I knew we were bad, but then when I worked with Adam Davidson and looked at the actual numbers… Damon actually contacted us and was like, ‘I think there was a mistake made when you said 50% of the wealth went to the top .1%.’ We’re like, ‘No, that’s not a mistake.’ And I had the same reaction he did which was like, that’s gotta be a typo.”

“I didn’t know that we are by every definition of the word in the U.S. an oligarchy. I had no idea that that was the case,” McKay continued. “A strict definition of oligarchy, that is the U.S. more so than Russia or China than any country you can think of. It’s a little depressing but at the same time a good opportunity to let people know about these numbers.”

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One of the images which really stood out in my mind was when the Alpacas are shown a portrait of a company CEO who is shown holding a copy of Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.” For the record, I have not read any of Rand’s books, but her name has been coming up a lot even though she died back in 1982. There were three movies based on her book “Atlas Shrugged,” the first which was a critical and commercial flop, and yet the filmmakers still made a pair of sequels to it. John Oliver even did a segment about her on “Last Week Tonight” as he wondered why she was still considered relevant. I had to ask McKay why this book was so prominently featured in the portrait, and he helped school me in what Rand was really about.

“She was a refugee of Communist Russia, so she had been given the hard boots,” McKay said. “I think she was a fun partier supposedly so she hung out with the billionaires and was like fuck everyone else, let’s have a good time. She had seen the overreaction of the Communist Revolution so she was an extremist in the other way, and then you have these guys with dynastic wealth who have inherited millions of dollars who kind of feel shitty about it. And then here’s a woman telling you, let’s go have a big sex party and you shouldn’t feel shitty about having your money. She’s perfect for the Koch Brothers and it’s like she’s their bible because, otherwise, they’re going to have to give away a lot of their money, and they don’t want to do that.”

“Ever since I’ve been in college, I’ve always been having arguments with the Ayn Rand devotees,” McKay continued. “My point on Ayn Rand is she’s always been a bad writer. John Milius is a big right-winger, but the guy can write (remember Robert Shaw’s famous U.S.S. Indianapolis speech from “Jaws?”). You can be a right winger or whatever you want to be, just don’t be a shitty writer.”

“It’s funny because she becomes more important the more you get income inequality in our country, and the more billionaires you get the more her name comes back into the public,” McKay said. “In the 50’s and 60’s, she was fringe. The interview with Mike Wallace with her was like she was a cuckoo bird, and it is only now that our country’s kind of a little bit broken that suddenly she’s back in the mainstream.”

“We the Economy” is now up and running, and it has proven to be a clever and innovative way to teach us more about the U.S. economy. Be sure to check the website, and you can view “The Unbelievably Sweet Alpacas” below.

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