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