The Twelve Flicks of Christmas

A New ben’s TEN Series

Get the Scoop You Won’t Find Anywhere Else on 12 Christmas Movies Old and New
[see complete list of reviews]

Elf (2003)
Directed by Jon Favreau
PG
Starring: Will Ferrell, Edward Asner, Bob Newhart, Zooey Deschanel

Review by Ben Koch

Conventional Synopsis:
When a human infant in an orphanage crawls into Santa’s bag one Christmas Eve, Santa unknowingly lugs him back to the North Pole. Upon discovering the unexpected visitor, Santa decides to let his elves raise the boy. An “ugly duckling” scenario unfolds as Buddy, the human elf, searches to find his place in an elf-sized world infused with elf over-the-top positivity. When the elves can no longer conceal Buddy’s true identity, he sets off on a journey to find his human father in New York City. There, his rosy, elf-influenced view of the world (“There’s room for everyone on Santa’s nice list.”) is challenged by a bitter, unbelieving city and an even more jaded father.

Beneath the Surface
Elf represents Will Ferrell at his PG best, and the movie brilliantly weaves several cultural narratives together with great situational comedy. We get the “ugly duckling” times two, for example—first, when the 6-foot plus Buddy blunders his way through childhood among elves, never quite finding his niche or special skill; second, as the cheerful, naive man-boy roaming New York City whose Don Quixote like illusions are so intense they are actually never deterred.

Then there are echoes of Rudolph…the climactic scene of this story line is when Buddy saves Christmas by repairing Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve after it crashes in Central Park.

But I would argue that these two plot lines–both of which focus on Will Ferrell’s character as the main protagonist–are simply decoys, diversions from the true heart of the story. Rather then the archetype of the Ugly Duckling or Rudolph, Buddy’s true narrative role is that of Tiny Tim. Yep, he’s just a supporting actor for the more relevant subject of the film, the Scrooge figure of Buddy’s father, Walter Hobbs.

All good Christmas movies (as we’ll see throughout this series) have at their core the inner transformation of one or more characters in a sort of spiritual awakening, although be careful in assuming it need have any religious overtones. Here it certainly doesn’t. Embedded amongst the slapstick is a series of touching, evolving interactions between Buddy and Walter Hobbs. Initially, Walter is disgusted and repulsed by this tight-wearing, effeminate man-boy. Gradually, though, we see Buddy’s unwavering outlook begin to penetrate Walter’s middle-age husk, and his journey to the final scene in which he opens his heart to Buddy, and the season, is a nice reward.

The next time you watch Elf—or the first time you do—please do laugh at Will Ferrell’s brilliant antics. No other actor on the planet could embody the naiveté and innocence with which a 6-foot elf would explore New York City and the modern world, and it’s doubtful whether an actor like Jim Carrey could have held back enough for the more subtle narratives to come through. But don’t be drawn into the story simply as a light-hearted fantasy comedy. Instead, see Buddy as an impetus for the inner transformations of those around him, in particular his crusted over father. If you make a heartfelt effort to see beyond the shenanigans, Elf will be that much more rewarding.

Ratings

Cocoa Factor = 8 out of 10
How good is this one for cozying up with a fire burning, a hot beverage of your choice, and your new Snuggy?

Magicality = 8 out of 10
How well does this one transport you back to the timeless wonderment beyond rationality when Christmas enveloped you in magic? AKA “The Santa Clause factor.”

A Date with Grandma and Aunt Bernice = 9 out of 10
How appropriate/awkward is this one to watch with relatives of all ages? Will hot kissing scenes or male rear nudity spoil the mood?

Tiny Tim’s Big Truths = 8 out of 10
From the mouths of babes come life’s most profound lessons. At the heart of this flick, how authentic, heartfelt and lasting is the message? Does it transcend Xmas clichés and ring bells?

 Overall = 8 out of 10

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About bensten

Teacher, writer, blogger and spiritual practitioner. Managing editor of bensten.wordpress.com.

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