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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Review: Elf (2003) - 12 Days of Christmas Movies #2

Plot:  After accidentally being picked up by Santa during his rounds, a human named Buddy is raised an elf in the North Pole.  Upon learning that he is not an actual elf he travels to Manhattan to find his real father, who just happens to be on the Naughty List.

Review:  Director, Jon Favreau's goal was to have Elf be one of those yearly holiday TV movies and I think most people will attest that he succeeded.  What makes the film works on many levels is it made by someone that understood the make up of the holiday classics that came before it.  By combining some of the classic elements with some new Elf comes across like an extension of the holiday films/specials we grew up on, making it very accessible.

This can be seen throughout the film, the elf costumes are exact replicas of those worn in "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," the sets and claymation also borrow from the style of the classic holiday TV specials.  Even though it was a new story, upon first viewing the film already felt familiar.

As a comedy the film succeeds at delivering laughs to a broad audience - the combination of sight gags/physical humor and clever plays on fish-out-of-water humor work well with young and old.  Whether Buddy is eating an overflowing, disgusting plate of pasta covered in candy and syrup or shouting out congratulations to the diner that makes the "World's Best Cup of Coffee" viewers will be having a great time watching what he will do next. 

Most importantly, it is a family film that can be enjoyed by young and old - no questionable content, no fast forwarding needed.  Nothing is worse than a holiday film that loses focus on who its audience is.  Too many "Christmas" films are focused on delivering a preachy message than entertaining the audience.  Others themes are so far removed from the spirit of the season, you wonder why it was a Christmas movie in the first place.  Favreau finds a great balance - delivering a good message while making sure that when all is said and done you finish with the warm holiday feel.   9 out of 10

Christmas Spirit Grade:  A
From the opening credits Favreau captures what a holiday film is all about and keeps you wrapped up in that warm feeling throughout the entire film.  It is full of classic Christmas songs, a visual style that evokes the Rankin and Bass classics, a Christmas romance, a sing-a-long, and best of all a redemption story (my favorite.)

Christmas Choke-up Grade:  B+
Even after seeing Elf about a dozen times, I still find myself choking up and getting the chills every time the group sing-a-long of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" produces enough Christmas Cheer to send Santa's sleigh flying through the sky.  Honestly, the choked up feeling usually start when Zooey Deschanel finds the courage to start the sing-a-long and stay that way until the credits start rolling.  Makes it tough to join in the sing-a-long when you are worried about blubbering in front of your kids.

Memorable Lines:
You smell like beef and cheese, you don't smell like Santa.

The best way to spread Christmas Cheer, is singing loud for all to hear.

What's more vulnerable than a peach?  (not that well know, but makes me laugh every time)

Did You Know?:
The elf Ming Ming, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, is played by Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie Parker in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story.

When this screenplay was written in 1993, Jim Carrey was attached to star in the lead.

Favreau wanted to rely on as many “old techniques” of filming as possible to preserve its nostalgic feel. One of the simpler tricks involved the elves’ diminutive look.  Favreau used an old movie trick called “forced perspective” to make the elves appear smaller in the presence of Ferrell, Asner and the other human-sized actors.

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