Friday, Nov. 7
Having successfully demonstrated his big-screen comic chops with "Old School", Will Ferrell
again proves there is indeed life after "SNL", playing an elf-reared naif who sets off from the North Pole for New York to seek out the biological dad he never met.
While the words "instant holiday classic" might be pushing it, "Elf" is at the very least a breezily entertaining, perfectly cast family treat. Actor-director Jon Favreau
, working from a colorful script by David Berenbaum
, has delivered just the right combination of naughty and nice, or, as the MPAA calls it, "mild rude humor and language."
That crowd-pleasing blend and Ferrell's irresistible performance will not only ensure that the halls of New Line will be decked out in plenty of green (as if the upcoming final "Lord of the Rings" installment hasn't already all but guaranteed that), but it's also likely to give a certain cat in a certain hat a run for his money this holiday season.
What it basically comes down to is this: How bad can a movie be that begins with a sullen-looking Bob Newhart
clad in full elf regalia?
Newhart's Papa Elf provides the narration for this pleasantly fractured fairy tale about a little baby in an orphanage, who happened to find his way into Santa's sack of toys one Christmas Eve. The stowaway wasn't discovered until after the man in the red suit (played by gruff old Lou Grant himself, Ed Asner) returned to the North Pole and was subsequently raised by Papa Elf as his own son.
It soon became quite apparent that the child he named Buddy (Ferrell) was going to have trouble fitting in, given that he was growing at a rate that was roughly three times that of his workshop colleagues.
Ultimately Buddy is told the truth about his being an elf-made man and that his real biological father is alive and well and living in Manhattan.
A Scrooge-like workaholic children's book publisher, papa Walter Hobbs (James Caan
) also happens to be a permanent fixture on Santa's naughty list. But that doesn't thwart Buddy, who travels to New York to introduce himself to Dad.
As babe-in-the-woods Buddy -- a vision in green, yellow tights and pointy shoes -- soon discovers, not only does Hobbs not exactly welcome his long-lost son with open arms, but Manhattan is in serious need of an injection of Christmas spirit.
It's jingling formula all the way, but Favreau (who makes good on "Made", his 2001 directorial debut) and screenwriter Berenbaum (who also penned the Walt Disney Co.'s upcoming "The Haunted Mansion"), lend the story plenty of comic smarts. There's sweetness, but it's seldom cloying.
There's also the terrific supporting cast, which includes Mary Steenburgen
as Caan's resilient wife and Zooey Deschanel
as the jaded Jovie, who works with Buddy at the thoughtfully resurrected Gimbel's department store
But there would be no "Elf" without Ferrell, and whether he's trying to hopscotch his way across Broadway or attempting to navigate his first escalator, he always manages to work a rousing subversive element into his character's core innocence.
Visually, the picture celebrates the best of the genre. The North Pole sequences incorporate animated elements that pay direct tribute to those vintage Rankin-Bass specials, while cinematographer Greg Gardiner
and production designer Rusty Smith favor old-fashioned, forced perspective techniques over CGI to create those size disparities between Buddy and the elves.
Aurally, John Debney's appropriately festive score has been supplemented with a generous selection of swingin' Yuletide tunes by Ella Fitzgerald
, Ray Charles and Leon Redbone
, while Deschanel, who joins Ferrell in an impromptu rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", reveals a singing voice that's a study in Keely Smith
New Line Cinema
Guy Walks Into a Bar Prods.
Director: Jon Favreau
Screenwriter: David Berenbaum
Producers: Jon Berg
Todd Komarnicki, Shauna Robertson
Executive producers: Jimmy Miller
Julie Wixson Darmody
Director of photography: Greg Gardiner
Production designer: Rusty Smith
Editor: Dan Lebental
Costume designer: Laura Jean Shannon
Music: John Debney
Visual effects supervisor: Joe Bauer
Casting: Susie Farris
Buddy: Will Ferrell
Walter: James Caan
Jovie: Zooey Deschanel
Emily: Mary Steenburgen
Santa Claus: Edward Asner
Papa Elf: Bob Newhart
Michael: Daniel Tay
Manager: Faizon Love
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: PG