If you really think about it, the past two decades have not exactly been a hotbed for classic holiday films. Improbably, the one that can be considered a modern classic is a movie in which Will Ferrell wears yellow tights.
In case you haven’t seen it, which might be impossible, Elf tells the story of man-child Buddy, who spent the first thirty years of his life thinking he was one of Santa’s elves. It turns out, which should be evident by the fact that he’s enormous compared to the rest of the elves, is that he’s actually a human. Buddy then travels to New York City to find his father, who just so happens to be James Caan.
What is great about Elf is that it is able to take the idealism and charm of holiday specials, channeled through Buddy’s personality, and juxtaposes it against a real world setting. It’s a similar contrast you’d see in movies like The Brady Bunch Movie or The Addams Family and it works perfectly here.
A lot of the charm is owed to Will Ferrell’s convincing performance as Buddy the Elf. Ferrell has a knack for immersing himself in characters that are oblivious to how the world around them works and how they fit into it. We see it when he’s Ron Burgundy, we see it when he’s Ricky Bobby, and we see it here. While the other instances are characters in which their ignorance is a byproduct of selfishness and ego, Buddy’s ignorance is far more childlike, almost bordering on a Forrest Gump-like blissfulness.
Elf isn’t just a Will Ferrell comedy, though. The charm of New York City during Christmastime plays a big role in the movie. When the city is lit up in Christmas lights, New York can be a wonderful place to experience and it truly captures some magic of the holiday. When Buddy sees the tree in Rockefeller Center or takes Jovi ice-skating, it’s hard not to get the warm and fuzzies about the holiday season.
All in all, Elf is a charming, modern day Christmas movie that combines the idealism of claymation holiday specials with the modern day.