You don’t have to be a holiday-movie connoisseur to have seen it, heard about it, been told to watch it; a vital piece of the Christmas season package, one can’t make “snow angels for two hours, then go ice skating, then eat a whole roll of Tollhouse cookie-dough” without having first watched the ever-popular Elf. Praised for its timelessness and family-friendliness, Elf is unquestionably one of the most festive films of the twenty-first century.
It’s fun, it’s jovial, it’s quirky—most can’t resist a Christmas movie weaved with comedy in the way that Elf delivers. Few things are so commercially-Christmas as Buddy’s green get up or the snowy New York City backdrop. And while I will admit that there are some Elf moments that I do find entertaining (namely Ferrell’s amusing escalator stunt), I can’t help but find myself wondering how on Earth the movie could end up on our shelves as a neighbor to beloved films such as Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, or A Christmas Story, the yuletide staples of the movie industry.
It’s around these final frigid, skin-drying weeks of the calendar year that I must force myself to bite my tongue at every Elf mention—reasons range from my wish to avoid a sea of gasps or a bombardment of accusatory questions (“how and why would someone ever not like Elf??”), to my not having enough time to explain myself. Considering the overwhelming popularity of the flick, I never felt I was in a safe enough place to be able to defend my position or explain myself. Though I’m not here to change your mind on Elf, I urge you to at least tolerate on my take on it. (But don’t worry, I won’t be offended if you decide to close the tab at this point.)
Perhaps the first offense that I find Elf guilty of would be the casting of Will Ferrell. In this regard, I will confess my bias. Anchorman, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Step Brothers, Zoolander, those couple episodes of The Office he starred in—I have yet to sit through a Will Ferrell scene I don’t cringe towards at least ten times (with the exception of Stranger Than Fiction, the only Ferrell film I’ve particularly enjoyed). In Elf specifically, the only thing I really think he’s got going for him would be his height. Setting aside all of the childish “jokes” that the movie consists of—running into doors, eating chewed gum off of public railings, burps, obnoxious remarks, angry little-people, singing and screaming, and just about everything in between—all that’s left behind is an awkward Ferrell crushing fellow elves and towering above them seated in a dollhouse-sized school desk. As for the childlike persona of Buddy, I found little to enjoy in what was supposed to be a sweet, innocent personality. To be frank, it was pretty annoying and got old within the first ten minutes.
And, are we going to address the Baby, It’s Cold Outside karaoke session in the women’s locker room? I’m still unsure whether it’s supposed to be perceived as funny or cute, but regardless, it’s creepy. If an adult man in tights eating cotton-balls and candy-spaghetti appeals to your sense of humor, Elf is your movie. I guess I just prefer a comedy that actually makes me laugh (and not just do that half-laugh thing where you blow some air of your nose expressionlessly).
Moving beyond my feelings towards Buddy the Elf, I’ll hand it to Elf’s creative staff that the intro was well done. The claymation animals and sweet soundtrack (a Christmas-y jingle that teeters a little bit close to the Polar Express score in certain tunes) adorably incorporate elements of the timeless Rudolph the Red Nosed, and the classic storybook opening scene starts Elf with a bang. With such an introduction, it’s hard to predict that the film will end with a scene so weak as it does.
What is intended to be a grand finale ends up being so far-fetched and complex that any of the heartwarming sentiments (if any) that viewers had been holding on to are entirely diminished. To cap off a winded buildup is an inflated final scene; Santa gets in a sleigh-crash, Buddy’s dad has an uncharacteristic emotional epiphany (I guess that’s just what Christmas spirit does?), all of New York has to sing to get Santa up and moving again, but all it takes is Buddy’s grumpy dad’s singing along to project Santa back into orbit. Yes, it’s a Christmas movie, but this climax was so much in so little an amount of time (close to four minutes to conclude a ninety-seven minute movie) that it was borderline anticlimactic.
The last and perhaps largest component of Elf that rubs me the wrong way would be it’s watchability. I have to disagree with the fans that boast having watched Elf fifty times—it was cute the first or second watch, but the eight-or-so times following weren’t nearly as enjoyable. Much unlike an expensive cheese, this one just doesn’t get better with age. A movie that does become even more special with time is one that deserves to be called a “classic,” and I don’t think Elf falls under this umbrella.
Admittedly, the underlying reason that I don’t particularly love Elf is that I associate it with middle school gym classes the week preceding winter break. Being forced to watch the movie in every class after Deerpath teachers had nothing left of their lesson plans let my annoyance towards the film manifest. When given the option to either watch Elf in the multi-gym or play basketball in the other, I’d most likely chose the latter (and I’m horrible at basketball). Maybe I would’ve liked it better if I’d been raised on watching Elf with my family, but this just wasn’t the case. But, even if it is a good movie, I wouldn’t go so far as to elevate it as highly as people do.
Maybe it’s just my inner-Scrooge talking, and maybe I have the heart of the Grinch (two sizes too small). Maybe I should simply take it for what is it—a feel-good Christmas movie. You can call me a cotton headed ninny muggins, but I just don’t understand all the fuss over Elf.