I usually avoid Will Ferrell comedies like the plague – visions of the god-awful Old School dance in my head. But Elf is the exception to the rule, partially because Will Ferrell’s inherently odd brand of visual comedy lends itself well to a director like Jon Favreau, who is nothing short of a master when it comes to conjuring genuine displays of sentiment.
When you mix the steady hand of Favreau with the shameless comedy of Ferrell, the end result is something absurdly funny and bizarrely warm, which is a surprise for a film that seems to be so open and honest about the asinine nature of its premise. Buddy (Ferrell) is an orphaned human raised by elves in Santa’s North Pole, blind to the truth of his origin. It’s a concept that, on its face, is worthy of only ironic laughter. But, thanks to Ferrell’s unwavering dedication to the role, I buy into it every time I watch it – even though I know I know it’s all a joke.
I mean, come on. It’s a dude in a loud elf costume roaming around a very real New York City. How the hell can it not be a joke?
When I watch Elf with kids, they take the comedy at face value, smiling as Ferrell repeatedly scares himself while testing Jack-in-the-box toys for functionality, or runs and leaps into a Christmas tree, only to have it fall over and crush him. Oddly, I join in on the fun, finding myself laughing out loud at the image of a grown man in elf tights shoveling candy-covered spaghetti into his mouth. How can you not? It’s just so awesomely stupid.
For those more jaded to the warmth of Christmas films, the satire at the heart of Elf is where the real magic is. I grin with cynical joy as a poorly animated “Leon The Snowman” bitterly mocks Buddy for thinking he could ever be an elf: “You’re six-foot-three and had a beard since you were fifteen!” And the image of Santa’s sleigh crashing into Central Park because of a lack of “Christmas spirit” – it’s a joyous way to expose holiday-themed family comedies for their disingenuous thematic irrelevance, while also embracing everything sentimental saps love about Christmas films.
When you throw in the sweet, quirky romance between Buddy and his first human friend, Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), the entire package makes me feel so warm and happy that I just want to sing Christmas carols and re-kindle my own sense of Christmas spirit – after all, Santa needs me! And though I know the joke’s on me, Elf makes me believe it’s OK to be a kid again.