|“||This holiday, discover your inner elf.||”|
— The film's tagline
Elf is an American Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau, written by David Berenbaum, and starring Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, and Zooey Deschanel. It was released in the United States on November 7, 2003, and grossed over $220,400,000 worldwide.
One Christmas Eve, while Santa Claus is delivering toys to an orphanage, a baby named William, captivated by the sight of a teddy bear, crawls into Santa's sack of gifts. Santa unwittingly takes him back to the North Pole, where Papa Elf volunteers to raise him. William is renamed Buddy because he was wearing 'Little Buddy Diapers'. He is raised unaware that he is actually a human, until his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities force Papa Elf to tell him the truth. He reveals that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells and given up for adoption, and that Walter never knew that he was born. He explains how Susan later died, and that Walter now works at a children's book company in New York City. Santa tells Buddy that Walter is on "the naughty list"; nevertheless, he sets out for New York to find him.
Upon arriving in New York City, Buddy displays his ignorance in several ways, as he crosses the street at the wrong time, chews discarded gum on the subway station's handrails, and takes a coffee shop's claim to have the "world's best cup of coffee" literally. He eventually finds his father in the Empire State Building, but an incredulous Walter Hobbs has him thrown out. He takes a security guard's sarcastic suggestion to "get back to Gimbel's", where he is mistaken for an employee and meets the lovely but unenthusiastic Jovie. The next morning, he is shocked to discover that Gimbel's Santa is not the genuine article, and a fight ensues between them. He is arrested and sentenced to 24 hours in jail. Walter reluctantly bails him out and takes him to a pediatrician for a DNA test. Once it is proven that he is in fact Walter's son, he takes him home to meet his stepmother, Emily, and half-brother, Michael. Walter is clearly put off by his immature, innocent behavior (such as slathering his spaghetti with maple syrup and M&M's and not seeming to understand that Walter isn't interested in playing with him), but Emily insists that they take care of him until he "recovers".
Buddy befriends Michael after the former defeats a gang of bullies single-handedly in a snowball fight, and Michael encourages him to ask Jovie out. The next day, Walter reluctantly takes him to work with him, and uses his naïveté to send him down to the mailroom. He gets drunk on a coworker's whiskey, thinking it's syrup, and ends up throwing a party in there. That night, he goes on a date with Jovie. Walter, meanwhile, has been trying to save his floundering business by hiring the temperamental best-selling writer Miles Finch. When the vertically-challenged Miles arrives, Buddy innocently thinks he is an elf. Miles attacks Buddy after being pushed to his limit and storms out of the conference room without signing a deal with Walter's company. Walter is so angry over this setback that he yells at Buddy to "get out of his life" as well as stating that he doesn't care that he's an elf, that he's crazy, and that he's his son. Buddy leaves and Walter's associates give him disapproving looks. Buddy, now afraid of Walter's shadow, writes a message to him, and then he runs away with hurt feelings.
Meanwhile, Michael sees Buddy's message, and he bursts in on Walter's board meeting to tell him frantically that Buddy is gone. He manages to convince him to put his family above his job for the first time, and his boss fires him because of leaving the business meeting on him with Michael. Buddy looks up and sees Santa's sleigh crash in Central Park. He finds Santa, who explains that he lost the sleigh's engine and that the last bit of Christmas spirit on the Clausometer (which had powered the sleigh previously) had gone. He convinces Buddy to help him fix the sleigh. Walter and Michael find Buddy in Central Park as he locates the sleigh's engine. He takes them to meet Santa, who reveals to Michael that belief in him (manifested in knowing that he is bringing people what they want for Christmas) can make his sleigh fly. Michael therefore steals his list and reads it in front of the TV cameras now gathered outside the park, so that people all over New York City believe conclusively in him. The Central Park Rangers begin to chase his sleigh while Buddy is still trying to reattach the engine, and it is one point lost.
However, Jovie, remembering what Buddy had told her about how singing is the best way to spread the joy of Christmas, manages to overcome her shyness and get the sleigh in the air by the power of Christmas spirit when she leads the crowd in singing "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town", with even Walter eventually joining in. Later, he starts his own publishing company with the first book released being titled Elf, an account of Buddy's adventures. Buddy and Jovie also marry, have a daughter named Susie, and are shown to visit Papa Elf and the North Pole periodically.
The soundtrack was released in November 2003 in the USA and in October 2005 in the UK. The track listing is as follows:
- "Pennies from Heaven" - Louis Prima
- "Sleigh Ride" - Ella Fitzgerald and the Frank De Vol Orchestra
- "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" - Lena Horne
- "Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus Party" - Ferrante and Teicher/Les Baxter
- "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Leon Redbone/Zooey Deschanel
- "Jingle Bells" - Jim Reeves
- "The Nutcracker Suite" - Brian Setzer
- "Christmas Island" - Leon Redbone
- "Santa Baby" - Eartha Kitt/Henri René and His Orchestra
- "Winter Wonderland" - Leon Redbone
- "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" - Eddy Arnold
- "Nothing from Nothing" - Billy Preston
- A small store in Maine received a licensing fee from the producers after it was learned that they had owned the then-abandoned "Gimbel's" name.
- Much of the filming takes place in New York City, with the exception of the exterior scenes for Gimbel's, which were done in Vancouver.
- Director Jon Favreau makes a cameo appearance in the film as the Hobbs' family doctor.
- Jim Carrey was originally cast to play Buddy, but he passed on it, giving Ferrell his Hollywood breakthrough role after originally starring on Saturday Night Live.
- Ed Asner previously portrayed Santa Claus in The Story of Santa Claus and Olive, the Other Reindeer.
- The designs for Santa's workshop and the elf uniforms come from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Additionally, the character of Leon the Snowman is an obvious parody of Sam the Snowman.
The film was released on VHS and DVD on November 16, 2004, and on Blu-ray on October 28, 2008. It was also made available as a Universal Media Disc for the PlayStation Portable in 2005. A Collector's Edition DVD and Blu-ray was released on October 26, 2010. A 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack was released on November 5, 2013.
In addition to the film's own individual releases, the DVD was also included in Warner Home Video's Christmas Comedy Collection box set, alongside A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, in 2007. Two years later, it was then packaged in the Holiday Comedy Collection, along with Christmas Vacation and Fred Claus. The Blu-ray was also released as part of the Essential Holiday Collection Blu-ray set, which also included the Blu-rays of A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and The Polar Express.
On November 14, 2010, a stage musical version of the film opened on Broadway at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan. The cast included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovie, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthew Gumley as Michael, Valerie Wright as Deb, Michael McCormick as Mr. Greenway, Michael Mandell as the store manager, and George Wendt as Santa. It ran through to January 2, 2011.
|James Cann||Walter Hobbs|
|Mary Steenburgen||Emily Hobbs|
|Ed Asner||Santa Claus|
|Bob Newhart||Papa Elf|
|Daniel Tay||Michael Hobbs|
|Faizon Love||Gimbel's manager|
|Peter Dinklage||Miles Finch|
|Artie Lange||Gimbel's Santa|
|Leon Redbone||Leon the Snowman|
|Ray Harryhausen||Polar bear cub|
|Jon Favreau||Dr. Leonardo|
|James Walsh||Penguin family|
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