|“||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.
In the prologue as told in a storybook, Papa Elf greets the audience with a mention of three jobs to elfkind, making shoes for a cobbler, baking cookies in a tree, and most of all, building toys in Santa's Workshop. And on Papa's description, the story begins.
On Christmas Eve in 1972, while Santa Claus (Ed Asner) is delivering toys to an orphanage, a baby named William crawls into Santa's sack of toys after being captivated by the sight of a teddy bear and is unwittingly taken back to the North Pole where he is renamed Buddy because he is wearing "Little Buddy Diapers". Over the next three decades, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) raises Buddy as an elf worker, but his enormous size and poor toy-making abilities prove to be a hassle to the other elves. After Buddy overhears two elves discussing him being a human, he goes to Papa Elf for the truth. Papa Elf tells Buddy that he was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells, but Walter never knew that he was born as he was given up for adoption. He also reveals that Susan later died and that Walter now works at a children's book company in New York City. Buddy learns about New York from a jolly snowman named Leon. Although Santa tells Buddy that Walter is on the "naughty list", he sets out on a long journey to find his father.
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 a subway station's handrails (despite Santa earlier telling him not to do so), and takes a derelict coffee shop's claim to have the "world's best cup of coffee" literally. He eventually finds his father in the Empire State Building, and Walter (James Caan) initially lets Buddy into his office thinking that he is a Christmas-gram. But when Buddy mentions Susan Wells, an incredulous Walter has security eject him from the building and they sarcastically tell Buddy to "get back to Gimbel's". He does so and the manager (Faizon Love) mistakes him for an employee at the store's Santa Land, where he meets the lovely but unenthusiastic Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). After hearing that Santa will be arriving the next morning, Buddy stays after-hours and redecorates the Santa Land using expensive merchandise from around the store, and also buys Walter a sensual nightie because it's advertised as being "for that special someone". The morning comes and, despite the redecorated Santa Land proving to be a hit with families, Buddy is appalled that the department store Santa (Artie Lange) is not the genuine article. After Buddy rips off the man's fake beard to expose him as an imposter in front of the children, a brawl breaks out between the two that causes much destruction to the Santa Land. Buddy is then arrested, sentenced to 24 hours in jail, and given a restraining order which effectively bans him from entering the store. After hearing about Buddy's imprisonment, Walter reluctantly bails him out and takes him to the family's pediatrician (Jon Favreau) for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is in fact Walter's biological son.
The doctor then deduces that Buddy may be returning to a position of child-like dependency because he was never fully nurtured at birth, and convinces Walter to take Buddy home to meet his stepmother Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and half-brother Michael (Daniel Tay). Despite Emily being overjoyed that Walter has another son, both Walter and Michael are put off by Buddy's immature behavior (such as slathering his spaghetti in M&M's and maple syrup and not seeming to understand that neither of them are interested in playing with him), but Emily insists that Buddy stay with them until he "recovers".
Walter is berated by his boss Fulton Greenway (Michael Lerner) for publishing the book The Puppy and the Pigeon with two pages missing, as Walter believed a reprint would be too expensive. He also learns that the company is in financial trouble not only because the book is incomplete, but that the book as a whole sucks. Greenway schedules a book pitch for Christmas Eve, and Walter's associates Eugene and Morris (Kyle Gass and Andy Richter) suggest that they hire temperamental best-selling writer Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage). Meanwhile, Buddy befriends Michael after helping him defeat a gang of bullies in a snowball fight, and Michael encourages him to ask Jovie out.
The next day, Walter reluctantly takes Buddy to work with him after being encouraged by Emily and sends him down to the mailroom so he won't cause any trouble. Unfortunately, he accidentally becomes drunk after mistaking a co-worker's whiskey for syrup and throws an outrageous dance party that interrupts a phone conversation between Walter, his associates, and Finch. On Christmas Eve, Buddy goes on his date with Jovie and wins her over with his child-like enthusiasum. During Walter's meeting with Finch, Buddy bursts into the conference room to tell him about his newfound love. He then notices Finch and innocently thinks he is an elf due to his dwarfism. Finch tries to hold his temper, but eventually loses it and beats Buddy up after being offended by his questions about how he managed to leave the North Pole. Despite Walter's pleas, an angry and insulted Finch leaves without signing a deal with the company. Walter becomes so enraged over this setback that he harshly disowns Buddy by telling him that he does not care that he is an elf, that he is crazy, or that he is his son before finishing with "GET OUT OF MY LIFE, NOW!". A deeply saddened Buddy leaves the conference room and Walter's associates give him disapproving looks for his outburst.
After returning home, Buddy writes a message on an etch-a-sketch apologizing for ruining Walter's life and "cramming 11 cookies into the VCR" before running away. Back at the office, Walter feels extremely guilty for upsetting Buddy and has given up hope on saving his job, until Eugene and Morris reveal that they found a notebook Finch left behind in the conference room. Discovering it is filled with pitches for children's literature, Walter tells them to prepare a storyboard in time for Greenway's arrival.
Meanwhile, Michael sees Buddy's message, and he bursts in on Walter's meeting with Greenway to frantically tell him that Buddy is gone. After being convinced to put his family above his job for the first time, Walter asks Greenway to reschedule. Greenway refuses and threatens to fire Walter if he doesn't finish the book pitch, but Walter leaves anyway after telling him "up yours". True to his word, Greenway fires Walter.
While walking through the streets, Buddy sees Santa's sleigh crash into Central Park, which attracts a large crowd as well as TV reporters and the Central Park Rangers. He finds Santa, who explains that he lost the sleigh's engine and that the last bit of Christmas spirit on the Claus-o-meter (which had powered the sleigh previously) is 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 at one point lost.
However, Jovie, who saw the events on TV and was among the crowd, remembers what Buddy told her earlier about how singing is the best way to spread Christmas cheer. She manages to overcome her shyness and leads the crowd into singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town, which restores power to the sleigh. However, it is not enough to make it fly, and this is because Walter was caught by Michael mouthing the words. Walter is convinced to start singing, which fully powers the sleigh and the crowd watches in amazement as it takes to the sky.
By the next Christmas, Walter has started his own publishing company with the first book released title Elf, an account of Buddy's adventures. Buddy and Jovie also marry and have a daughter named Susie, named after his biological mother. The film ends with the two visiting Papa Elf at the North Pole. Leon the Snowman closes the storybook, winks at the audience, and the screen irises out.
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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