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Will Ferrell, Edward Asner, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart ... see more see more... , Zooey Deschanel , Daniel Tay , Faizon Love , Peter Dinklage , Amy Sedaris , Michael Lerner , Andy Richter , Jon Favreau , Kyle Gass , Leon Redbone , Patrick Baynham , Annie Brebner , Artie Lange , Zooey Dechanel

For his sophomore stab at directing, actor/writer/director Jon Favreau (Swingers, Made), took on this holiday comedy starring Saturday Night Live-alum Will Ferrell. Ferrell stars as Buddy, a regular-s... read more read more...ized man who was raised as an elf by Santa Claus (Edward Asner). When the news is finally broken to Buddy that he's not a real elf, he decides to head back to his place of birth, New York City, in search of his biological family. Elf also stars James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel, and Bob Newhart. ~ Matthew Tobey, Rovi

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78% liked it

903,848 ratings


84% liked it

178 critics

DVD Release Date: November 16, 2004

Stats: 48,975 reviews

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Flixster Reviews (48,975)

  • February 9, 2014
    'Buddy the Elf, what's your favorite color?'

    So a baby 'Buddy' climbs into Santa's sack and is whisked away to the North Pole by accident. Upon this discovery Santa decides to allow 'Papa Elf' to raise and look after him. Not too sure why they just didn't take him back to the or... read morephanage where he crawled into the sack, seeing as they know he came from there. I guess him being an orphan it didn't matter?.

    From here on Buddy grows up at the North Pole as a worker in Santa's workshop. He soon discovers by mistake that he is in fact human and not an elf (elfling?), so off he goes to New York to find his dad. Turns out Papa Elf knew all about his mum and dad and what happened to them...somehow, handy huh. Is that elf magic or Christmas magic that enabled Papa Elf to know everything? or am I missing something here.

    So lets switch off the cynical part of my brain for a moment. The start of this film is a typical Xmas setting and scenario yes...but its so damn charming cozy and delightful you can't not love it. I mean sure you can't really go wrong with Santa's workshop at the North Pole really, but the added gem of seeing the odd bit of classic stop motion animation on one or two cheerful little characters really added another dimension to the whole sequence. It all looked like a whimsical children's story book, a snowy happy world with cutesy fantasy characters plodding around. Arctic Puffin and snowberries? adorable!!.

    Once we reach New York and the real world the tone shifts to that classic American Xmas movie magic type scenario which we all know and love from various other movies. And what better setting for a cold wintry Xmas tale than New York. Yeah you know straight away all the famous landmarks and stores you'll be seeing, we know how this goes...but does it get old? no, never. New York is probably one of the most atmospheric places in the world at Xmas.

    'I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel'

    This is basically a pure unadulterated Ferrell show, the whole thing is all about him as the innocent sweet childlike elf completely out of place in a dark sinister world. You have the obligatory love/hate issues with his real father played grumpily by Caan to great effect (you can feel the sense of shame and disdain he gives off for Buddy), all this of course plays out exactly how you think it will right from the start. Then you have all the visual tomfoolery that Buddy serves up as he comes to terms with reality and not the candy cotton world he's used to.

    At no point did I actually get tired or bored of Ferrell and his cherub-like virginal antics. It is utterly predictable hokey Xmas pantomime guff of course but its just so enchanting and visually pleasing you can't look away. Everywhere he goes he elaborately decorates with Christmas cheer, baubles and shiny trinkets, he's like the Xmas monster. Some of the scenes where he learns about 'human' ways and everyday things/objects are highly amusing despite being so simple and kinda cheesy.

    The board meeting where Buddy comes across the rather small elf-like Mr Finch (who is actually a little person) is hilarious. The way Buddy talks to the guy as if he were a very young child is easily a laugh out loud moment (must have been a South pole elf). I must also mention the brilliantly done forced perspective we see here and there. It looks like CGI but apparently its not, very clever and nice usage of an old trick.

    This is probably one of Ferrell's best films and best performances...strange as it may seem. The whole idea is completely not original and is stuffed to the gills with every Xmas cliche you can think of. The only reason this film works is because of the infantile character that is Buddy the elf...errr human. The ending is totally sappy and cringeworthy but it still doesn't stop this Christmas juggernaut of yuletide spirit.

    'Oh, I forgot to give you a hug!'
  • December 7, 2013
    One of the better Christmas movies. This is pretty cute and Will Farrell plays his adult moron (sorry, elf) role well. I love Zooey Deschanel as well - I would watch this just to hear her sing Baby it's Cold Outside. (I was so disappointed that on the She & Him Xmas album, the gu... read morey does the lead vocal on that song).
    I pretty much hate kids movies, but I have watched this one many times and enjoyed it.
  • December 7, 2012
    Buddy is a man raised who was by Santa and his elves up in the North Pole since he was a baby finally learns the truth about his life and sets off to New York City to find his biological father in this heartwarming, whimsical, and hilarious family comedy from Jon Favreau.

    IThe p... read moreremise is a fun take on the fish out of water tale, the script is mostly pretty sharp, and the central performance from Will Ferrell is one of the funniest comedic roles of all time. He absolutely sells it, and you honestly believe every minute of it, which is a Christmas miracle since it could have been so easy to mess up. He doesn't though, and it is an absolute joy to watch. James Caan is likewise pretty fun as Buddy's biological father Walter in the requisite Grinch/Scrooge type of role. Mary Steenburgen and Daniel Tay are decent as Walter's wife Emily and son Michael, and Zooey Deschanel is quite fine as Jovie- Buddy's love interest and co-worker at a department store. We also get Bob Newhart as Buddy's adoptive elf dad and Ed Asner as Santa. My favorite supporting character though has to be Faizon Love as the no-nonsense manager of the department store.

    Like I said, the script is pretty sharp for the most part, but it's not perfect. The film is rather formulaic, and some of the stuff with Michael and Jovie fall a bit flat at times. The effects are mostly good, the music is fine, and overall this is a very delightful holiday film I solidly recommend.
  • January 1, 2012
    The single biggest problem with most Christmas films is that they have little or nothing to do with Christmas. We can argue about the pagan origins of Christmas paraphernalia until we are blue in the face, but beneath the gifts and the Queen's speech, like it or not, is a celebra... read moretion of Jesus' birth, of God coming to Earth in human form to redeem Mankind.

    The high point of Christmas films, from a British point of view, is Bryan Forbes' Whistle Down the Wind, a heart-breaking and profound restaging of the Nativity and Crucifixion containing all that is good about British and religious filmmaking. But for every film which gets it even half as right, there are a multitude of others which either nakedly celebrate commercialism, or settle for sentimentality when substance is what is needed. Like its uber-crass predecessor Jingle All The Way, Elf is a film which manages to fall into both traps, resulting in a comedy which is utterly wretched and virtually mirthless.

    Elf is effectively a one-joke film stretched out for 90-odd minutes. The joke, in a nutshell, is that of a human who grows up thinking he's an elf, only to discover that he's not; he has to deal with the human world, and the human world has to deal with him. It's the kind of recurring gag which could run and run as a series of skits on Saturday Night Live - a fitting comparison, considering that's where Will Ferrell cut his teeth. On the evidence of this, he needs to go back and file them down some more.

    Seen as how it's Christmas, let's at least attempt to be charitable. The production values on Elf are generally high for a comedy, as you might expect from a film costing $33m. More than that, there has been some thought put into the special effects. Most of the scenes featuring Ferrell interacting with the elves are shot using forced perspectives or trompe l'oeils rather than CGI. Jon Favreau uses the same techniques that were employed on The Lord of the Rings, which would have required more complex set-ups and set designs. Considering that many executives would have pushed for CGI for cost or time reasons, Favreau deserves credit for being willing to take the long way round.

    But effects can only take you so far, and very quickly the novelty of these scenes wears off. The actual rendering of Santa's grotto is altogether cynical and shoddy; there is nothing particularly magical or childlike about factory line productivity or meeting quotas. The big problem is that the film views the childlike wonder of Christmas with a haughty, patronising air: it pretends that it's important and the true meaning of Christmas, while all the time keeping its eye firmly on the adults who are paying for the tickets.

    While perhaps not as openly hollow as Jingle All The Way, Jon Favreau's film put its foot into the exact same traps. Its attempts at childlike wonder are undercut by its overreliance on adult gags, which suggest a real lack of confidence in the central conceit. If the writers had genuinely wanted to make a Christmas film that was suitable for children, they wouldn't have felt the need to fill it with gags about the publishing industry. This is not a family film in the traditional sense, where there is something for everyone: this is a film in which the adults will laugh at the in-jokes, and all that is left for the kids is something belching for 12 seconds.

    Because the plot of Elf is so well-worn (it's the classic fish-out-of-water story) it ends up leaning on its gags to such an extent that it never really seems to go anywhere for the first hour. Once Buddy had touched down in New York City, it's a case of going from one outrageously pratfall to the next, with gags that either don't work or would have worked regardless of the order in which you had seen them. Comedies, when done well, are not just arbitrary collections of jokes - they build to something, or at least go from A to B. But until the horribly schmaltzy third act (more on that later), there is no momentum to Elf at all.

    Worse than its narrative flaws, however, is the film's crassly commercial view of Christmas. It might be possible to excuse the absence of Christianity if there had been a genuine emphasis on goodwill and happiness, showing it to be a special time of year. But for most of the characters, Christmas is a time of endurance and misery. James Caan is the obvious Scrooge, but the Gimbel's staff are downtrodden and depressed, wishing to just get it over with. Christmas is presented as just another holiday, just another money-making opportunity, and it is presented as this so nakedly that all the cheeriness that comes out feels dishonest.

    Make no mistake, Elf was conceived and designed to make money, nothing else. It may be marketed as a feel-good film, intended to bring festive cheer, but in reality that is less an intention than a pleasant side effect. The cynical intentions behind the film are evident in its ending, where Buddy's story is turned into a bestselling book; what started as pure cheer, in the form of Bob Newhart's narration, is turned into cash at the quickest opportunity. The device of having a protagonist's story turned into a book is nothing new: Roald Dahl did it to great effect in James and the Giant Peach. But where Dahl knew his audience and flattered their intelligence, Elf only values intelligence if it can be turned into a fast buck.

    The acid test of any comedy is whether or not it makes you laugh - an acid test which Elf clearly fails. The reason for this, apart from the poor scripting and cynical execution, lies in the awful central performance. Will Ferrell is dreadful, spending all his time either gurning to the audience or shouting "look how funny this is!" to stony silence. He is not a likeable screen presence, bordering on the creepy when surrounded by children. Buddy is supposed to have the innocence of a child, but he's played like someone doing day rates with a sandwich board: he doesn't want to be there, and everything he says has been written by a committee.

    The cast around Ferrell don't fare any better. James Caan acquits himself perfectly well, insofar as he is grumpy and haggard enough to pass for a Scrooge-like character. But for most of the film he is on auto-pilot: he could have easily wandered off the set of Mickey Blue Eyes, with all the gags about The Godfather being edited out. Mary Steenburgen, best known for Back to the Future: Part III and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, has far too little to do; her character is well-meaning but just not interesting. And Zooey Deschanel is her usual irritating self, albeit less irksomely kooky than she is in (500) Days of Summer.

    The final nail in Elf's coffin is the last 20 minutes, where things shift from objectionably hollow to mawkishly sentimental. The lurch is so big, it's as though the filmmakers had forgotten to make the characters appealing enough to an audience, and with only half an hour to play with, decided to throw everything at the screen which could possibly pull on the heartstrings. Schmaltz can have its place at Christmas - It's A Wonderful Life and all that - but here it is so overbearing that you slowly feel your will to live being eaten away.

    It wouldn't be so bad if it was just the concept of Will Ferrell saving Christmas, a concept which is hard to stomach even without him appearing in this film. But the spontaneous singing in Central Park to generate 'Christmas spirit' to power the sleigh is downright toe-curling, as is the montage of people spontaneously singing all over the city. The film takes every potentially cheery image of Christmas and poisons them with its blackened heart.

    Elf is a truly dreadful Christmas film which is virtually devoid of laughs. Ferrell's performance is a further mark against the ability of Saturday Night Live to produce good comedy actors, and there is a corrosive cynicism to the whole production which undercuts any genuine sense of free will generated. Jingle All The Way is marginally worse, if only because its celebration of commercialism is so unashamed. But when everything else is stacked against Elf so resoundingly, this little plus point is not much to sing about.
  • December 26, 2011
    Upon second viewing I absolutely loved it. A brilliant christmas film for all the family which really sets you up for a good christmas. The characters are great and really gel with each other and have good chemistry which is important in a film about relationships with the people... read more around you. Great film.
  • fb100000145236770
    December 25, 2011
    When I first saw this in the theater I was like "eh, that was just ok". But each passing year, I find myself loving it more and more. It really has become just as good a Christmas movie as any other movie out there. Will Ferrell gives a fantastic and crazy performance as Buddy... read more the Elf. A human who grew up in the North Pole, who sets out to New York City to meet his real father. Along the way he encounters racoons, angry midgets, and a dad that doesn't want anything to do with him. But nothing ever dampens his spirits, or stops him from spreading Christmas cheer. The supporting cast is perfect. James Caan and Ed Asner would usually never be in a movie like this, but I'm so glad they were. They add great depth and talent to this holiday classic. Quotes and scenes that will love on forever, make this mandatory viewing each year. If the best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud and clear, then watching "Elf" would be a close second.
  • December 16, 2011
    Will Ferrell has never been funnier than he is in this movie. One of the reasons why is because it stands out a bit from his usual comedy repertoire. His character - a human elf named Buddy who travels to New York in search of his real father - bears a child-like innocence that m... read moreakes him incredibly likeable. Usually, I consider Ferrell's films to be average at best (some I've even turned off because I thought they were so bad), but this is one of the very few occasions where he has genuinely wowed me. Along with a wonderful supporting cast and John Favreu's spot-on directing, it breaks away from the standard Christmas fare, creating that special magic that goes straight into the heart. I really enjoyed it the first time I saw it, and with a second viewing, it became all the better. Warm, effervescent and brimming with holiday spirit, this is one of my absolute favourites to watch in this time of the year.
  • December 15, 2011
    Leon the Snowman: Of course you're not an elf. You're six-foot-three and had a beard since you were fifteen. 

    "This holiday, discover your inner elf."

    Elf is on its way to becoming a Christmas classic. It is definitely in my top four or five Christmas films and there isn't a Ch... read moreristmas I miss watching this funny, heartfelt Christmas extravaganza. The movie is imaginative and goofy fun from start to finish with a cast to die for. Buddy the Elf may be Will Farrell's best character to date. He plays him with goofy, childlike creativity and curiosity. Say what you want about Farrell, but there isn't a guy on this planet that could have done a better job as Buddy in this movie. 

    Buddy crawled into Santa's toy bag when he was a baby and managed to make it to the North Pole. He is adopted by an elf and grows up as an elf. He never deciphers that he is in fact a human, even though he can't keep up with their workload and is roughly four feet taller than all of them. When Poppa elf finally tells him, he leaves to find his real father in New York. A middle aged man running around New York in an elf costume, ranting about Santa and how he is from the North Pole is just funny. There are a lot of hilarious situations, such as when Buddy things Santa is coming to the store and he ends up confronting the fake Santa. 

    There is a lot of cool stuff going on in this movie, like James Caan and how the North Pole looks. The movie is perfect for the whole family. Kids are guaranteed to fall in love with this. It's creativity and the way it portrays the holiday spirit is as spot on as any Christmas movie you could wish to see. It isn't a masterpiece; seeing as there's only one true holiday masterpiece(It's A Wonderful Life). 

    Elf is pure holiday entertainment and if you haven't seen this yet because of your distaste for Will Farrell; get over it and give it a shot. His Anchorman, Step Brothers technique of comedy is not at work here. 
  • December 13, 2011
    Will is an elf who lives at the north pole with Santa but he is not like the others. He does not fit in because he was adopted. He goes to New York to find his real dad. Will is so funny. Love this heartwarming Christmas tale. Fills you with Christmas spirit.
  • November 25, 2011
    Elf is quite possible the single must watch Christmas film of all time, I mean I cannot imagine ever having a Christmas where I did not watch Elf, ever since I was a kid I have been watching this film with my family and fiends every Christmas, and I can honestly say Will Ferell i... read mores the thing that gives the film its everlating shine.

Critic Reviews

Christy Lemire
December 4, 2013
Christy Lemire, Associated Press

Sure, Elf feels a little too feel-good at the end, but what do you expect? It's a Christmas movie! Anything else would be the cinematic equivalent of finding coal in your stocking. Full Review

Scott Tobias
December 4, 2013
Scott Tobias, AV Club

The cast wrings laughs out of David Berenbaum's script as if it were a damp washcloth, but even they have trouble selling frenetic button-pushing as the Christmas spirit. Full Review

Owen Gleiberman
September 7, 2011
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly

A disarmingly funny holiday comedy. Full Review

J. R. Jones
November 27, 2007
J. R. Jones, Chicago Reader

The film soon bogs down in fake hugs and a fakier climax involving Santa (Ed Asner) and his downed sled. Full Review

Trevor Johnston
January 26, 2006
Trevor Johnston, Time Out

Some humour might sail over the heads of the very young, but there's a higher chuckle rate for the grown-ups than much dread 'family' fare. Full Review

Peter Rainer
August 7, 2004
Peter Rainer, New York Magazine/Vulture

I love watching Ferrell do his gangly, clueless shtick, and even here, there's something inherently funny about just seeing him in a big, green elf suit. There's something inherently funny about Ferre... Full Review

Stephanie Zacharek
November 8, 2003
Stephanie Zacharek,

A movie made by people who really have their thinking caps on. Full Review

Peter Howell
November 7, 2003
Peter Howell, Toronto Star

Ferrell's stone-stupid sincerity keeps the action moving and irresistible, despite its familiarity. Full Review

Moira MacDonald
November 7, 2003
Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times

Thanks to Ferrell, it's a tolerably sweet holiday treat. Full Review

Mick LaSalle
November 7, 2003
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle

Funny and intelligently made, a film for kids and adults that's both sweet and sardonic. Full Review

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    • Miles Finch: Call me elf one more time.
    • Buddy: He's an angry elf.
    • Jovie: What were you doing in the women's locker room this morning?
    • Buddy: I heard you singing.
    • Jovie: What about the fact that I was naked in the shower?
    • Buddy: I didn't know you were naked.
    • Santa: Sorry Buddy but... your dad is on the naughty list.
    • Buddy: [standing over another stall] Did you see these toilets they're ginormous!
    • Buddy: You sit on a throne of lies!
    • Buddy: This place reminds me of Santa's workshop. Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they wanna hurt me.

Elf : Watch Free on TV

Elf Trivia

  • In the movie Elf, what did Buddy eat at the doctor's office?  Answer »
  • In the movie Elf, what is NOT a food group at the North Pole?  Answer »
  • In the movie Elf, according to Buddy, what is the best way to spread Christmas cheer?  Answer »
  • In the movie Elf, what did Buddy eat off the street when he got to New York?  Answer »

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