Sunday, December 4, 2011

25 Days of Christmas Movies, Day 4: The Story of an Elf

Rudolph has movies based on him, Santa has his own films and televisions shows, Frosty has a franchise, heck even Jack Frost has made several appearances on film but who ever focuses on Santa's Elves?  Yes they are always there as background characters in films about Santa and Christmas, but rarely does one lead up a feature.  Which is why it was probably refreshing when a Christmas film was released in 2003 that actually tried to explore what it meant to be one of Santa's helpers and also what it meant to have Christmas spirit in today's world.  It was a refreshingly uncynical look at Christmas that also shook an admonishing finger at cynicism, which is rare in our modern world where sarcasm and cynical minds are abound.  It is unfashionable to be optimistic today and a film about an Elf trying to teach the world about the importance of Christmas spirit was certainly what was needed.  So without further ado, I present a modern Christmas fable...Elf.

Buddy the Elf has always known he was different.  When he was in school he stood a head taller than most of the other elves, and then two, three, and four heads.  He has never been comfortable in the tiny bed that all the other elves had no trouble sleeping in, and he never was able to make toys nearly as fast as the other elves.  This Christmas, however, he recieves a deep shock...he is actually a HUMAN!  He was left at an orphanage when he was just a baby and crawled into Santa's sack one Christmas Eve and was then raised by the elves as one of their own.  Buddy, convinced he does not belong in the North Pole any longer, discovers the whereabouts of his father and heads off to New York City to find him.  He has the hard realization, however, that the city is not as friendly to elves as the barren North Pole was, and he finds that his father wants nothing to do with him.  However, Buddy's innocence and joy eventually begins to win over those around him and he discovers that he has a destiny...to bring the Christmas spirit back to New York City.

Elf is adorable, there's really no other way to describe it.  It is like a storybook come to life, complete with Christmas cliches and references to works long past (like the stop-motion animated animals of the North Pole) and a childlike innocence that is as infectious as the enthusiasm Will Farrell has for playing Buddy.  He sheds much of his sarcastic and cynical masks for this one and it makes Farrell intensely likable in the role, and also charmingly awkward.  Buddy constantly looks out of place, even when he finally dons human clothes for the first time.  It is not until the conclusion, when Buddy has found where he really belongs, that Buddy finally looks at home in the world he is in.  It is a classic fish-out-of-water story that is funny and surprising in many ways.  I had written off Elf as a useless Farrell vehicle many years ago despite fan praise and hadn't really wanted to see it until recently when putting together the line up for this year's posts and I am happy to say that it completely won me over.  If there was one thing that seemed awkward to me, it was using "Gimbels" in the story, which hasn't been in operation since it closed in the 80s, making the story impossible to occur now due to that fact and yet impossible to be in the past because of the level of technology on display (tiny cell phones, engines, and such).  That one caveat aside, this was a terrific film and one that should certainly go into the family Christmas rotation.  It deserves it's praise and will warm the cockles of your heart just in time for the holidays.

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