Elf in the City
As Christmas movies go "Elf" isn't terrible in fact it is no worse than a lot of Christmas movies which get shown at Christmas but unlike others I just can't find myself enthusing about it. And my trouble is Will Ferrell because not only do I struggle with Ferrell's sense of humour but his toned down antics in this kiddie Christmas movie feel wrong. It's a shame as "Elf" has a fairly good storyline, a nice bit of Christmas magic for younger audiences and plenty of kid orientated comedy. But for me Will Ferrell is wrong for a movie which seems to be pitching itself as family entertainment but one where the children will find it the most entertaining.
30 years ago as just a baby Buddy (Will Ferrell - Old School) managed to stow away in Santa's sack and was taken back to the North Pole where Papa Elf (Bob Newhart - Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde) adopted him, raising him as if he was an elf, a rather large elf that struggled to fit in. But when the time came Buddy was told the truth about how he got there and who his father really is, publicist Walter Hobbs (James Caan - Mickey Blue Eyes) who doesn't even know he exists. So Buddy leaves the North Pole and heads to New York om a quest to meet his real dad, who finds it very strange not only to have a man dressed as an Elf walk into his office but one who proclaims to be his son.
"Elf" is a three part movie and to be honest it is the first part where it is at its best as we learn all about Buddy and how he ended up living at the North Pole as an Elf. There is some genuine comic ingenuity going on in this first part as we learn why Elves are used instead of Gnomes and Trolls whilst also watching the difficulties Buddy has living in a tiny Elf world. It's all very obvious as we have the oversized Ferrell trying to sit on small chairs and sleep in a small bed but it is entertaining. And at the same time it has that element of Christmas magic especially as we discover how Santa's sleigh use to fly, on people's beliefs but now needs a little engine powered helping hand.
The thing is that after such an enjoyable opening "Elf" ends up struggling despite still managing to entertain. In the middle section which in many ways should be about Buddy meeting his dad and trying to bond we get instead a plethora of fish out of water jokes as we have Elf in the city. It is kind of amusing watching Ferrell deliver Buddy's innocence when he sees a diner with a sign which says "The World's best cup of coffee" or his eyes light up when he presses all the buttons in the elevator. Tthe trouble is that whilst many of these moments are inspired there are just too many of them and expectedly we see Buddy have a run in with a fake Santa. I am sure for younger audiences this series of fish out of water set pieces will be entertaining but as a family movie the balance ends up feeling wrong.
And then you get the final part of "Elf", the feel good happy ever after ending befitting of any Christmas movie. To put it simply it is nothing short of what you expected with a huge sing a long thrown in for good measure. It is still very clever but for me by this final third I had grown tired of every single joke relying on Will Ferrell to make it work and I was glad when it was over.
That is my problem with "Elf" because like others I enjoy Will Ferrell in small doses or when he has an equal in the movie to provide half of the laughs but here despite having a solid cast which includes James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner and the adorable Zooey Deschanel it is all Will Ferrell. And in a way because "Elf" is pitched as a family friendly movie it feels like Ferrell is handcuffed by a safe script which stops him from delivering the risque humour which is where he is at his best. Don't get me wrong as Ferrell does a good job and the comical innocence he gives Buddy as well as an abundance of energy is good fun but I just wish there had been someone else to be his equal to stop it becoming just Will Ferrell delivering all the humour.
What this all boils down to is that "Elf" is a fun movie, an entertaining bit of Christmas comedy which is at times quite clever but it does end up average. And it is average because not only does Will Ferrell feel restricted by family friendly humour but he also needed an equal, a buddy to stop it from becoming just about him delivering the comedy. But I am sure younger audiences will like the various comical antics which Buddy gets up to and maybe some will find the uplifting sing a long scene just that, uplifting.