If you're looking for a spirit-of-the-season family film, this may jingle
up some holiday cheer.
Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) begins the tale, relating how - 30 years ago - an
orphaned baby crawled into Santa's sack of toys and was inadvertently carried
back to the North Pole. Raised as an elf and trained to toil in Santa's
Workshop, disarmingly genial Buddy (Will Ferrell) fears he's a "cotton-headed
ninny-muggins" until he notices that he's three times as big as everyone else
and the only baritone in the Elf Choir. Clearly, he needs to find his proper
place in the world.
To trace his roots, Santa (Ed Asner) advises him to seek out his human
father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), even though the heartless Hobbs seems to
have carved out a permanent niche on the 'Naughty' list. So Buddy treks through
the candy-cane forest and sea of gum-drops to find the Empire State Building,
where crusty, unsuspecting Hobbs works as a Scrooge-like book editor.
The exuberant "deranged-elf-man-in-Manhattan" segment finds naive Buddy
meeting the rest of the Hobbs family (Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay), working at
Gimbels and giving confidence to a singing co-worker (Zooey Deschanel) - until
Christmas Eve rolls around and Buddy must engender some Christmas spirit to
ignite the magical Clausometer on Santa's stalled sleigh.
Problem is: neither director Jon Favreau nor writer David Berenbaum has a
clear comedic vision as reality and fantasy collide. The story is underwritten
and the pacing uneven. While Will Ferrell radiates wide-eyed wonder, his weird
goofiness in the elf suit with yellow tights eventually wears thin. On the
Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Elf" is a silly, sweet-natured 6. Youngsters
and "Saturday Night Live" fans will find amusement in its festive absurdity.
Copyright © 2003 Susan Granger