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The Christmas Classic That Only Gets Better With Time

Dec 21, 2022


There is one undeniable truth: Christmas holiday fare is a dime a dozen. Specialty channels like Hallmark literally air Christmas movies in July, and amp up the output as the season draws nearer, with such titles as A Christmas Cookie Catastrophe and A Royal Corgi Christmas. TV series air their obligatory Christmas-themed episodes, The Big Bang Theory’s “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis” or Friends’ “The One With the Holiday Armadillo,” and then there are the standards, like A Charlie Brown Christmas. A trip to the movie theater this year offers everything from the adult-centered rom-com Christmas With the Campbells to the decidedly unrom-com Violent Night. What also is undeniably true is that only a handful become legitimate holiday classics, films that endear themselves to the public, becoming as much a tradition of Christmas as the family gathering. Films like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, and A Christmas Carol. The most recent addition, arguably, to that esteemed list is 2003’s Elf.
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What Happens in ‘Elf’?

Directed by Jon Favreau and written by David Berenbaum, Elf follows the story of Buddy (SNL alum Will Ferrell), a human inadvertently brought back to the North Pole by Santa (Ed Asner) as a baby, raised by Santa’s elves and his adoptive father, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). When he is old enough, Papa Elf tells Buddy the truth: he isn’t a true elf, but in actuality a human, born to Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and Susan Wells. Susan put Buddy up for adoption before she passed away, and Walter, unaware that Susan ever had a baby, now works as a children’s book publisher. And one more thing — Walter is on the Naughty List due to his selfishness.

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Armed with this information, Buddy makes his way to New York City to meet his father, who at first believes him to be a Christmas-gram messenger and kicks him out of his office. Buddy, undeterred, goes to a nearby department store where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a cynical employee, and crushes on her. A brawl with the department store Santa (Artie Lange) that Buddy calls out as a fake ends with Buddy taken into custody. Walter bails him out and takes him for a DNA test, which confirms Buddy’s assertion that he is Walter’s son. Walter reluctantly brings Buddy home to meet his wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay). Slowly but surely, Buddy wins over the love of the family, the heart of Jovie, and instills the spirit of Christmas in the heart of Walter, saving Christmas.

‘Elf’ is Genuinely Funny and Delightfully Optimistic

Image via New Line Cinema

On its own, Elf is truly hilarious and unabashedly optimistic. Anyone who has seen the film has a favorite scene from it: the spectacular store redecoration Buddy pulls together in one night; the aforementioned brawl with the store Santa; the love story that grows between Jovie and Buddy; Santa’s sleigh roaring to life as New Yorkers gather together and sing “Santa Claus is Coming to Town;” Walter’s redemption; or, personal favorite, the scene where Buddy unintentionally insults Peter Dinklage’s author Miles Finch. What makes all of these moments so memorable, and the movie so optimistic, comes down to its star, Ferrell. Ferrell’s acting, largely, is not for everyone, his roles usually a take on a man-child with varying degrees of irritation, so it’s to his credit that he reins in his “Ferrell-ness” for Buddy. He is a man-child, true, but a truly innocent one. There are no ulterior motives, no winking at the audience, and no dark recesses. We believe Buddy sees everything as magical, everyone is good, and that his gleeful reactions are real.

‘Elf’ and the Rule of One

Image via New Line Cinema

Elf follows a rule that it shares with the other holiday classics: one person can make a difference. George Bailey (James Stewart) is shown by his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) how different the town of Bedford Falls would be without him, making it clear just how impactful he is to his friends and family. Ebenezer Scrooge (Alastair Sim (but take your pick)) is shown Christmas Yet to Come and how he alone can change what he has become, saving the life of Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman) by doing so. Even the bumbling Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) saves Christmas for his family by his actions in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. So too, Buddy is the connection to all that is good in Elf. His passion sparks a revival of Christmas spirit in Walter, his family, and in Jovie, which in turn spreads that spirit to dozens of New Yorkers.

‘Elf’ is Timeless

Image via New Line Distribution

Another trait that Elf shares with its rarified kin is its timelessness. The state of being timeless is not the same as being of a time, and that is an important distinction. It’s A Wonderful Life is clearly set in the 1940s, but the themes and lessons from it are not tied to the same era. A Christmas Story, too, is set in the 1940s, but its exploration of the wonder of Christmas through a child’s eyes (assuming one doesn’t get shot out by a Red Rifle BB gun) is eternal. On the other end, take 1996’s Jingle All The Way. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a father searching for a Turbo Man action figure for his son. Going from store to store trying to find a toy, and grappling with other parents to get it, is hopelessly outdated, and the take-away isn’t a clear-cut, traditional message about Christmas being more than presents. Elf sticks to what works, espousing timeless traditional themes of family, hope, and the magic of Christmas, and shying away from those things that would tie it to societal norms in the early 2000s.

Ultimately, it’s all of these elements that place Elf rightfully among its peers as a Christmas holiday classic, and are also what makes the film better with each passing year. We live in a time when it’s easy to find negativity. If it’s not on the news, then it’s on social media. If it’s not on social media, it’s a chasm between neighbors based on nothing more than a difference in opinion, and in some cases leading to violence. We clamor for a more peaceful lifestyle, but are unwilling to put the work in to get it. As society as a whole grasps for meaning, films like Elf deliver a much-needed respite from life. The lure of its idealistic charms is a reminder that there is still good in the world, that laughter that isn’t at the expense of someone or something can be found. Elf, like others before it, reminds people that Christmas shouldn’t have conditions, and a merry Christmas can be had by all.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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