Elf is one of those rare truly rewatchably joyous, feel-good family films that everyone, everyone likes. I’ve never met a child or even cranky grownup that doesn’t get animated and shout, “Santa! I KNOW him!”, or spout off a very mildly sly or just plain silly line from this highly quotable film, like, “Hi, I’m Buddy! What’s your favorite color?” or “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite!” How to explain this outpouring of passionate holiday optimism? And by the way, I want to start answering the telephone like that. (Best not to call me at all.)
Even my grownup niece turned around while bar-tending at Hooters, to shout at strangers grinching about Christmas: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!”
The entire bar looked at her like she might have been a little insane, but if you poke around an Elf Quotes search page on Google, you’ll see people tend to be a little like Will Ferrell about this film: a bit too loud, and a whole lot of wholesomely inappropriate.
Even my RunPee Tweet and Facebook posts on Elf got people excited and happy within literally seconds of putting up that “What’s your favorite color?” quote. A poll about favorite funny Christmas movies, up against the storied likes of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Love Actually, and Home Alone has Elf clearly in the lead. How did Farrell manage this?
For one, Ferrell is a highly underrated actor. Because he tossed in his lot with comedic fluff films, it’s a little hard to take him seriously. But he manages to put a surprising amount of pathos into goofy leading roles, whether it’s as Ron Burgundy with Anchorman, or Daddy’s Home 1 &2.
In Elf, he’s quite remarkable in a weirdly off-putting, often overly enthusiastic way, like a big golden retriever who still thinks he’s a puppy. You want to take this large man and protect him like the child he seems to be. If you were raised by Papa Elf at the North Pole, you’d probably be filled with happy wonderment too. And also believe sugar is the only form of food fit for consumption: a prestigious list including “Candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.” Again with my niece: she told me there are untold videos of people making maple syrup/MnMs/Pop-Tarts/Hershey’s syrup/spaghetti meals and chowing down (after mashing it up with their hands, of course). I’ll take her word for it. 😉
So is Will Ferrell kind of brilliant? I’m starting to think so. Ferrell does the straight man funny, the narcissistic buffoon funny, and and the man-child even funnier. My guess is the guy himself takes joy from this, and puts his whole heart into it. His sense of comedic timing doesn’t depend on physical gyrations like Jim Carrey, nor torrents of running commentary as the late Robin Williams could bestow.
In a nutshell, we just plain like movies where people manage to blunder their way into greatness. Look at the enduring appeal of Forrest Gump, Big, and Elf. You want to root for these people, in their simpleminded innocence, to find their way in life and be loved.
It’s easy to laugh at these guys, but there’s something more at stake.
That’s why Elf sneaks under the cynicism layer. These films feature a fish-out-water story, a narrative as old as time, but with an undeniable twist of simplicity and earnestness. These kind-hearted leading lugs strike a chord of paternalism and you want them to be happy when their adventure is done. We feel we’d be lucky to have loyal friends like these, even if their trip over their own big feet.
Movie Grade: A
Note: Results of this Twitter Poll will be automatically published after the voting period ends, but so far Elf is crushing it: Disclaimer: Poll only includes outright Christmasy movies. Die Hard and Lethal Weapon aficionados have to wait their turn 🙂
Okay. Seriously now. I dare you to eat this:
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Co-Creator of RunPee, Chief of Operations, Content Director, and Managing Editor. RunPee Jilly likes galaxy-spanning sci fi, superhero sagas, fantasy films, YA dystopians, action thrillers, chick flicks, and zany comedies, in that order…and possesses an inspiringly small bladder. In fact, that little bladder sparked the creation of RunPee. (Good thing she’s learned to hold it.)