|Elf (Infinifilm Edition)|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 16 November 2004|
Narrated by Buddy’s adoptive father, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), “Elf” shows us the infant Buddy (whose mother has died and whose father doesn’t know of his existence) crawling into Santa’s sack on Christmas Eve. Santa (Edward Asner) doesn’t see the little stowaway until he’s back home at the North Pole. Buddy is reared as an elf, but this becomes a problem as he grows up, as at 6’3”, he’s much bigger than everyone around him. The elves are all tactful and kind, but eventually, Papa Elf thinks that Buddy may be happier in a world more suited to his size and breaks it to Buddy that he’s really human, with a father who lives in New York. Buddy embarks on a quest to find his human parent, a stressed-out book editor named Walter Hobbs (James Caan), who not surprisingly at first thinks Buddy is a lunatic (after discovering he’s not a Christmas singing telegram deliveryman). However, once it’s proved to Walter that Buddy is really his long-lost son, Walter’s wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) insists they take him in. Although Buddy unwittingly wreaks havoc, his almost unshakeable optimism and good nature start having an effect on those around him – and he’s perfectly placed to come to the rescue when a lack of Christmas spirit threatens the flight of Santa’s sleigh.
Directed by Jon Favreu from a script by David Berenbaum, “Elf” has a wealth of wit and charm that is bolstered by its lack of fake sentiment and its matter-of-fact approach to its outrageous premise. Ferrell is absolutely perfect as the innocent Buddy, a walking illustration of the concept that people only understand what’s happening around them in the context of their own experience. Examining why the comedy of “Elf” works so well turns out to be a remarkably cerebral process – underneath its daffy skin, there’s something powerful here about culture clash and acceptance, though it’s never addressed directly – but it’s not necessary to subject the movie to any scrutiny in order to enjoy it ginormously.
There aren’t any attention-grabbing sound effects here, but the discrete 5.1 mix is very good. There’s a nice ripple of evil nightmare laughter in the left rear in Chapter 3 and a swell jazzy rendition of “Pennies From Heaven” on the soundtrack in Chapter 4 as Buddy explores New York for the first time. In Chapter 6, Zooey Deschanel unleashes a lovely singing voice in a modified duet with Ferrell on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as part of the action. Snowballs whoosh like arrows in all directions during a snow fight in Central Park. The picture is handsome, with bright colors and clear delineation even on elements that tend to bleed, like neon signs, throughout the film.
“Elf” is released here in a two-disc edition, one containing the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio (this is the version reviewed) and the other a full-screen version. Both have New Line’s “Infinifilm” features – mini-featurettes sprinkled throughout the film, with a pop-up signaling the viewer to hit “enter” if they want to watch a bit on subjects as varied as the making of elven ears or Hollywood’s Christmas Parade. Many (though not all) of the Infinifilm features are also covered in the plethora of featurettes on the widescreen disc. The widescreen disc also comes with an optional fact track and two separate audio commentary tracks. Director Jon Favreau is relatively low-key but informative in his remarks, while on a separate track, star Ferrell proves gently philosophical and articulate about the process of acting.
The widescreen disc also includes eight deleted/alternate scenes, with optional commentary by Favreau, including a more violent version of a fight between Buddy and an author of diminutive stature (the excellent Peter Dinklage), who takes extreme umbrage at Buddy’s assumption that he’s an elf. Featurettes include “Tag Along With Will Ferrell,” in which the actor hosts a seven-minute overview of production, the 20-minute “Film School for Kids,” in which director Jon Favreau explains the process of making “Elf” in an easy-to-understand manner, the production design-focused “How They Made the North Pole,” the entertaining “Lights, Camera, Puffin!”, which focuses on the work of stop-motion special effects artists Charles and Stephen Chiodo, and “That’s a Wrap,” which explores post-production and the process of getting the film into the theatres, right up through the premiere.
The full-screen disc includes a choice of three songs (with or without vocals) for karaoke, a storybook version of the film and four games.
“Elf” is a great movie for the holidays, one that believers and Grinches alike will find entertaining, delivered here with the kind of extras that adorn most filmgoers’ wish lists to the DVD Santa.