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Elf (2003)

Discover your inner elf

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 95 minutes

UK Certificate: PG

We’ve all seen the sickly-sweet pap that normally hits the theatres at this time of year. From Arnie making an entire movie out of buying a toy for his son in ‘Jingle All The Way’, to Tim Allen’s battle with a bulging belly and facial fuzz in ‘The Santa Clause’, it’s all the same Chrimbo-by-numbers nonsense, right? Well, you better sit down to read this next bit, because it’ll come as a bit of a surprise to most of you. ‘Elf’, this year’s entry into the genre, is a fantastic movie. Honestly. And trust me, I wouldn’t tell porkies at this time of year – the last thing I need is to end up on Santa’s naughty list.

From it’s wonderful opening sequence (the animated critters at the North Pole are a nice touch) to the gleefully warm climax, I lapped up every minute of Will Ferrell’s first stint in the national elf service. The 6 foot-plus comic plays Buddy, the biggest, slowest and clumsiest toymaker in Santa’s workshop. You see, although nobody’s ever had the heart to tell him, he’s actually a human who crawled into Santa’s sack as a tot. Since then he’s just had to accept being “special”, until – in a scene reminiscent of Steve Martin suddenly realising he’s not black in ‘The Jerk’ – he discovers the truth, and heads for New York to find his real dad (James Caan).

From there on in it’s the sort of fish-out-water stuff we’ve all seen a million times before, yet Ferrell somehow makes it seem like the most original idea ever to hit the big screen. Personally I’ve never been entirely convinced by his comic credentials, but his performance in this movie is so laugh-out-loud funny that it looks like I’ll have to eat my woolly bobble hat.

The rest of the cast are also great – Caan as the Scroogey dad who discovers the true meaning of Christmas (natch), Mary Steenburgen as his overly-understanding wife, and Bob Newhart as Buddy’s deadpan adoptive father Papa Elf. And Zooey Deschanel, in the requisite love interest role, shows she’s much more than a pretty face by hitting all the right notes with some impressive Carol-singing.

Unusually for a family film, ‘Elf’ leaves out the wink-wink humour and goes for laughs that both the kids and their parents can enjoy at the same time. That’s no easy task, but one that writer David Berenbaum definitely succeeds in. His screenplay contains a stocking-full of downright hilarious moments, that had viewers of all ages at the screening I attended guffawing like their place on Santa’s nice list depended on it.

Along with Finding Nemo (another so-called kids’ flick), this is easily one of the best comedies of 2003. If you don’t want to be left with a face like the Grinch, make sure you don’t miss this one.

It's Got: Big laughs, genuine charm, and a marvellous performance from Ferrell.

It Needs: Director Jon Favreau to stay off the mince pies this festive season (judging by his brief cameo as a surprisingly tubby doctor).


Fun-filled, cleverly written and toasty warm with a gooey syrup centre, there’s just no way around it – I loved this film.