ninth symphony films - movie reviews

ELF (2003)

DIRECTOR  -  jon favreau

RATED  -  pg

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  96 minutes

RELEASED  -  7 november 2003

DISTRIBUTOR  -  new line cinema


ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $30,000,000
elf - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from elf at

buy the dvd from elf at

a man raised as an elf travels to new york to find his biological father.

when this screenplay first emerged in 1993, jim carrey was attached.


picture from elf

picture from elf

picture from elf


three out of four possible stars

By giving his character an impressive dose of honesty and generosity, Elf star Will Ferrell turns a movie with no originality in script or plot into an entertaining and usually heartwarming theatrical experience. Though the entire cast was suitably chosen for their roles, Ferrell shines most impressively as a human whose first thirty years on the planet were spent living as one of Santa's merry elves. When he emerges into the human world to find his father (after learning that he was not just an over-sized elf, but a human who stole away in Santa's bag of toys while still an infant), the hilarity that ensues might have been more staid had not the perfect actor been hired for the role.

And in this film's long road to production, a number of actors were considered for the part. But in each progressive scene, Ferrell transforms into a character about whom it is easy to care. Given the weak nature of the plot (calling it predictable is an understatement), the fact that Ferrell is able to carry the film to its conclusion without allowing audience members to lose interest in the story is a testament to his genuine comic ability. The basic idea for Elf is an ingenious one and on the surface, the film seems to be quite original in that regard. But when the plot derails at the end of the second act, it begins to appear as if the screenwriter ran out of ideas on how to conclude the piece. Or perhaps the film was wrapped up in such a familiar fashion, that the rushed ending seemed more obvious than it would have otherwise.

But complaining about such trivial things like plot in a film like Elf, whose sole purpose seems to be making people laugh, sounds like a foolish exercise. All any viewer need know about this film is that Will Ferrell is hilarious in many of the scenes. His departure from "Saturday Night Live" has been keenly felt since he left that show, and seeing him up to his naturally hilarious self should be entertaining for a wide range of viewers. The rating is PG and the sexual innuendo is at a minimum, so the saying "kids of all ages" can really apply to this film. Parents need not worry that their children will be exposed to material that might not be appropriate, but those parents (and importantly, childless audience members as well) shouldn't dread viewing this film, because the humor isn't directed solely at the younger set. There might be child-themed merchandising associated with this film in stores (coloring books, dolls, etc.), but the film isn't aimed specifically at five year olds.

With the city of New York as its backdrop, the film has a familiar holiday feel to it, given that so many holiday films have been based in New York during that time of year. Cinematographer Greg Gardiner shows New York at its winter best, though some of the magic seems lost at the end of the picture during a long sequence that takes place in Central Park. The increasingly prolific composer John Debney does a capable job with the scoring of the film and the Pop tunes inserted into various scenes in the film are suitably chosen as well. Editing and camera work are unobtrusive as well, allowing Ferrell to take center stage in the film, which is a substantial consideration, given his importance to the film.

Although it seems like the supporting actors are merely fodder for Ferrell's comedic escapades, each of the actors in those roles give performances as sound as the written material allows. James Caan, playing Ferrell's father, "Walter," and Bob Newhart, playing Ferrell's adoptive elfin dad, "Papa Elf," can each be counted on to bolster the thin script with strong performances.

Mary Steenburgen, playing Ferrell's step-mother (and Caan's wife) plays her small role with as much intelligence as the writing allows, and is one of the warmest characters in the film. Zooey Deschanel is probably the only actor who is overly burdened with the worst dialogue of the film, and because her character is not a comedic one, she has an especially hard task in bringing her character to life. But being the capable actress that she is, Deschanel performs her material as well as is to be expected.

Elf is, most obviously, a vehicle for its lead star, and with Ferrell's generosity and warmth, he improves the lackluster script (probably inserting some off-the-cuff material of his own) and allows his character to be as visually funny as he is verbally entertaining. In bringing to life the Christmas spirit, Elf is an honest and enthusiastic Christmas story and should be worthwhile theatrical experience for most audiences.

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

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