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Jon Favreau
Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel, Daniel Tay, Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage
Writing Credits:
David Berenbaum

This holiday, discover your inner elf.

This hilarious Christmas film tells the tale of a young orphan child who mistakenly crawls into Santa's bag of gifts on Christmas Eve and is transported back to the North Pole and raised as an elf. Years later Buddy learns he is not really an elf and goes on a journey to New York City to find his true identity.

Box Office:
$33 million.
Opening Weekend
$31.113 million on 3337 screens.
Domestic Gross
$173.381 million.

Rated PG

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1

Runtime: 96 min.
Price: $29.95
Release Date: 11/16/2004

Disc One
• Audio Commentary With Director Jon Favreau
• Audio Commentary with Actor Will Ferrell
• infinifilm Fact Track
• Deleted/Alternate Scenes
• “Tag Along with Will Ferrell” Featurette
• “Film School for Kids” Featurette
• “How They Made the North Pole” Featurette
• “Lights, Camera, Puffin!” Featurette
• “That’s a Wrap” Featurette
• Film Dictionary
Disc Two
• “Kids on Christmas” Featurette
• “Deck the Halls” Featurette
• “Santa Mania” Featurette
• “Christmas in Tinseltown” Featurette
• Trailer
• Special Announcements
• “Music from Elf
• Elf Karaoke
• Read-Along
• “Buddy’s Adventure”


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Elf: infinifilm (2003)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 8, 2004)

As I write this, we’re on the cusp of the 2004 holiday movie season. Whereas the last few years included massive blockbusters like the Lord of the Rings flicks and the first two Harry Potter offerings, 2004 presents a much more lackluster roster. Pixar’s The Incredibles looks poised to do big business, but beyond that, it becomes difficult to locate anything that seems likely to excite audiences.

But that doesn’t mean the season won’t produce some successful surprises. After all, who expected that 2003’s Elf would end up as that period’s second biggest hit. It fell way short of megasmash The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but with a take of $173 million, it did quite nicely. That also led it to seventh place on the box office chart for the whole year.

Not bad for a relatively low-budget holiday flick with little star power. At the start of Elf, we go back a few decades. An orphaned baby escapes his crib and hides out in Santa’s (Ed Asner) sack. When he arrives at the North Pole, the elves decide to keep him. They call him Buddy because of the name on his diapers. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) becomes Buddy’s adoptive dad, and the boy grows up as an elf despite his substantially greater size.

The adult Buddy (Will Ferrell) becomes his dad’s apprentice but he proves to lack great skill as a toy maker. Eventually Buddy overhears the elves talk about his human origins, so Papa finally reveals his true origins. We learn that his mother put him up for adoption without the knowledge of his biological father, Walter Hobbs. Papa lets Buddy know that his real dad lives in Manhattan, so our outsized elf decides to find him.

The rest of the movie follows Buddy’s adventures in New York. He heads to the Empire State Building to find Walter (James Caan). However, he comes across like a nut case, so Walter has him tossed out of the building. He takes some sarcastic advice seriously and goes to Gimbel’s department store, where the manager (Faizon Love) mistakes him for an employee. There he meets cynical “elf” Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) and he starts to fall for her.

Buddy also continues to try to connect with Walter but he doesn’t succeed. We see that Walter lives with his wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and son Michael (Daniel Tay) but largely neglects them since he works so much.

Buddy sticks around Gimbel’s but gets arrested when he confronts the store’s Santa. Walter comes to bail him out, mainly because he thinks the elf wants to extort him. Walter gets a paternity test that establishes he indeed is Buddy’s dad. He then brings him back to stay with the family in an attempt to dispel the notion that the dude’s an elf. The movie follows Buddy’s interactions with his family as well as his growing relationship with Jovie. All of this eventually leads to a crisis of faith in our elf that culminates on Christmas Eve.

I must admit that Elf almost lost me very early in the film. During the flick’s first two minutes, it presents both a fart gag and a belching joke. I worried this would set the tone and the rest of the movie would become nothing more than this kind of puerile, lowest common denominator material.

Happily, it slowly improves. The shots back at the North Pole are somewhat tough going, even though those scenes include some clever touches. Elf features a production design heavily influenced by TV specials of the Sixties. Clearly, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer played a big role in the flick’s look, especially in the depiction of the elves and tertiary characters. Any resemblance between Leon the Snowman and Rudolph’s Sam is purely intentional.

Some of this seems a little on the nose and cutesy, but it ultimately works for the movie. It’s a fun touch for the adults, since we’ll remember these shows from our youth and appreciate the connection. It helps that director Jon Favreau doesn’t beat us over the head with the links. Yeah, Leon is a little on the nose, but the other touches seem more subtle, and not just in the Christmas realm. Toward the end of the flick, we get a terrifically clever nod to Bigfoot that really tickled me.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the film’s tone. With Will Ferrell in the lead, I thought it might take a snarky tone, but that doesn’t happen. Really, Elf comes more in the Santa Clause vein than in the Bad Santa domain. The movie doesn’t come quite as sappy as Clause, but it also lacks the viciousness of Bad. It’s more of a good-natured throwback to the Christmas efforts of the past.

Much of the reason for Elf’s success comes from Ferrell’s dynamic performance. I never cared a lot for him on Saturday Night Live, as I found much of his work to be too broad and over the top. He delivers that tone comes through as Buddy, but in a surprisingly winning way. Ferrell doesn’t play the role with a wink or a nod toward the audience; he totally invests in the character and goes absolutely full-tilt.

I expected Ferrell to go nuts, but I didn’t anticipate such a sweet and innocent flavor to the part. Somehow he comes across as restrained and over the top all at once. Ferrell makes Buddy amusingly child-like and naïve, and this works very well for the part.

Elf sticks with a fairly predictable “fish out of water” story much of the time, and it doesn’t do a lot to reinvent that genre. In addition, it peters out a bit during the third act. Plot points dominate, and those diminish the importance of the characters. Elf works best when we spend time with the different personalities, so the increased focus on action and tension makes the movie sag.

Nonetheless, the movie provides a surprisingly charming experience with more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a rare flick that’s nice and gentle enough for the kids but also funny and clever enough for the adults.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus A-

Elf appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on these single-sided, double-layered DVDs; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the latter was viewed for this review. Decent but inconsistent, Elf showed a few more problems than I expected.

Sharpness usually seemed solid but not always. More than a few times, softness interfered and made the movie a little ill-defined. Interiors caused the majority of these problems, as a lot of them appeared somewhat flat. For the most part, though, the image remained acceptably crisp and detailed. No jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but some moderate edge enhancement crept into the flick at times. As for source flaws, the movie demonstrated a fairly grainy look that caused some distractions. Otherwise, it showed no obvious print concerns.

Elf offered a varied and vivid palette, and the DVD frequently displayed those tones well. The colors mostly came across as vibrant and lively. However, the tones occasionally appeared a bit runny and muddy. Black levels appeared deep and dense, but low-light shots tended to be somewhat murky. Again, interiors were the main issue, as they could become rather drab. In the end, the picture of Elf demonstrated some very positive moments but lacked the consistency to make it a generally strong image.

On the other hand, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Elf provided a satisfying experience. While it lacked great flair and flash, the mix worked well for this film. For the most part, the audio image remained biased toward the front channels. When it appeared, rear usage seemed pretty good, especially during the movie’s more active sequences. However, those occasions occurred fairly infrequently. Nonetheless, the stereo imaging appeared good, and the overall auditory impression remained reasonably broad and lively.

I found no issues related the quality of the audio, as the mix consistently sounded excellent. Dialogue seemed natural and crisp, with no issues related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects came across as realistic and clear, and they presented some very fine low-end material when appropriate; explosions and big sounds like that appeared deep and rich. Music sounded full-bodied and vibrant and also displayed solid bass. Ultimately, the soundtrack lacked the ambition to merit a grade over a “B”, but it seemed positive nonetheless.

As one would expect for a big hit like Elf, we get a mix of extras in this two-disc set. On DVD One, we find two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Jon Favreau, who offers a running, screen-specific track. He provides a genial and reasonably informative chat. During the North Pole sequences, he mostly focuses on the visual trickery used, but he branches into other areas once Buddy gets to Manhattan. We learn about the cast and character choices, cuts and story issues, locations and sets, influences and inspirations, and many general notes about the shoot. At times Favreau meanders into story narration and general banalities, but those problems don’t occur often. Instead, he usually offers a fairly neat examination of the appropriate topics.

For the second track, we hear from actor Will Ferrell, who also tosses out a running, screen-specific discussion. He talks about why he took the project, his approach to the role, working with the other actors and some of the challenges related to visual effects, stunts and other elements of the shoot. Those who hope for a rollicking, laugh-filled track from Ferrell will leave disappointed; he makes a couple of funny cracks but plays it surprisingly straight most of the time.

With or without the humor, this is an average commentary. Ferrell gives us decent insight into his approach to the character and tosses out some reasonably interesting glimpses behind the scenes, but I’m hard-pressed to cite anything terribly memorable. It’s listenable and that’s about it.

Within the “Beyond the Movie” domain on DVD One, we get a fact track. This subtitle commentary claims to “reveal history, facts and other trivia relating to Elf and its story”. And that’s what it does. We learn a little about the cast, the historical elements connected to Christmas, and filmmaking techniques. The material seems sporadically interesting, but the factoids don’t pop up frequently. I doubt many people will want to try to attend to the film itself and read the fact track at the same time, as it could become very distracting, especially since the piece also activates the infinifilm feature, which presents more visuals. On the other hand, if you check out the movie just to examine the subtitles, you’ll feel irritated by the infrequent use of the feature. Chalk this up as a fairly spotty text commentary.

Over in the “All Access Pass” area, we start with a collection of eight deleted/alternate scenes. When viewed via the “Play All” option, they run a total of 11 and a half minutes. These include an elf hockey game as well as extensions to segments like the one in which Papa Elf spills the beans about Buddy’s past, Walter’s meeting with a nun over financial strains, Buddy and Leon the Snowman, and Buddy’s first night at the Hobbs home. Some fun moments pop up here, so the clips are worth a look, although they don’t provide anything scintillating. (The Leon bit is cool to see partially because it shows the scene before effects added the stop-motion snowman.)

We can watch the scenes with or without commentary from Favreau. The director covers elements of shooting the sequences and also lets us know why the bits got the boot. He goes through the elements concisely and provides useful notes.

”Behind the Scenes” contributes six pieces. Tag Along with Will Ferrell runs seven minutes as we follow the actor on a typical day. He goes through hair, makeup, wardrobe, shooting on the sleigh with Santa, in the Gimbel’s mailroom, and pickups for the snowball fight. It gives us a very entertaining look at the the various shoots.

The longest “Behind the Scenes” component, Film School for Kids runs 20 minutes and 35 seconds. It includes shots from the set and many comments. We hear from Favreau, Ferrell, writer David Berenbaum, producers Todd Komarnicki, Shauna Robertson and Jon Berg, unit production manager Penny Gibbs, first assistant director Jim Brebner, second assistant director Andrew Robinson, second second assistant director James Bitonti, third assistant director Misha Bukowski, production assistants Tashanna Ducharme and Scott Spencer, key makeup artist Victoria Down, key hairstylist Sherrt Gygli, first assistant hairstylists Donna Bis and Ian Ballard, costume designer Lara Jean Shannon, director of photography Greg Gardiner, camera operator William Waring, second camera assistant George Majoros, dolly grip Greg Forrester, key grip Dillard Brinson, sound mixer David Husby, boom operator Kelly Zombor, stunt double Mike Carpenter, script supervisor Jessica Clothier, and video assist John Sanderson.

Though the title implies this will be a dumbed-down look at moviemaking, “Kids” actually provides as nice primer. It goes through a mix of crew activities and defines them nicely. The elements from the production continue to be illuminating, and we learn a lot of details about the creation of the flick. Adults should learn from this good program as well as younger ones.

Next we find the 11-minute and 30-second How They Made the North Pole. In it we get notes from Favreau, Gardiner, Shannon, production designer Rusty Smith, art director Kelvin Hummeny, lead carpenter Samuel Pritchard, head scenic artist Vaughan Baker, lead laborer Chad Calder, on-set dresser Patrick Kearns, property master Bryan Korenberg, on-set carpenter Mikal Williams, on-set painter David Pirrie, visual effects producer Joe Conmy, visual effects assistant Katie Quinn, visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer, They cover the visual design of the North Pole elements and their execution. It goes through all the appropriate areas in this concise and interesting piece. I especially like the look at adapting things to make the elves seem tiny.

We get more about visual effects, we head to Lights, Camera, Puffin!. This six-minute and 36- second program we hear from stop-motion animators Charles and Stephen Chiodo. They chat about their childhood interest in animation, character design, creating the figures, shooting amid live-action elements, and actually animating the pieces. I like the glimpses at the brothers’ childhood experiments, and the rest of the show presents another tight examination of its subject.

For the final DVD One featurette, we find That’s a Wrap…. In the 12-minute and 12-second piece, we look at post-production with Favreau, Conmy, Bauer, post-production supervisor Jay Vinitsky, editor Dan Lebental, visual effects editor Paul Wagner, visual effects supervisor Ben Girard, supervising sound editor John Leveque, supervising dialogue editor Kimberly Lowe Voigt, foley artists Jeffrey Wilhoit and James Moriana, supervising foley editor Lisa Varetakis, New Line music executive Bob Bowen, head orchestrator Brad Dechter, film score mixer Shawn Murphy re-recording mixer Jon Taylor, and composer John Debney. They go through editing, visual effects, audio, the score and the premiere. Ditto my comments about the prior featurettes, as this one rips through the requisite elements well. It caps the series of programs nicely.

DVD One ends with a Film Dictionary. The text component gives us a nice reference of terms used during movie making.

Over on DVD Two, four pieces appear in the “Beyond the Movie” domain. Kids on Christmas goes for six minutes, 29 seconds. It offers what you’d expect: a bunch of kids tell us about various aspects of the holiday. It’s very cutesy and virtually worthless.

Called Deck the Halls, the next featurette lasts 10 minutes and 23 seconds. It looks at the efforts people make to decorate their homes. We hear from Californians in a community where pretty much everybody goes all out, as well as others in Massachusetts. The piece offers a moderately interesting look at the extremes of holiday decorating, though the woman who dresses as Frosty gives me the creeps.

Next we see Santa Mania. The six-minute and 29-second program shows us “Surfing Santa”, the creation of Santa costumes, and a massive Santa sculpture. As with “Halls”, this show provides a decent slice of the way the holidays impact on average folks, though in a quirky way.

For the final featurette, we get the six-minute and 50-second Christmas in Tinseltown. Mostly via comments from honorary mayor Johnny Grant, it looks at historical Hollywood Christmas celebrations along with what the community does today. It fits with the other featurettes as it gives us a marginally intriguing piece.

Within DVD Two’s “All Access Pass” section, three bits appear. We get the flick’s trailer plus Special Annoucements. That domain presents ads for Secondhand Lions, The Polar Express and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban plus a public service announcement for the Dave Thomas Foundation.

Finally, Music from Elf lets us jump to any of 13 different music cues in the film. That part serves as little more than a glorified chapter search, but to make this more interesting, each song comes with an introduction from Favreau. These 15 snippets - including general opening and closing notes - run between 30 seconds and 81 seconds for a total of 12 minutes, 35 seconds of information. Favreau tells us why he used various cues in this useful collection of clips.

The package ends with “Fun ‘n’ Games”. Three components pop up here. Elf Karaoke lets you sing along with three different songs. Read-Along covers Buddy’s tale in text format. As with most features of this sort, you can read it on your own or check it out with accompanying narration.

Buddy’s Adventure divides into four games. They can be played individually or together via “Play All”. The contests vary; some are fairly fun, while others are dull.

Lastly, Elf tosses in some DVD-ROM materials. “Script to Screen” lets you read the original script while you watch the movie; the video runs in a small screen on the left as the text displays on the right half of the screen. We get a link to the movie’s “Original Website” as well as New Line’s homepage. The “Image Gallery” presents 48 stills. It mixes shots from the movie, some behind the scenes bits, and publicity photos.

You can create special photos via “Be an Elf”. It allows you to import a picture and put that person’s face on the body of an elf. It’s cute and works surprisingly well. “Make Your Own Storybook” is exactly what the title implies. It gets you to write your own little tale, with a bit of assistance along the way. I like this since it encourages kids to be creative; it presses them to work on their own but includes enough help to make it painless. “Printables” features elements like Christmas cards, puzzles, and other fun pieces. “Exclusive infinifilm Content” alludes to bits and pieces that one can access once the DVD officially hits the streets; since that’s still a week and a half away, there’s nothing to be found for Elf yet.

Note that some very minor Easter eggs pop up throughout DVDs One and Two. When you see little red tabs, click on them. These offer some action that emulates pop-up books.

By all rights, Elf should have been a crass one-note experience in tedium. However, the flick overcomes its inherent restrictions and turns into something charming and amusing. Much of the credit goes to a surprisingly delightful and charming performance from Will Ferrell. The DVD presents decent but erratic picture quality with pretty good audio and a strong collection of supplements. Elf enjoys a timeless feel that seems likely to make it a holiday perennial. I recommend this fun and entertaining piece.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3488 Stars Number of Votes: 43
5 3:
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