I once said of Jon Favreau’s Elf (in my 2004 DVD review of Elf) that the movie was a classic the second the first image hit the screen. Time has passed, it’s six years later, and the Will Ferrell comedy has made its way to Blu-ray, affording the perfect opportunity to revisit the movie (not to mention it’s the holiday season as I write this, making it the perfect time for Elf). The passage of time hasn’t diminished my appreciation of the movie a bit. In fact, it’s only proved my initial appraisal as correct.
In case you’ve been living in the North Pole, away from movies, DVDs, television, and now Blu-rays, Elf stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who, accidentally stows away in Santa’s bag of toys as an orphan baby and winds up being raised by the North Pole elves, learning to make toys and celebrating Christmas year round. When Buddy discovers he’s much bigger then those around him because he’s actually human, he travels to New York City to find his father (James Caan), a curmudgeon children’s book publisher on Santa’s naughty list. With Buddy’s help, his human family learns the joy of Christmas and Buddy finds a new home and a love interest.
It’s clear from the opening moments of the movie that Elf is Jon Favreau’s homage to the classic Christmas movies and television specials we all look forward to each year. The North Pole is done up in a style akin to the Rankin/Bass television specials (particularly Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Buddy’s dad is a Scroogish figure straight out of A Christmas Carol, and a department store’s Christmas magic is like some kind of Miracle on 34th Street. Nothing from Elf feels borrowed from those other Christmas favorites, but the movie perfectly captures the feeling of those – the nostalgia of our own youth during Christmastime. Not only does the movie build on the feeling of those other specials, but it adds its own clever story to the holiday repertoire, accompanied by a wonderful selection of Christmas tunes, including a killer duet of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”.
Adding to Favreau’s mood is Will Ferrell’s performance as Buddy. Personally, Ferrell can be hit or miss for me. I enjoy his performances, but sometimes the shtick wears thin long before the end credits roll. It’s something that make some of his movies popular at first, but cause fans to burn out on them over time. There is no danger of that with his performance here. While playing a grown man who thinks he’s an elf sounds like it would be just as big a shtick as Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby, or many of other Ferrell creations, the actor manages to harness something genuine in his portrayal of Buddy. There’s such an honest innocence in Buddy’s antics that keeps them fresh and enjoyable no matter how many times the movie is watched. Ferrell’s chemistry with co-stars like Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, and even small moments with children are phenomenal, and Elf may go down as Ferrell’s best work. No matter how good other Ferrell comedies are, Elf gets the added charm of its Christmas content.
While there’s not exactly a shortage of enjoyable Christmas classics, from the moment I first saw Elf it earned a place in my holiday rotation. The performances are just too enjoyable, the tone too familiar, and the lines so eminently quotable. Even people who I barely know will inadvertently reference the film at some point during the Christmas season, refreshing the desire to pop it into the DVD player and revisit Buddy’s adventures, as he passes through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly-twirly gumdrops, and through the Lincoln tunnel, into the hearts of audiences everywhere.
On the Disc:
The 2004 “Infinifilm Edition” DVD was a pretty strong release for Elf and it’s a good thing, since most of the contents here for the Blu-ray release are just copied over from that, minus the annoying “Inifinifilm” way of watching the movie. I won’t get into the weaknesses of that marketing gimmick, but I’m glad to see it gone, especially on a release like this that was otherwise perfect.
There are two commentary tracks. One, from Jon Favreau, which is pretty informative about the making of the movie, and another, from Will Ferrell, which is rather bland and points out Ferrell’s weaknesses as a performer. I still wish the commentaries had been combined into one session, allowing the two men to riff off of each other in a track that could have been entertaining and informative, but alas, it was not to be.
Other extras on the release include several deleted scenes that are entertaining, but not surprising to see cut, a series of short featurettes, and fun and games like elf karaoke, allowing you to sing along with Christmas favorites that appear on the disc. I find I pay less attention to extras like these on Blu-ray releases, but they are still fun to revisit every so often.
While the extras are fun, I can’t fully praise the Blu-ray release of Elf. The picture, while quite beautiful, shows some flaws, particularly in the special effects of the North Pole early in the movie. The flaws fade as the movie progresses, but they are still there, which may make this a less desirable pick-up for film aficionados who want the best presentation from their Blu-ray.
Finally, the Elf Blu-ray is available in an “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” gift set that makes it an impressive package for fans of Buddy, Elf, or Blu-rays in general. The movie, in a standard Blu-ray case, is contained in a collectable metal tin that also includes a magnetic picture frame (“I just like to smile; Smiling’s my favorite”), hilarious gift tags, a sampler of tracks from the full soundtrack (which, unfortunately lacks some of my favorite tunes from the film), and a elf stocking ready to be hung on your mantle to await the arrival of the big guy.