In 10 Words or Less
Will Ferrell Will Ferrell Will Ferrell Will Ferrell Will Ferrell
For years, Will Ferrell made his name taking scene-stealing supporting roles between seasons of "Saturday Night Live," turning in laugh-inducing performances as Mugatu in Zoolander and Mustafa in Austin Powers. But in 2003, he got his chance to headline his own film (no, A Night at the Roxbury doesn't count), and ended up with a big success in Elf. It was the perfect coming-out role for the shameless comic, as he could let loose as an outsider elf unleashed on New York.
The story is a simple one. Buddy (Ferrell), an orphan infant who stows-away on Santa's sleigh, is allowed to stay with the elves, and is adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) to live an elfin life. As he gets older, his real heritage becomes obvious, and as with all adopted children, a curiosity about his "real" parents grows. So it's off to New York City, where Buddy's father lives. Of course, after living his entire life in the magical North Pole, the harsh realities of New York life aren't known to Ferrell's man-child character, so there's plenty of opportunity for fish-out-of-water fun.
As he bounds through the Big Apple, experiencing the city and looking for his father, at Christmas-time of course, he displays the exuberance of a child in a toy store. He also meets Jovie, a department-store elf played by the highly-underrated Zooey Deschannel, and falls in love with her, seeing her as a human/elf like him. Her beautiful singing voice, Deschannel's own, acts as a siren song to Buddy, and he finds himself with two goals: A) connect with his father (played like a watered-down Scrooge by James Cann) and B) win the girl. If you can guess the ending, congratulations...you've seen plenty of family-friendly films.
Though a candy-colored wonderland that's safe for kids, the movie has a bit of a dark streak in it, including a children's author that's a bit of a surprise. Ferrell's comedy is best when walking the line between jester and madman, and when he's just about to fall over into insanity, he hits his peak. When Buddy confronts a department store Santa (a cameo by Artie Lange (Dirty Work), the darkness shows, drawing some of my biggest laughs during the movie. Though the climactic action sequence ran a bit too dark for what was a light-hearted comedy to that point, there needed to be a sense of urgency, and it was provided in spades. Unfortunately, it was part of one of the corniest endings I've seen since the sing-along ending of Ghostbusters 2.
It may sound like I didn't enjoy Elf, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It's a quick and hilarious film, as long as Ferrell is on the screen. He is the rare talent that doesn't need a fully fleshed-out movie to succeed. He just needs to be himself. And apparently, he's a 6'4" Christmas-loving elf. This was a fun and funny movie, one I would watch every Christmas without pain.
New Line made Elf the latest two-disc release in their Infinifilm line-up, a DVD brand that packs discs with bonus features that connect the movie to the world around us. With a Christmas-themed movie, there's plenty of material to work with, and New Line delivers some interesting featurettes. The menus are designed as animated pop-up story books, complete with tabs to pull, setting an fun theme right from the start. Widescreen and full-screen versions are included, one on each disc. The DVDs come packaged in a single-width keepcase with a snap-in tray and an insert with chapter stops and an explanation of Infinifilm. The keepcase is wrapped in a fold-out cardstock slipcase, stamped with holographic foil. The wrap must be aimed at families, since it doesn't have the Infinifilm branding the keepcase has, and features a simplified explanation of the features in the fold-out.
When in the North Pole, Elf has a very unique, storybook look, while the New York scenes are loaded with color and detail. In both locales, the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen video looks excellent. Colors are rich and vibrant, while details are solid. I didn't notice any obvious problems with the transfer or the compression. The scenes at the department store and Walter's apartment, where Buddy applies his Christmas cheer, are examples of true video challenges, as they are loaded with fine details. This DVD rises to that challenge. The full-screen video is equally high in quality, but is pan-and-scan.
The audio, available in English and Spanish 5.1 surround mixes, is as good as any comedy film, with the dialogue coming across clear from the center channel, and the music bleeding into the surrounds. There's a good amount of special effects and ambient background sound that is pumped to the sides and rear. It's not the most active soundtrack, but the sound is good while still subtle. The scene where Buddy discovers Jovie's singing voice is a good bit of mixing that doesn't overpower.
New Line's put together a tremendous package of extras for Elf, starting with the Infinifilm feature. For anyone who's never seen an Infinifilm DVD, this feature puts a graphic across the bottom of the screen at points in the film, allowing the viewer to choose to access supplemental material related to the scene or continue to watch the film. When the supplement is chosen, the viewer is returned right back to the same spot when the bonus feature concludes. One of the keys to this feature is a film worth watching twice, as you won't want to watch the film in Infinifilm the first time. Elf was a wise choice in this way, because it definitely is interesting enough to spin again. Infinifilm also loads the menus with helper markers that make it easy for anyone to learn how the discs work.
All of the supplements are available to check out separately, and are quite interesting, unlike many DVD features, especially the Beyond the Movie bonuses, which focus on real-world Christmas stories. "Kids on Christmas" interviews kids about Christmas, revealing some odd stuff going on out there, while "Santa Mania" profiles people involved in the Santa trade, including a surfing Santa in California. "Deck the Halls" aims the camera at a town way too into decorating and a kook in a costume and "Christmas in Tinseltown" look at Hollywood holidays, which is certain to amaze (and annoy) those not living in LaLa Land. These featurettes have the feel of mini Christopher Guest movies, making one wonder if you're laughing with or at these eccentrics.
An extensive behind-the-scenes featurette, clocking in at nearly an hour, is also seeded throughout the Infinifilm presentation, but can be viewed all at once or in segments in the All-Access Pass section of Disc Two. "Tag Along with Will Ferrell" follows the comic as he goes through his day on the set, and he's as funny as you'd expect as he guides the camera. The rest of the pieces focus on filmmaking, including "How They Made the North Pole", a look at the set design, "Lights, Camera, Puffin!", which shows how the under-used animated characters were created and "That's a Wrap", an explanation of how films are edited. The largest portion, "Film School for Kids," covers the making of Elf from beginning to end, introducing all the people behind a film, right down to the Dolly Grip. It may be labeled for kids, but just about anyone not working in the industry could learn something here. Also included is a helpful 11-page text filmmaking dictionary that explains the terms used in the behind-the-scenes featurette.
A pair of commentaries, from Ferrell and Favreau, gives you a reason to watch the film two more times. As both are quality comedic actors, they are very comfortable talking about the movie and each man delivers an enjoyable and informative track, but neither is unnaturally "on." Though they don't repeat each other much in their different roles as actor and director, it would have been fun to hear them record a track together. Favreau notes in one of the BTS featurettes that the two got along well and shared a similar sense of humor, so you'd think it would be a given to let them riff off each other.
Available on the first disc is a small set of deleted scenes and alternate takes, each with optional commentary by Favreau. His explanations for removing the scenes make sense, and it would be hard to argue with them. The biggest deletion is a hockey game that went at the beginning of the movie, showing Buddy's size in comparison to the elves. Interestingly, in his commentaries, Favreau notes the studio's desire to reduce the violence in the movie, resulting in the hockey game being cut (along with pacing) and another key scene being heavily cut down. Favreau introduces the "Music from Elf" featurette as well, which allows the viewer to jump to scenes where music is a big part of the movie.
A selection of activities on the second disc are fun to check out, but should be a blast for kids. "Buddy's Adventure" is made up of four games including "Snowball Fight," "The Race For Mt. Icing," "Elf in the City," and "Fix Santa's Sleigh." Complete all four games, and you unlock the "Secret Elevator O' Fun," actually giving you a reason to play the games. There's also Elf Karaoke, providing three Christmas songs to sing, a read-along storybook, with optional narration, the film's theatrical trailer and a "special announcements" section featuring three trailers for kids flicks and a PSA for The Dave Thomas Foundation.
Putting the DVD into a DVD-Rom drive presents even more features, including printable activities for kids, a high-quality photo gallery, a make-your-own Christmas Book activity, a photo manipulation feature and the excellent script-to-screen comparison function. There's also a link to exclusive content at infinifilm.com that was inactive as of this writing. All in all, these bonus features increase the value of this DVD tremendously, giving both adults and kids something to enjoy.
The Bottom Line
Fans of Will Ferrell can pick up Elf without concern or hesitation, because it is as fun as a Will Ferrell film should be. It's hard to imagine this movie without the infusion of Ferrell's joy and silliness, because he is the engine that makes it go. The story isn't exactly ground-breaking, nor is it very interesting, but you're probably not watching it for any reason than to see Ferrell be Ferrell. The DVD package New Line has put together seals the deal, making one of the most satisfying releases of a mainstream comedy this year.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.