Light holiday fare that's amusing, if not flawless, "Elf" became an enormous hit during last year's holiday season. The result had Will Farrell's popularity rocketing up after his previous hit, "Old School". "Elf" often gets laughs, but director Jon Favreau and writer David Berenbaum sometimes get a little off-track or go a little too sentimental.
The story is pretty simple: Buddy the Elf (Will Farrell) snuck into Santa's bag as a child, getting a trip out of the orphanage. Raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), Buddy grew up fast and became twice the size of the other elves. Eventually, Buddy's father reveals what really happened, leading him to visit New York City to seek out his real father (James Caan).
Obviously, Buddy has a lot to learn when it comes to interacting with humanity, given that his interactions have previously been limited to the other elves at the North Pole. Stumbling into a job working at a department store, Buddy manages to inject the Christmas spirit into the place, while catching the eye of a fellow worker (Zooey Deschanel).
Unfortunately, things with his father start off...well, frosty. Walter (Caan) is a publisher who skimps on costs for children's books. Obviously, he doesn't respond well to a large man in a green suit and yellow tights who claims to be his long-lost son. Buddy's been told the name of Walter's long-ago girlfriend (and his mother), though, and when he reveals it, a part of Walter begins to believe.
"Elf"'s core is Farrell's performance, which is generally very good. While the comic does seem noticably a bit restrained by the PG rating, there are a lot of little brilliant moments scattered throughout the film. Although I was never really much of a fan of the comic when he was on "Saturday Night Live", he's really honed his timing since then, and his delivery seems sharper. Passing by a restaurant that proclaims the "world's best cup of coffee", Buddy peeks his head in and offers his congratulations. When his department store boss points out the store's North Pole, it turns into a "No, it's not", "Yes, it is" issue. When running into a department store santa (Artie Lange), he whispers, "you sit on a throne of lies." The supporting performances are also fun, such as Deschanel as the somewhat cynical love interest, and Newhart's dryly funny Papa Elf.
"Elf" does get a little bogged down at points, such as with Walter's search for an idea to save his publishing job, but thankfully, there aren't too many stretches that get bogged down in sentimentality. The film isn't terribly original and it's rather predictable, but "Elf" is well-acted, often fun and Farrell really carries most of it well, pulling out some solid laughs.
VIDEO: "Elf" is presented by New Line in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 pan & scan by New Line. Each presentation gets its own disc in this 2-DVD set. The picture quality isn't without a few minor issues, but the picture quality is largely solid - another winner from New Line. Sharpness and detail are very good, although fine details aren't always visible. Overall though, the film seems to resemble closely how it looked when I saw it theatrically.
Some other, minor concerns did show up at times. A few minor traces of pixelation were briefly seen during a few scenes, while a tiny bit of edge enhancement was noticed once or twice. These concerns weren't very noticable. On a positive note, the print used was in excellent condition, with no marks, specks, dirt or any other wear. Colors remained bright and vivid, with nice saturation and no smearing or other faults.
SOUND: "Elf" is presented by New Line in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's audio has a couple of moments of activity, such as a scene early on at the North Pole, but otherwise conforms to expectations for a "comedy mix". The majority of the audio comes from the front speakers, but the sound is spread across the front soundstage nicely, with full-sounding music and clear dialogue/sound effects.
EXTRAS: Two audio commentaries are offered: one with director Jon Favreau and the other with star Will Farrell. Some expectations come with a commentary from someone like Will Farrell, and the actor largely does a decent job with the track. Although he does tend to narrate the movie at times, he does offer a good deal of insights on playing the role and what attracted him to the project. He also offers some interesting tidbits about the production and how some scenes were achieved. However, I noted before that there's expectations for a Will Farrell commentary and I'm guessing many are expecting loads of laughs. Surprisingly, Farrell is pretty straightforward here, but he does have some good insights to offer.
Jon Favreau's track is similarly enjoyable and informative. The director discusses working with the actors (Deschanel's singing bits were added after the director found she was a singer), talking about coming up with some of the funny bits in the picture and some technical tidbits. Both of the commentaries are fine and worth a listen, but I think it would have been fun for both Favreau and Farrell to be paired together on a track and bounce ideas off each other instead of each having their own commentaries.
The deleted scenes section offers 8 deleted scenes, which mostly seem like extended bits that could be lost for improved pacing. There's a fairly amusing hockey sequence at the North Pole, though. The deleted scenes have optional director's commentary.
Following the deleted scenes is a "making of" documentary, which can be played as separate bits or a nearly hour-long whole. Although I was a little skeptical at the prospects of an hour-long look at something like "Elf", this turned out to be an amusing and enjoyable piece. The first part of the documentary is mainly focused on following around Farrell, who discusses his approach to trying to play the film's comedy, and takes us through some moments of his day on the set.
The main portion of the documentary focuses on life on the set. We visit with crew members like the make-up artist, the assistant directors, costume designer, the director, the cinematographer, the producer and others, who discuss their role on the film. Towards the end, we are also offered a lot of information about the post-production process (editing, visual effects and sound.) The documentary overall is a very nice mix of fly-on-the-wall on-set footage and informative interviews. I didn't expect much from this piece, but it's a really solid effort that doesn't "promote" and gives a great tour of the production.
Also included on the first disc are two features that viewers have the option to play along with the film. There is the Infinifilm option, which allows viewers to jump to brief featurettes and other information about the scene, then be taken back to the film. There's also a subtitle fact track.
Jumping to the second disc, viewers will find even more special features.
The "Beyond The Movie" section of the second disc offers some featurettes geared more towards kids - "Kids on Christmas", "Deck the Halls", "Santa Mania", and "Christmas in Tinseltown" run a total of a bit over 30 minutes.
The "All Access" section on the second disc offers the film's theatrical trailer and a "Music From Elf" section, where director Jon Favreau discusses the use of music in some scenes from the film. The "Special Announcements" section offers promos for "Secondhand Lions", "The Polar Express", "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and The Dave Thomas Foundation.
Finally, the second disc offers a section with an interactive game and other fun for kids, such as a read-along. Lastly, popping the second disc into your DVD-ROM computer drive will bring up such features as weblinks, a script-to-screen viewer and more.
"Elf" also boasts some terrific animated DVD menus that look like "pop-up" books.
Final Thoughts: "Elf" is a tad predictable and occasionally a bit sappy, but Farrell offers a fine performance and the film does gets laughs going at a good rate. New Line's DVD edition offers good audio/video quality and a wealth of enjoyable supplements, especially the stellar hour-long documentary. Recommended.