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Elf: Buddyâ€™s Sing & Cheer Along Edition
Remember the days when Will Ferrell wouldn't do so many forced, unfunny comedies and did films that tried to bring some emotional weight to them? Well, Elf might not have had much emotional gravitas, but of all the films Ferrell's done since leaving Saturday Night Live, this one is the one I find myself watching more than the rest.
Written by David Berenbaum (The Spiderwick Chronicles) and directed by Jon Favreau (Iron Man 2), Ferrell is the Elf in question named Buddy. Buddy lives at the North Pole and is a firm believer in Christmas, the feelings it brings and everything else associated with the holiday. Yet for his feelings and optimism, he doesn't seem to be as good of an elf as the rest are, and that's when Papa Elf (Bob Newhart, The Spiderwick Chronicles) sets him aside and gives him some surprising news. Not only is Buddy not an Elf (as he realizes through a funny montage of trying to live with and around items made for elves), but his Dad is a human who is on Santa's naughty list. Buddy decides to try and find his Dad who lives in New York City. And in the City Buddy runs into the usual stereotypical barriers that New York holds and does what he can to break through them to see if his Dad can rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.
Ferrell does a great job of selling the blind optimism that an Elf would bring in coming down from New York, and his comic sensibilities do get a little bit of time to show themselves off, and they're done to good effect. For that matter, going up and down the supporting cast of comedic talent, they seem to all have their moments here and there, whether it's Newhart's scenes with Ferrell, or Amy Sedaris (Strangers with Candy), who plays a receptionist at Buddy's father's office. In smaller roles in the publishing house include a Conan O'Brien sidekick (Andy Richter) and one-half of Tenacious D (Kyle Gass). As to Buddy's father, Walter is played by James Caan (Get Smart) in a bit of a casting masterstroke. Berenbaum's story deftly starts by portraying Walter as someone who's lost the meaning of Christmas and is a wayward soul, but Buddy's conflict about finding his father puts him in the same situation. In a way they both need to find each other, and their personality conflicts in the first and second act make for some pretty funny moments.
The movie appears to be full of excellent casting moments. Lou Grant himself, Ed Asner (Up) plays Santa and is perfect in the role. There's going to be a certain group of people that will identify him solely as that character, and he's great in it. Playing Ferrell's love interest (or at the very least a temptation in New York that Buddy has a crush on) is Zooey Deschanel ((500) Days of Summer), who plays Jovie, a store employee at Gimbels that Buddy sees dressed as an Elf for a Christmas display at the store. Buddy is intrigued by her but then in a moment when she's singing in the shower he becomes almost entranced. Their friendship is platonic though, in part because in this movie I'd doubt Buddy's character would know what to do, but mainly because it's something that doesn't occur to him. Why would it? He's only trying to spread Christmas cheer for all to hear.
The performances are helped by Favreau's ideas in making the film feel like a visually modernized version of a Burl Ives album. In the beginning when Buddy leaves the North Pole, he runs into creatures that could only be described as out of a Ray Harryhausen film (the legendary special effects creator would voice a character in this movie coincidentally), and Leon Redbone provides a nice homespun voice in the same way that Ives likely would have. In addition, Newhart is a nice voice to help guide Buddy's story along. Those types of things help Favreau get away with an overt John Woo tribute in the middle of a snowball fight. Elf doesn't feel out of place with the older Christmas films both because of its desire to be timeless and the cast wholly buying into this premise.
And it works exceptionally well, as Elf remains one of the better holiday films I've seen in recent memory and is tailor made to be shown every Christmas next to A Christmas Story or It's a Wonderful Life. It easily lets you leave whatever cynicism you might have at the door and rewards you by bathing you in a nice mix of humor and the holiday spirit and allows you to enjoy the ride.
So, the thing about this disc is that it's called a "Buddy's Sing & Cheer Along Edition," meaning they've made a copy of the disc under the Warner Brothers label (the second disc we'll talk about in a second), and given you some subtitles for some of the memorable moments in the film, or some of the foods Buddy eats in the film, and some other Christmas songs not included in the movie but set to montages in the bonus features. This disc is red, while the second disc is colored green. For Christmas, get it? Anyway, it looks like nothing's changed on it, and I'll presume that's the case.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and after having seen the Blu-ray of same back in 2010, seeing essentially the same edition in standard definition didn't blow my doors off or anything.
The disc that doesn't include the sing and cheer stuff is the one from the Infinifilm release back in the day. I harkened back to Adam Tyner's review of the film then and am doing the same now for the sake of reducing redundancy, while slightly adding to it.
I took another look at Elf again, this time with my toddler, and a lot of it captivated his attention, though I think a portion of that may have been him not knowing what he was witnessing. I also mentioned to him that taking the time to make a copy of a past release and the only new extras that were added were holiday-specific and not retrospective on the film was a futile and pointless exercise. If you have no copies of Elf, this is OK but if you have a Blu-ray you probably have a copy already so this is not necessary.