Running Time: 95 mins
I should begin with a confession that might impeach my objectivity: Will Ferrell appears on the screen - any screen - and I start giggling. So I may not be the most objectivity authority when I tell you that Elf is hilarious. But it is.
The story of an orphan (Ferrell) raised by Christmas elves who travels from the North Pole to New York in search of his father, Elf is an imperfect, overly-sentimental and ultimately wonderful holiday film for kids and their parents. Ferrell plays the guileless, awestruck Buddy the Elf with his usual mix of pratfalls and silliness, but he also manages to effect a touching portrait of a lonely child desperate for the love of his father. His father, Walter Hobbes (Caan), who begins the film on Santa's "naughty list," is ultimately redeemed when he quits his demanding job (for no apparent reason, but you've laughed so hard you'll be more worried about the ache in your side than deficiencies in the script) to help Buddy save Christmas. They manage to rescue Santa, a typecast Ed Asner - this must be his tenth appearance in film and television in the role of Kringle - from a gang of Lord of the Rings-esque horsemen in Central Park.
To this point in his career, director Jon Favreau has been a mainstay of the world of "mainstream/independent" films (he wrote Swingers and wrote and directed Made), and he hasn't squandered his first opportunity with a big studio budget. His film pays witty homage to the Rankin/Bass animated Christmas Specials of the 1970s and includes a wonderful supporting cast, including Bob Newhart as Buddy's adoptive father, Mary Steenburgen as Emily Hobbes and Zooey Deschanel as a part-time holiday worker/elf. But his best decision as a director was to turn on the camera, put Will Ferrell in bright yellow tights and let him go. Watching Buddy, the 6'5" elf, unravel the mysteries of escalators, revolving doors and department store Santas makes for gleeful entertainment. But, as I mentioned, I'm biased.
Harden Grace is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.