Film / Elf

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#1. "Treat every day like Christmas."
#2. "There's room for everyone on the 'Nice' list."
#3. "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear."
The Code of the Elves

Elf is a 2003 Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell.

Ferrell stars as Buddy, a human who was raised by Santa Claus (Edward Asner), Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), and the rest of the elves at the North Pole after accidentally crawling into Santa's sack as an orphaned baby. Realizing that he is not competent as an elf and discovering his true lineage, he decides to head to New York City, where he meets his deadbeat corporate father, Walter (James Caan). His father initially doesn't believe Buddy is his son, but eventually brings him home to meet his wife (Mary Steenburgen) and son (Daniel Tay), who are won over by his innocent charm.

Buddy's adventures in the city include taking a job at Gimbels, where he has a confrontation with a fake Santa and falls in love with an employee dressed as an elf (Zooey Deschanel). His own father begins to warm up to him but yells at him after Buddy screws up a deal with a famous children's book author (Peter Dinklage). Buddy runs away, feeling he never belonged in New York.

Santa's sleigh then crashes in Central Park, where the big man himself tells Buddy that a lack of Christmas spirit has caused the engines to fail. Now it's up to Buddy to repair the sleigh and get everyone to believe in Santa before Christmas is ruined.

It manages to be a funny, charming and (mostly) family-safe Christmas movie. A musical Screen-to-Stage Adaptation had limited, holiday-season engagements on Broadway in 2010 and 2012 and has since launched a touring production. An Animated Adaptation, Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas, aired on NBC in 2014.


This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Pervert: When Buddy hears Jovi singing in the shower, he goes in to listen and sing along with her. Being as naïve and childlike as he was, he had no idea that what he did would get him in a lot of trouble.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The musical version has a few elements not present in the original movie, including an entire scene where Buddy enters a Chinese restaurant to sulk after Walter tells him to get out of his life, where he finds a bunch of department store Santas complaining about their jobs, and how disrespectful and ill-behaved today's kids are.
    • Jovie is given a much-needed backstory that explains why she's such a humbug when we first meet her, she grew up in Los Angeles, where she describes Christmas as being, "surreal", because it never snowed; she had been living in New York for two years, and even then, she still never saw snow, so Christmas never felt special to her. That, and apparently she went out with a bunch of jerkasses over the years.
    • In the movie Mr. Greenway and Miles Finch don't appear much, but in the musical (in which they're combined into one character) Mr. Greenway comes back in the final act as the Big Bad.
  • Adapted Out: Buddy's adoptive father isn't in the musical. Santa takes over his role as Buddy's adoptive father figure and the narrator.
  • Adoring the Pests: Buddy tries to befriend a vicious raccoon, who attacks him for his troubles.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking:
    Buddy: (reading a note he's leaving on an Etch-a-Sketch): "I'm sorry I ruined your lives and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR"
    Buddy: (telling of how he traveled to New York): "I passed through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then I walked through the Lincoln Tunnel."
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!
  • Bad to the Last Drop: Buddy naively believes a Greasy Spoon's claim to have "the world's best cup of coffee", despite it being anything but.
  • Berserk Button: Call Miles Finch an elf, one...more..time.
  • Big Applesauce: Buddy goes to NYC. The network that catches Buddy on camera is real.
    • According to the DVD commentary, the bearded guy who Buddy mistakes for Santa during the "Pennies from Heaven" scene when he first gets to New York was also real and unaware that he was being filmed for a movie.
  • Big "NO!": Buddy's reaction to finding that his father is on the naughty list.
  • Big "YES!": Miles Finch lets one fly while discussing ideas for his next book.
  • Brick Joke: One of the jack-in-the-boxes that Buddy had been in charge of testing makes a surprise reappearance late in the film.
    • The red lingerie.
  • Black Knight: "Oh no. It's the Central Park Rangers." Indeed, the Rangers, in their charge, resemble galloping Ring Wraiths.
  • Blinding Bangs: Michael in the animated musical adaptation.
  • Buffy Speak: Buddy, after seeing his father's secretary Deborah: "That's a nice, purple dress. It's very purple-y."
  • The Cameo: NY1 is a real TV Network, local to New York City, which features in the film.
  • Christmas Carolers: When Buddy first meets Jovie and has trouble reaching her, he tries to lift her spirit by telling her, "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear." Later in the movie, when she learns Santa's sleigh has lost its power source because nobody has Christmas spirit, she remembers Buddy's words of wisdom, and tries to boost everyone's spirit by leading a round of spontaneous Christmas caroling, singing, "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town".
  • Christmas Elves: Duh.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: People's belief in Santa is what powers his sleigh. Recently, Christmas spirit hasn't been enough, so he added a 8500 RP (reindeer power) jet turbine engine.
  • Composite Character: In the musical, Mr. Greenway and Miles Finch are combined into one character.
  • Cool Big Bro: Michael initially wanted nothing to do with Buddy, but after he fights off an entire gang of bullies in a snowball fight, he sees Buddy as this.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef: Buddy's insistence on adding maple syrup to everything.
    • He also adds candy to spaghetti.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Walter and most of his staff.
    • Well, they're not really that corrupt, they're just a bunch of cotton-headed ninnymugginses, as proven by that incident where they shipped an order of books with a couple missing pages. On purpose. No wonder the company is failing.
  • Crazy Consumption: In one memorable scene which would give dentists nightmares, Buddy eats for breakfast: a plate of spaghetti topped with maple syrup, several fistfuls of candy and a crumbled Pop-Tart.
  • Creator Cameo: Jon Favreau appears as both the doctor Buddy visits and as the voice of Mr. Narwhal.
    • And also voiced the other Arctic creatures like the puffin, polar bear, and seal.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Blink and you'll miss it, but in the ending sequence, Buddy and Jovie's daughter is named Susie, after Buddy's late birth mother.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Walter softens up considerably towards the end of the movie.
    • Jovi can count too as she seems a bit bitter in the beginning but softens up as well.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The Elf four food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.
    • "Things to do today with my dad today".
  • Dirty Coward: When one of the bullies that ambushed Buddy and Michael in the snowball fight gets hit by a snowball from Buddy, he runs away literally sobbing.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Miles takes offense to Buddy calling him an elf. When threatening Buddy to stop doesn't work, Miles challenges him before beating him up.
  • Elevator Buttons Mash: Buddy presses the buttons in the elevator to look like a Christmas tree.
  • Exact Words: Santa tells Buddy not to eat any candy off of the ground, but he never said anything about railings.
    • Later, Walter tells Buddy that he needs to lose the tights "as soon as possible". You can probably guess what happens next...
  • Expy: See "Snowlems" below.
  • Fish out of Water: The man-child-ish Buddy in his elf outfit.
  • Feet-First Introduction / Big Little Man: Miles Finch.
  • Gasshole: Buddy swallows an entire 2-litre bottle of Coca-Cola in one gulp and then lets out a very loud burp (dubbed in by Maurice LaMarche).
  • Genius Ditz: Buddy acts like a 7-year-old trapped in an adult's body, but while his being human makes it harder for him to keep up with elf builders, he certainly builds faster and better than any human (you try making 85 Etch-A-Sketches in a day, let alone 1,000). He singlehandedly decorates an entire store for Santa's arrival in less than one night, complete with a Lego replica of New York City and the Mona Lisa on an Etch-A-Sketch, to the point that Jovi's boss is afraid that someone is trying to steal his job.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Goes right over the kids' heads obviously, but when you're an adult, and you stop to think about it, it becomes clear that Buddy was born illegitimately.
    • The Broadway musical version directly acknowledges that Buddy was born as the result of "consequences" between Walter and Susan Wells.
    • Also in the musical version, Gimbel's manager (Macy's in the play) sees Buddy has the hots for Jovie, and suggests he take her out... including suggesting he walk her home, and take her into the bedroom. Buddy's childlike innocence and naivete turns the rest into a Double Entendre as he assumes that, "Getting into bed and snuggling her" means just that.
    • Again, from the musical, in the end when the Hobbs family visits Santa, with Buddy and Jovie's new baby in tow, Buddy remarks that she was the result of a, "New way of snuggling Jovie showed me that I never heard of before, but really like it!"
    • Santa warns Buddy that when he gets to New York if he sees a sign that says "Peep Show", it doesn't mean that it's an opportunity to peep at Christmas presents.
    • Buddy drops in on Jovie singing the suggestive holiday song "Baby It's Cold Outside" in the women's locker room and sings along with her.
  • The Grinch: Walter is sort of a mild one.
  • Historical In-Joke: A Macy's store is used as a stand-in for Gimbels. Macy's bought out the real Gimbels chain in 1986.
  • Homage Shot: Like George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life, Buddy finds himself standing on the edge of a bridge one night, suffering feelings of worthlessness, until he notices a falling ethereal being in need of his rescue. In this case, Santa's sleigh.
  • How Can Santa Deliver All Those Toys?: Inverted when Buddy is told that some kids think their parents give them toys for Christmas, and Buddy says that parents can't deliver all those toys in one night.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: The snowman Buddy talks with before leaving the North Pole bears an uncanny resemblance to Leon Redbone.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Due to his childhood in the North Pole, he has no idea how offensive his interaction with Miles is.
  • The Insomniac: Elves are apparently satisfied with only 40 minutes a night sleep, and Buddy, somehow, manages to cope with this.
  • Interspecies Adoption: A human raised by Christmas elves? Stranger things have happened.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Buddy writes a children's book about his adventure as the first book released through Walter's new publishing company.
  • Keet: Buddy, to an extent.
  • Large Ham: Guess who.
    • "SANTAAAAAAAAAA!"
  • Made of Iron: Buddy can get run over by a taxi cab and walk away as if it didn't happen (all while apologizing for getting in the way).
    • In another scene he mistakes a children's book author who is an LP for an elf; said author then beats the crap out of Buddy. Despite the massive amount of force in his beating, he appears to be completely unhurt.
    • The first time it happens for Buddy is when he encounters a raccoon. Said raccoon apparently mauls him after he ignores its pretty obvious warning symbol and yet he walks along without a single scratch on his face.
  • Mall Santa: Department store Santa, technically. But Buddy is not fooled because the guy smells like beef and cheese, not milk and cookies.
  • Man Child: Buddy.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Guy: Buddy. Zooey Deschanel, who usually plays this role, instead plays the Defrosting Ice Queen Jovi.
  • Mean Boss: Fulton Greenway, Walter's superior at the publishing company.
  • Medium Blending: When Buddy leaves the North Pole, he meets pastiches of stop-motion Christmas characters as we transition to the real world.
  • More Dakka: With snowballs! The snowballs even make bullet sounds as they whiz by.
  • Na´ve Animal Lover: Buddy runs into a raccoon and goes over to pet it. The raccoon hisses at him, but Buddy thinks he just needs a hug. That's when the raccoon attacks him.
  • The Napoleon: Miles Finch, played by none other than Peter Dinklage, whom Buddy mistakes for an elf.
  • The Narrator: Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), Buddy's mentor, narrates the story at either end.
  • Oblivious Adoption
  • Oh, Crap!
    • Jovi's half scared, have confused face when she hears another (male) voice singing with her in the women's locker room.
    • The look on Morris' (Andy Richter) face when Buddy calls Miles Finch an elf.
  • One Phone Call: Buddy gets one.
  • Papa Wolf: While he doesn't lose his temper, Walter isn't pleased when Mr. Greenway is rude to Michael.
  • Parent Service: Zooey Deschanel in the shower. A lot of dads (and maybe a few moms) likely had a new favorite movie after this scene.
  • Rascally Raccoon: Buddy meets a rather nasty one in a forest.
  • Santa Claus: Duh. He's a bit grumpier in this film, though.
  • The Scrooge: Mr. Greenway, who schedules a meeting for Walter and his staff to pitch a new book for him on the evening of December 24, never minding that that's Christmas Eve.
  • Serious Business: You'd think that writing children's picture books wouldn't be that big of a deal, wouldn't you? You'd be very wrong.
  • Shower Scene: Both Buddy and Jovie get one.
  • Singing in the Shower: Jovie during the shower scene.
  • Skip of Innocence: Buddy does this at one point. Jovi joins in with him on their date.
  • Slasher Smile: Miles Finch just before he attacks Buddy.
  • Snowball Fight: Buddy befriends Michael after proving incredibly competent at one.
  • Snowlems: An expy of a snowman from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer appears during the North Pole scenes.
  • Staggered Zoom: The first time Buddy sees Jovie, the camera does a staggered zoom in on her face as it's illuminated by the Christmas tree she's decorating.
  • Stock Sound Effects: The laughter from the jack-in-the-boxes is a recording of Dallas McKennon that was first used in Lady and the Tramp, and is also heavily associated with Ripper Roo from Crash Bandicoot.
  • Storybook Opening
  • Sweet Tooth: Buddy. Will Ferrell actually got a headache eating all of the sweet Buddy makes for himself.
    Buddy: We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.
    • It appears that the North Pole is an almost literal Sugar Bowl.
  • Those Two Guys: Morris and Eugene, the two staff writers at Greenway Publishing.
  • Tsundere: Jovi, to the point that some viewers interpret her character's constant repressed anger as flat boredom.
  • Un Duet: Jovie is singing one in the shower, however soon Buddy joins in...to much surprise.
  • Unusual Euphemism: At one point, Buddy berates himself as a "cotton-headed ninnymuggins". Later on, he exclaims "Son of a nutcracker!" after being hit with a snowball.
  • Warm-Hearted Walrus: A walrus is among the cutesy animated North Pole animals. He cries when Buddy leaves the North Pole, and has to be comforted by Arctic Puffin.
  • Wham Line
    • In-Universe. "Buddy, your father... he's on the naughty list." Cue Big "NO!" from Buddy.
    • Not a line so much as an inflection, but while Walter generally has an air of repressed frustration, the only time he ever raises his voice in flat-out rage is when he screams at Buddy to get out of his life.
  • White and Grey Morality: Save for Miles Finch, who's a jerkass prima donna, nobody in the film is inherently mean. Walter is a Jerk with a Heart of Gold (well, really deep down) and even Mr. Greenway and Jovi's manager at Gimbel's are just trying to do their jobs, albeit in abrasive ways.

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