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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
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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.

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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.


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This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Pervert: When Buddy hears Jovie 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, and also reveals Buddy shredded a completely fake manuscript earlier.
  • Adapted Out: Buddy's adoptive father, Papa Elf, 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.
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Averted, the elves all treat Buddy warmly, despite the fact that he doesn't really fit in. When he dubs himself a "cotton-headed ninnymuggins", they immediately insist that he's not.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: The Central Park Rangers are a real law enforcement agency, and the "controversial" actions they took at the Simon and Garfunkel concert, though never specified also happened.
  • Animal Lover:
    • Played straight for Buddy, who paints a butterfly, gets excited about a dog, tries to hug a raccoon, and has a few animals as friends.
    • Downplayed for Leon, who loves all animals in New York except dogs because of Urine Trouble.
  • 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!: When Buddy sees the buttons on an elevator light up he thinks they look beautiful and he presses every button until it looks like a Christmas tree.
    • Buddy is also distracted by the "sucky" tubes in the mail room.
  • Author Appeal: Michael is constantly wearing New York Jets apparel, no doubt because Jon Favreau is a fan of the team.
  • Babies Ever After: By the end of the film, Buddy and Jovie have an infant daughter.
  • 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.
    • Changed in the musical to "The World's Best Hotdog", with Jovie giving the putdown.
  • 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 Stupid Doo Doo Head: By our standards, Buddy calling himself a "cotton-headed ninnymuggins" qualifies for this. But if the elves' reactions are anything to go by, then it's definitely not by an elf's standards.
  • 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: Peter Billingsley, Ralphie from A Christmas Story, appears briefly as Ming Ming, one of the elves.
  • Casting Gag: Edward Asner as Santa Claus, a role he's voiced in numerous other productions.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Santa's sleigh being powered by "Christmas spirit" aka belief in Santa.
    • In the musical, Walter brushes off Buddy by having him work with his secretary and the office shredder, with her telling him that 'It makes snow'. In the second half of the musical, Buddy uses Walter's fake manuscript to 'make snow', meaning he didn't spend thousands of dollars on what Mr. Greenway later casually drops that he's already turned down as fake.
  • 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".
    • In the musical, it uses the generic "Christmas Song", in both cases, due to licensing issues.
  • Christmas Elves: Duh. Mention is also made of the other two traditional roles this type of elf is associated with, making shoes for a poor cobbler and making Keebler cookies.
  • 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. You better believe it becomes a plot point later.
  • 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 Hobbs is the kind of guy to sell a shipment of children's books on an installment plan (to what's implied to be an orphanage or at least a poorly funded school) and then personally bring in the customer to demand she return them because of a missed payment. And knowingly approve a run of misprinted books (a misprint that was due to his negligence in the first place) rather than take a loss. And then there's his boss, who makes him work on Christmas Eve and then chews him out in front of his son when he has to leave to look for his other son who's gone missing. Hobbs gets better. His boss probably doesnt.
  • Cowboy Cop: The Central Park Rangers are implied to be this, with offhanded mention of their "controversial" actions at a 1985 Simon & Garfunkel concert. They also apparently know Santa is real and have a personal vendetta against him for putting them on the naughty list (perhaps after what they did at the 1985 Simon and Garfunkel concert!)
  • 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 voices of the stop-motion animals.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Buddy may be naive and ditzy but he can throw snowballs crazy hard and fast, enough to take out a whole group of bullies by himself.
  • 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.
    • Jovie 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".
  • Depraved Dwarf: Miles Finch.
  • 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.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When Buddy calls out the mall Santa for being a phony, the man threatens to kill him. Then actually attempts it after Buddy pulls his beard off.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The four, ominous-looking rangers on horseback.
  • The Dreaded: The Central Park Rangers.
  • 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.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Buddy reconnects with his father, becomes a successful writer, and starts a family with Jovie. Walter, meanwhile, redeems himself and starts his own publishing business.
  • 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 gum 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.
  • The Faceless: The Central Park Rangers, who are always either heavily shadowed or filmed at angles where you don't see their faces.
  • 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 The Mona Lisa on an Etch-A-Sketch, to the point that Jovie's boss is afraid that someone is trying to steal his job.
  • Gentle Giant: Buddy.
  • 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, but just sits near the sink without even peeking.
    • Miles Finch tells Buddy that he gets more action in a week than Buddy has had in his entire life. Buddy (and hopefully the intended audience) has no idea what he's talking about.
  • Gosh Dangit To Heck: Elves swear this way, if phrases like "cotton-headed ninnymuggins" is anything to go by. Or at least, it's this trope from a human perspective. The elves still seem to find it very offensive.
  • 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.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Miles Finch shoots down the other writers' ideas for Christmas books about tomatoes and farm life, because tomatoes are "too vulnerable" and "everyone is pushing small town chic, it'll drown in white noise". Yet when the writers find his notebook full of pitches, apparently one of them is about a peach living on a farm.
  • Ink-Suit Actor: The snowman Buddy talks with before leaving the North Pole bears an uncanny resemblance to Leon Redbone, with the same name.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Due to his childhood in the North Pole, Buddy has no idea how offensive it is to call a person with dwarfism an elf. Miles Finch teaches him this the hard way.
  • 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!"
  • Love at First Sight: In the Animated Adaptation, Buddy is instantly smitten with Jovie the second he sees her, complete with little hearts floating around his head.
  • 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 (Miles Finch) 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.
  • Manchild: Buddy. This is most likely because as Papa Elf said, Buddy grew twice as fast as the elf children, meaning by the time he was an adult, he was only elementary school age for an elf.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Guy: Buddy. Zooey Deschanel, who usually plays this role, instead plays the Defrosting Ice Queen Jovie.
  • Married to the Job: A downplayed example, we see Walter take his dinner into his room to catch up on work. The look his wife and son give each other implies it's not the first time.
  • 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, most likely as a homage to the iconic animated Christmas films of Rankin/Bass Productions.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Arctic Puffin is not this trope, but there's a high probability he exists to poke fun at it. Superficially, he resembles a penguin, which are not found at the North Pole but frequently appear there in various media. His name being Arctic Puffin all but screams, "Nope, no penguins here!"
  • A Mistake Is Born: Inverted, when one considers that Buddy was the result of a brief high school romance between Walter Hobbs and his high school sweetheart, Susan Wells; Susan became pregnant with the baby, never told Walter, and put the baby up for adoption after he was born. Even when Buddy sets out in search for Walter, and DNA tests confirm he's his son, Walter isn't, at first, willing to embrace Buddy, or acknowledge that he is, indeed, his son.
  • More Dakka: With snowballs! The snowballs even make bullet sounds as they whiz by.
  • Naïve 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 adoptive father, narrates the story at either end.
  • Nice Guy: Buddy. He's an overall good natured man and speaks politely with his childlike innocence to everyone around him.
  • Noodle Incident: The reporter mentions an incident at a 1985 Simon and Garfunkel concert that has made the Central Park Rangers "controversial" to this day.
  • Oblivious Adoption: Despite Buddy growing up to be so much taller and deeper-voiced than his elf peers, he never suspected that his real parents weren't elves, but humans. Before he learns the truth, he assumes he's just a defective elf who can't do anything right.
  • Oh, Crap!
    • Jovie's half-scared, half-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.
  • Parental Abandonment: Buddy's birth mother Susan Wells put him up for adoption shortly after giving birth to him because she was not intending to have him.
  • Parental Neglect: Walter is so focused on work that he neglects Michael. Emily points this out as the movie goes on, and Michael eventually calls him on it after Buddy runs away.
  • Parental Substitute: Papa Elf volunteered to raise Buddy and loves him like a son.
  • 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.
  • Reality Ensues: During his travel to New York, Buddy comes across a raccoon in the forest and offers it a hug. Unlike at the North Pole, animals out in the wild don't like to be touched and Buddy learns this lesson the hard way when the raccoon starts mauling him.
  • 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, though Buddy is fully clothed and sitting on the counter.
  • Singing in the Shower: Jovie during the shower scene.
  • Skip of Innocence: Buddy does this at one point. Jovie joins in with him on their date.
  • Slasher Smile: Miles Finch just before he attacks Buddy.
  • Snowball Lie: The lie that Buddy was told from the other elves (starting with Papa Elf) that he's just another elf. As he aged, it became increasingly difficult to maintain this lie. Buddy's toy-making speed lags in comparison to the other elves and when he's demoted to simply testing toys for defects and flaws, Papa now decides it's well past time to break it down to Buddy that he's really a human.
  • 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, only that his name is Leon.
  • Spot the Imposter: Buddy is able to tell if the mall Santa is not the real deal when his belly didn't shake when he laughs, and he isn't very happy about it.
  • 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.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: After Walter denounces him, Buddy feels like he doesn't fit in anywhere. Then the sleigh crashes in Central Park, but Buddy doesn't feel he'll be of any help. Santa calls Buddy a true elf and says there isn't anyone but him that he'd want to work on his sleigh.
  • Tsundere: Jovie, 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never see the nun from Buddy's orphanage again after Santa accidentally kidnaps him, nor do there seem to be any ramifications for a child vanishing in the middle of the night.
  • 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 Jovie's manager at Gimbel's are just trying to do their jobs, albeit in abrasive ways.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Miles Finch begins his assault on Buddy via a running front dropkick.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: The musical omits the Gimbels department store, instead having Jovie working at a diner. Buddy's encounter with the fake Santa also takes place there.

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