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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 from a screenplay by David Berenbaum and starring Will Ferrell.

Ferrell stars as Buddy, a human who was raised by Santa Claus (Ed Asner), Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), and the rest of the elves at the North Pole after accidentally crawling into Santa's sack at the orphanage where he was left as a baby. Realizing that he's not competent as an elf and discovering his true lineage, he decides to head to New York City to meet his birth father Walter Hobbs (James Caan), an executive at a children's publishing firm who was unaware he'd had a son. Walter initially doesn't believe Buddy is his son, but eventually brings him home to meet his wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and their son Michael (Daniel Tay), who are won over by Buddy's innocent charm.

Buddy's adventures in the city include taking a seasonal job at Gimbels department store, where he has a confrontation with a fake Santa and falls in love with Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a fellow store employee dressed as an elf. Meanwhile, his father gradually begins to warm up to him. But after Walter — who's under heavy pressure from his boss due to lackluster quarterly sales — yells at him for accidentally screwing up a book deal with a famous but temperamental children's 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.

A big commercial and critical success on its release, Elf continues to be seen as a funny, charming, and (mostly) family-safe Christmas movie, and is widely regarded by critics and general audiences alike as one of the best Christmas movies of all time. 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 Kidnapping: Santa didn't realize that a baby had crawled into his sack until the young baby gets out at the North Pole. Even so, he considers either returning the child or raising him. Guess what Santa chooses.
  • Accidental Passenger: Infant Buddy ends up at the North Pole by crawling into Santa's bag, right before getting loaded onto the sleigh.
  • 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 that 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: Played with. Although he doesn't really fit in, the elves all treat Buddy warmly. When he dubs himself a "cotton-headed ninnymuggins", they immediately insist that he's not. Later a couple do admit he doesn't fit in and drags down their production, while thinking he's pretty stupid for not realizing he's a human. This isn't particularly mean-spirited, but Buddy is still devastated to overhear them.
  • 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:
    • Everytime Buddy describes the obstacles he overcame to make it to New York from the North Pole:
      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."
    • When Buddy is writing a note apologizing for the trouble he caused with his new family:
      Buddy: I'm sorry I ruined your lives, and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR.
  • 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" vacuum 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.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Easily the edgiest things in this entire film are when Jovie tells Buddy that management is "pissed" about his elaborate decorations and when Walter says "up yours" to his boss.
  • Babies Ever After: By the end of the film, Buddy and Jovie have an infant daughter.
  • Badass Boast: 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.
  • 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 (at least in Jovie's opinion). Changed in the musical to "The World's Best Hotdog", with Jovie giving the putdown.
  • Baffled by Own Biology: Buddy gets pricked on his finger for a DNA test to see if he's actually Walter's son. He then wonders why his finger is pulsating.
    Buddy: My finger has a heartbeat.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Buddy pulls off an unintentional one, when he walks into Gimbles dressed in an elf suit the manager assumes he works there. Due to his limited understanding of how jobs work he continues to show up to Gimbles claiming he works there and no one ever realizes he doesn't. Eventually he's simply fired for starting a riot.
  • Belly-Scraping Flight: Santa's sleigh loses its booster rocket when it clips a statue on takeoff.
  • 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 Brother Instinct: As they're pelted with snowballs, Buddy takes the lead and shows Michael how elves retaliate, producing an armful of snowballs and showering all of the would-be bullies.
  • Big Little Man: Miles Finch is talked up as a legend in the children's book business, and everyone treats his arrival with the utmost of seriousness. We don't see him get off the elevator, we don't see him walking down the hall, we do see everyone reacting excitedly to him, we get a brief Feet-First Introduction, he arrives at the conference room, and... it's Peter Dinklage.
  • 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.
    • Buddy considers getting his dad red lingerie for Christmas. Not only does Walter receive the lingerie in a gift box a few scenes later, but he regifts it to his wife at the end.
  • Black Knight: "Oh no. It's the Central Park Rangers." Indeed, the Rangers, in their charge, resemble galloping Ringwraiths.
  • Buffy Speak: Buddy, after seeing his father's coworker Sarah: "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.
  • Cassandra Truth: In an effort to get Santa's sleigh running by raising everyone's Christmas spirit, Michael takes Santa's book containing the Nice and Naughty list and goes on live television with reporter Charlotte Dennin, who doesn't believe him at all. Deciding to prove his point, Michael goes through the book and explains several of the citizens' identities and gifts that they desire for Christmas, including Charlotte's gift to have a Tiffany engagement ring and for her boyfriend to stop dragging his feet and commit, which inspired several citizens to raise their Christmas spirit and briefly power up the sleigh as promised. Unfortunately, these revelations left Charlotte so embarrassed that she ordered her crew to turn off the cameras before leaving in anger, still refusing to believe Michael's truthful claims.
  • Casting Gag:
  • 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: Apparently, making toys in Santa's workshop is the most coveted job in the elf world. 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 and sweets to spaghetti.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • Walter Hobbs is the kind of guy who sells 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 brings 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.
    • There is also his boss, Mr. Greenway, who is far worse as he makes Walter 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, making Walter look like a saint in general.
  • 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.
  • Cringe Comedy: The scene where Buddy makes up a song on the fly to sing to Walter. The cringiest part about it is that Buddy is singing the song in front of Walter's coworkers in a professional office setting, while wearing an elf outfit.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Buddy may be naïve 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 also counts, as she's rather bitter and standoffish at the beginning but softens up as well.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: The four Elf food groups are candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.
  • Depraved Dwarf: Averted with Miles Finch, as he is a well-known children's book author, despite his issues towards those who mock his dwarfism.
  • 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.
  • Disappointed in You: After Walter's Wham Line, the clients look at him in disappointment for disowning Buddy on the spot like that.
  • 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.
    • Discussed in the climax, where news anchor Laura believes that dispatching the Central Park Rangers to deal with what she believes to be a hoax qualifies as this.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
  • The Dreaded: The Central Park Rangers are an infamous group of rabid cops whose special brand of Police Brutality got them a permanent spot on Santa's naughty list. The film frames them as if they were the freaking Nazgûl.
  • Dude, Not Funny!: Miles is a little person, and takes grave 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 children's writer, and starts a family with Jovie with their newborn daughter. It is also revealed that Walter and Buddy have established their own publishing company thanks to Buddy's first book being a bestseller.
  • Elevator Buttons Mash: Buddy presses the buttons in the elevator to look like a Christmas tree. He even provided the page image.
  • Emotional Regression: Discussed. The doctor believes that Buddy acts like a Christmas elf because Buddy is "reverting to a state of childlike dependency" due to having grown up without his birth parents. The doctor doesn't know that Buddy actually was raised by Santa's elves in the North Pole.
  • Evil Is Petty: The Central Park Rangers are fully aware of Santa's existence and hold a grudge against him for putting them on the naughty list. And the reason why is this: they are infamous for their controversial and brutal tactics of controlling park crowds, especially with a Simon and Garfunkel concert held at Central Park in 1985.
  • Exact Words
    • Santa tells Buddy not to eat any gum off of the street, 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: The living snowman and talking animals at the North Pole are clearly based on the characters from Rankin/Bass Christmas specials.
  • The Faceless: The Central Park Rangers, who are always either heavily shadowed or filmed at angles where you don't see their faces.
  • Faint in Shock: Buddy faints and lands on top of the elves when he realizes he's not an elf.
  • Fish out of Water: The man-child-ish Buddy in his elf outfit.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The first we see of Miles Finch is his expensive shoes.
  • Follow the Bouncing Ball: The Buddy's Sing and Cheer Along Edition DVD and digital copy have lyrics to the songs and Pop-Up Trivia appear onscreen.
  • 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).
  • Gassy Gastronomy:
    • In one scene, Buddy drinks an entire 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola. A few minutes later, he burps loudly for several seconds straight.
    • When Papa Elf reveals that Santa Claus used to employ gnomes instead of Christmas Elves, one drunken gnome is seen burping.
  • 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 single-handedly 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 Jovie's boss is afraid that someone is trying to steal his job.
  • Gentle Giant: Buddy stands at six feet tall and is a swell guy through-and-through.
  • The Grinch: Walter doesn't have much Christmas spirit, nor does Jovie. Buddy changes both of their minds.
  • Gross Gum Gag: Santa warns Buddy not to eat "gum from the street" in New York City because "it isn't free candy." Later, when Buddy is walking around New York for the first time, he sees some gum stuck to a fence and, as it wasn't from the street, grabs it and puts it in his mouth.
  • Hate Sink: Walter's boss Fulton Greenway, who runs his publishing company with an iron fist and treats his employees (including Walter) like crap, as he criticized Walter for publishing a failed children's book with several missing pages and forced him and his team to pitch in a new book on Christmas Eve. When Walter is about to pitch his next book (based on one of Miles Finch's ideas) to Greenway, the meeting is interrupted by Michael, who berates Walter for making Buddy run away thanks to Walter's I Have No Son! speech. A remorseful Walter then tries to rectify this by trying to convince Greenway to reschedule as he intends to help Michael search for Buddy, but Greenway impatiently refuses by threatening to fire Walter if he walks out to search for Buddy, even rudely telling Michael to wait by the door. This incited an outraged Walter to stand up to Greenway by quitting his job and leaving with Michael to search for Buddy, much to Greenway's anger.
  • Heroic Bastard: 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.
  • Historical In-Joke: A Macy's store is used as a stand-in for Gimbels. The real Gimbels, famous as Macy's long-time Herald Square rival, went out of business 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.
    • The image of Buddy walking among a large, shoulder-to-shoulder crowd in the streets of Manhattan mirrors the famous shot from Tootsie of Michael Dorsey in his Dorothy Michaels get-up doing the same.
  • 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 protests that parents couldn'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, and is even called Leon.
  • 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. And Buddy is still none the wiser afterwards, concluding that Miles must be "a South Pole elf" and, as far as we can tell, never being told why what he did was wrong.
  • The Insomniac: Elves apparently only need 40 minutes of sleep per night, and Buddy, somehow, manages to cope with this.
  • Instantly Proven Wrong: Walter tells Emily that Buddy thinks he's a Christmas elf. She says she's sure he doesn't actually think that, only to open the door and find that Buddy has filled her apartment with Christmas decorations. Downplayed in that this doesn't actually prove that Buddy thinks he's a Christmas elf, but it does support Walter's claim. In fact, Buddy had stopped thinking he was an elf relatively recently.
  • Insult Backfire: Miles' trash-talking completely goes over Buddy's head, with Buddy just nodding along while looking impressed before taking Miles' "Call me an elf one more time" threat at face value.
  • Interspecies Adoption: A human raised by Christmas elves? Stranger things have happened.
  • Ironic Name: Jovie, who initially is anything but jovial.
  • Irony: "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town" is the song that lifts Christmas spirit enough for Santa to leave town.
  • I Should Write a Book About This: Buddy writes a children's book about his adventure as the first book of his family's new publishing company.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • There’s no denying that Fulton Greenway, Walter's superior at the publishing company, is a Mean Boss. However, he had every right to be furious with Walter for knowingly approving a release of books that had been misprinted due to Walter’s negligence, because it cost the company a lot of money and tarnished their reputation.
    • Walter himself was right to repo the books from the nuns due to lack of payment. They were sold, not donated. He also harshly disowns Buddy after the failed meeting with Miles Finch. However, he isn't entirely without justification as Buddy bursted in the room just to tell him that he is in love with Jovie and distracted them. Not only that but he called Miles Finch an Elf pissing him off and then leaving. Buddy ignored Walter's statements to send out when they were busy.
    • As Jovie points out, the manager at the mall has a right to be angry with Buddy. Redecorating an established display makes it seem like the manager is about to be replaced, and it is not cool to expose a Mall Santa as a fake in front of children. She also acknowledges that Buddy doesn't seem to know better.
    • While Miles Finch is clearly a hotheaded Prima Donna with quite an ego, it’s hard to blame him for being pissed off with someone who, as far as he's aware, is going out of his way to insult his dwarfism and refuses to stop.
  • Keet: Buddy, to an extent.
  • Large Ham: Will Ferrell is in top form as a hyperactive goofball with an unquenchable love of the Christmas season.
  • Literal-Minded:
    • 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.
    • Santa warns Buddy that when he gets to New York, if he sees a sign that says "Peep Show", it doesn't mean they're letting him look at presents before Christmas.
    • Most likely why Buddy calls Miles Finch an elf the last time. "Call me an elf one. more. time."
  • 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 children's book author Miles Finch for an elf due to his dwarfism; 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 to Buddy is when he encounters a raccoon. Said raccoon apparently mauls him after he ignores its pretty obvious warnings, and yet he walks away 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, is easily angered and not terribly friendly.
  • 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 is at first unwilling to embrace Buddy or even acknowledge that he is indeed his son.
    • The Broadway musical version directly acknowledges that Buddy was born as the result of "consequences" between Walter and Susan Wells.
  • Mistaken for Insane: Buddy's claims that he's an elf from the North Pole who works for Santa make people whom he meets understandably think he's nuts after they realize he isn't joking. A doctor he sees theorizes that it's Emotional Regression.
  • Mistaken for Santa: Two examples, justified since Buddy was raised by Christmas Elves and thus knows Santa is real:
    • When he sees a man on the street who happens to be wearing red and have a white beard, he says, "Santa!", only to realise he's not actually Santa.
    • When Buddy learns that "Santa" will come to the mall, he thinks it's gonna be the real Santa, so when he sees him, he gets angry at the "impostor", eventually leading to a fistfight between them.
  • More Dakka: With snowballs! They even make bullet sounds as they whiz by, as Buddy temporarily becomes a blizzard in human form to repel a group of bullies who assailed them.
  • Mood Whiplash: Immediately following Buddy's comedic fight with Miles Finch, we get what is most likely the saddest moment in the film with Walter not only giving his son a vicious verbal beating, but practically disowning him in front of his face.
  • Naked People Are Funny: Walter demands that Buddy get rid of his elf outfit "as soon as possible." Cue Buddy dropping his pants and exposing himself right as Emily walks into the room.
  • 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.
  • Noisy Nature: Buddy encounters a raccoon that chitters five times. When he tries to hug it, it attacks him and lets out a screech that sounds like a monkey. (Unlike the other animals in the film, it's not from Christmas Town, so there's no reason it shouldn't behave like an ordinary raccoon.)
  • 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. Truth in Television, except it was in 1981, the park rangers essentially did a cavalry charge as a crowd control method. Another incident involves an ex-racehorse named Captain Cutter that they nicknamed "Captain Goofy" for his propensity to spin around in circles at random, panicking the crowd. Basically, in real life it's a bit of a Noodle Incident as well.
  • Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond: Buddy initially thinks he's a defective elf because he can't keep up with toy production or decoration. In New York, he makes over the mall Santa display in one night.
  • 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.
  • Obviously Not Fine: When Buddy is in shock after finding out he's human and not a Christmas Elf, he says that he's fine and only needs a drink of water, while in the process of passing out.
  • An Odd Place to Sleep: Buddy makes the mistake of sleeping in a storefront display because he was Raised by the Supernatural. When he wakes up, he sees Walter and pounds on the glass, but Walter ignores him.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The elf Buddy collapses onto when he faints from shock reacts like this to seeing Buddy fall towards him (understandable, since Buddy is easily twice his size).
    • 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 Dialogue, Two Conversations: Buddy thinks he's met another compatriot in calling Miles Finch an elf, but Finch sees it only as being made fun of for his height — and he's not happy about it.
  • One Phone Call: Buddy gets one after being arrested for attacking the mall Santa.
  • Overly Long Gag: Buddy burping after eating spaghetti with syrup.
  • Papa Wolf: While he doesn't lose his temper, Walter isn't pleased when Mr. Greenway is rude to Michael.
  • Pardon My Klingon: Parodied: in elf culture, the insult "cotton-headed ninnymuggins" is apparently considered profanity. Most elves find it so offensive that they gasp upon hearing it.
  • 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. She also never told his birth father Walter, who never knew Buddy even existed until his arrival years later.
  • 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.
  • Pictorial Letter Substitution: On the poster, Buddy stands in for the "L" in the title.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: Miles Finch is a short person, but he shows some damn impressive fighting moves while beating the snot out of Buddy.
  • Poor Communication Kills: When the Gimbels manager sees Buddy at his store dressed as an elf, he naturally assumes that Buddy works there. Buddy also doesn't try to clear up the misunderstanding any further than telling the manager he didn't know that he shouldn't be shopping on company time.
  • Product Placement:
    • There's a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola on the Hobbs' dinner table. Buddy chugs the whole thing.
    • The Hobbs have a box of Pop Tarts in the kitchen, which Buddy crumbles over his spaghetti and candy breakfast.
  • Rascally Raccoon: Buddy meets a rather nasty one in a forest.
  • Real After All: In-universe, Michael and Walter are very shocked to learn Santa Claus is real, and that Buddy was telling the truth about being raised in the North Pole. Their expressions read This Explains So Much as Santa explains how he got stranded in Central Park. Then Michael gets serious on realizing the Park Rangers will be coming, and says they need a plan.
  • Retro Universe: While the musical is set in modern times (Santa has an iPad instead of the traditional paper list), it does have some nuances, characteristics and feel of the 2000s, particularly the fashion and phones. If it weren't for the technology and shout-outs, it could almost be any time prior to the 1990s.
  • Santa Claus: Obviously. And a rather stern, no-nonsense one at that, though obviously he's still the jolly, warm fellow underneath it all.
  • 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, not caring that it's Christmas Eve.
  • Secret Message Wink: When Buddy expresses interest in asking Jovie out, Michael tells him to just ask her, calling it a secret code girls have. Buddy asks Jovie out in an unknowingly uneasy way and awkwardly winks at her, thinking he's passing on the "secret code" to her. She's visibly confused until Michael gestures at her to say yes.
  • 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.
  • Sex God: From the musical, at 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!"
  • Shout-Out:
    • At the beginning of the movie, Papa Elf mentions how one of the other two jobs for elves is baking cookies in a tree, a reference to Keebler and the elf mascots. Unfortunately, it includes Surprisingly Realistic Outcome to having a hot oven inside a dry tree during the Fall.
    • When Jovie accuses Buddy of messing with her, she asks if Crumpet put him up to it. Crumpet was David Sedaris'note  elf name when he worked at Macy's, as told in The Santaland Diaries
    • When the floor manager tells Buddy to look out for whoever set up the amazing decor, he gives him a radio and tells him to report to him with the code-phrase, "Santa's got a brand new bag".
    • The scenes with the Central Park Rangers are shot in a way that makes them reminiscent of the Nazgûl, and their badges look like Judge Dredd's.
  • Shower Scene: Both Buddy and Jovie get one, though Buddy is fully clothed and sitting on the conoises.
  • Silly Animal Sound: The raccoon that attacks Buddy makes monkey sounds. Whereas the funny scene of Buddy burping really loudly for twelve seconds (as provided by Maurice LaMarche) sounds a whole awful lot like a screaming camel.
  • Singing in the Shower: Jovie sings "Baby It's Cold Outside" during the shower scene.
  • Singing Telegram: Invoked. Buddy the Elf goes to the Empire State Building to meet his birth father, Walter Hobbs, who never knew Buddy was born to his late former girlfriend. Because Buddy is in his elf suit, Walter initially assumes Buddy is there to sing for him, calling it a "Christmas-gram."
    Buddy: What's a Christmas-gram? I want one!
  • Skip of Innocence: Buddy does this at one point. Jovie joins in with him on their date.
  • Slasher Smile: Miles Finch gives a wicked grin just before he attacks Buddy.
  • Snowball Lie: The lie that Buddy was told by 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 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.
  • Snow Globe of Innocence: When the optimistic and childlike elf Buddy is told that his father lives in New York City, instead of a map he's given a snow globe featuring the Empire State Building. He uses it to find his way to where his dad works, though in spite of the snow globe's (and his own) idyllic image, he discovers New York is actually quite more chaotic than he expected.
  • 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 almost instantly that the mall Santa is not the real deal, and he's not very pleased about it.
    Buddy: [in a sinister whisper] You sit on a throne of lies!
  • 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: The film begins with a storybook opening as Papa Elf narrates the story. The film's opening credits are also shown as pages in a book.
  • Sweet Tooth:
    • Buddy. Will Ferrell actually got a headache eating all of the sweets 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.
  • Take a Third Option: Buddy feels like he's not an elf. He also realizes that the human world doesn't seem to have a place for him. In the end, he splits his time between the North Pole, visiting Papa Elf and Santa and helping with repairs on the sleigh, and New York, where he writes childrens' books and spends time with the family.
  • This Explains So Much: When Walter and Michael meet Santa when he's grounded in Central Park, they both have this expression when Buddy talks to the big guy and asks how he can help, since they learn Buddy was telling the truth the whole time. Michael then takes charge of the situation.
  • Those Two Guys: Morris (Andy Richter) and Eugene (Kyle Gass), the two staff writers at Greenway Publishing are never seen apart and share most of their dialogue.
  • 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 "Baby It's Cold Outside" in the shower, however soon Buddy joins in... much to her shock and 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:
    • One line Buddy overheard from one of the elves discussing about him In-Universe.
      Elf: If he hasn't figured out that he's a human by now, I don't think he ever will.
    • 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.
      Walter: I don't care where you go. I don't care you're an elf. I don't care that you're nuts! I DON"T CARE THAT YOU'RE MY SON! GET OUT OF MY LIFE! NOW!!!
  • Wham Shot: Buddy writing a "Dear John" Letter saying he's running away... on an Etch-A-Sketch.
  • 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.
    • An in-universe example happens when Walter's publishing company sends out a misprinted book because he doesn't want to take a loss; children are left wondering what happened to the main characters because the last two pages are completely blank.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Emily and Michael both tell off Walter.
    • Emily calls Walter out for neglecting Michael.
    • After learning that Buddy ran away, Michael calls Walter out for putting his greed before his family.
      Walter: We'll figure this out.
      Michael: Figure out what? Buddy cares about everybody. All you care about is yourself...
  • White-and-Grey Morality: 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. Miles Finch may be a Jerkass Prima Donna Director, but he has the talent to back it up, mellows slightly once he gets down to business, and takes a tremendous amount of (unintentional) insult from Buddy before hitting his limit. The closest thing to antagonists are the Central Park Rangers, about whom the audience learns very little.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


Angry Elf

Having been raised by real elves at the North Pole, Buddy doesn't realize that Miles Finch is not an elf.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / InnocentlyInsensitive

Media sources: