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  • Angst? What Angst?: How does Walter's wife react to finding out he has a thirty year-old illegitimate child from a previous relationship, whom Walter himself never knew about? You'd probably expect her to be angry or at least concerned, but she's downright delighted (this is amended in the animated version). Roger Ebert put it best:
    Mary Steenburgen proves she is the only actress in America who could welcome her husband's out-of-wedlock elf into her family and make us believe she means it.
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  • Awesome Music: There's a quite few of these in the animated version.
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment:
    • Break-dancing in the mailroom to the Tag Team song "Whoomp! (There It Is)". Must be what happens when you get a lifelong elf good and sauced.
    • While walking in the woods Buddy gets attacked by a raccoon, which is never mentioned again. Though, this scene may have intentionally been Buddy's first encounter with culture shock and served the purpose of showing that animals and people outside of Santa's North Pole are nowhere near as nice as the talking animals and elves of Santa's place.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse
    • Mr. Narwhal. He's actually voiced by Jon Favreau!
    • Arctic Puffin also has his fair share of fans.
    • Miles Finch. Peter Dinklage is really good at playing a character who's a total asshole.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Will Ferrell building a giant LEGO city.
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  • I Am Not Shazam: The main character is named Buddy, not Elf. He's also not an elf, but rather a human raised by elves.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • The Gimbel's manager. He's a bit of a stick-in-the-mud and work-obsessed, but like everyone else there, he just wants to do his job and get through the holidays, and it's implied he's already on thin ice as it is. You can't blame him for getting fed up with Buddy making things more complicated. The ending implies that he and Buddy have since made peace (enough to get the restraining order he'd slapped Buddy with lifted) when Buddy reads aloud a Christmas story to a large audience of children at the Santa's Village in Gimbles.
    • Miles Finch beats up Buddy for making fun of his disability to his face, something he's probably had to deal with his entire life.
  • Memetic Mutation: Like most Will Ferrell movies, practically the entire script has wound up on a t-shirt.
    • All together now: "SANTAAAAA!!!! OH MY GOD!! I know him! I know him!"
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    • "But the children love the books!"
    • "Ginormous!"
    • "You sit on a throne of lies."
    • "I'm a cotton-headed ninnymuggins."note 
    • "Not now, Arctic Puffin!"
    • "Bye, Buddy! Hope you find your dad!" And you have to do it in that goofy voice.
    • Try whispering to someone nowadays without either of you (or a third person joining in) saying "I like to whisper too!"
    • "Son of a nutcracker!"
    • "Francisco. That's fun to say."
    • "Buddy the Elf. What's your favorite color?"
    • "I love to smile! Smiling's my favorite!" note 
    • "GAY PEOPLE!" note 
  • Narm Charm: The movie runs on it. It's not only yet another story about rediscovering the true meaning of Christmas, but also the most sincere, loving homage to classic Christmas specials from the '50s and '60s. And while some of it is played for irony, the movie otherwise believes so strongly in its story and messages that it comes off as 100% genuinely heartwarming. The scene of everyone in New York singing "Santa Clause Is Coming To Town" is a prime example: on paper, it sounds corny as all get out, but not one character participating looks like as if they aren't thoroughly enjoying themselves. It also makes a lot of sense if you remember that not only is the film a story that Papa Elf is telling the viewer but that Buddy eventually turned his story into a picture book, which obviously plays up some of the more sentimental moments for entertainment.
  • Nausea Fuel:
    • Buddy peels a piece of gum off a subway entrance stair railing. And chews it. After Santa told him not to. (Santa told him not to eat the gum from the ground.)
    • The breakfast Buddy fixes himself, which consists of spaghetti with maple syrup, marshmallows, Pop-Tarts, and other sugary things. Will Ferrell later revealed that he got migraines from eating all of that sugar.
    • The gnome burping and troll farting in the opening scene at the North Pole.
  • One-Scene Wonder:
    • Brenda McDonald, embodying every sweet, helpless little-old-lady and kind-hearted, heartbroken nun in movie history.
    But the children love the books!
    • Peter Dinklage's scene was mentioned in a lot of critics' reviews as being the most memorable sequence of the film. Even those who dislike the movie agree that his scene is great.
    • While not as noticeable, Jon Favreau follows his usual tradition with his scene as the doctor who gives Buddy the finger-prick.
    • Mr. Narwhal, who like the doctor is played by Jon Favreau.
    • Artie Lang as Gimbel's Mall Santa. He does indeed sit on a throne of lies.
  • Retroactive Recognition
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: The North Pole scenes feature some truly amazing effects, both optical (the Rankin-Bass style stop-motion characters, courtesy of the Chiodo Brothers, interacting with the humans) and in-camera (the scenes of Buddy interacting with the elves are a masterful combination of forced perspective sets and child body doubles). Not only do they look amazing, but it makes the few uses of CGI, namely a few shots of Santa's sleigh flying through New York, all the more impressive. Jon Favreu reportedly had to fight tooth and claw for New Line Cinema to allow him to make the film this way, and it clearly paid off.
  • What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: Believe it or not, the Broadway musical version is considerably more adult than the movie, with an increase in language, sexual innuendos, and double entrendre.note 
  • WTH, Casting Agency?: Will Ferrell in a kid's movie? James Caan for a Christmas film? Ed Asner as Santa? note  Even Roger Ebert was surprised by how well that turned out.
  • The Woobie: Buddy has no idea how to function in society and most people treat him like a pariah, none the least of which his father, whom Buddy travels hundreds of thousands of miles to meet and wants nothing to do with him at first. This is best exemplified when Buddy mistakes Miles for one of Santa's elves: every question he asks genuinely sounds like an insult and Buddy has no way of knowing.

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