Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jon Favreau|
|Written by||David Berenbaum|
|Music by||John Debney|
|Edited by||Dan Lebental|
New Line Cinema
Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions
|Distributed by||New Line Cinema|
|Box office||$220.9 million|
Elf is a 2003 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau, written by David Berenbaum, and starring Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Bob Newhart and Ed Asner. The film centers on Buddy, a human who was adopted and raised by Santa's elves. He learns about this and heads to New York City to meet his biological father while also spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics in the process.
Elf was released in the United States on November 7, 2003 by New Line Cinema to critical and commercial success, grossing $220 million worldwide against a $33 million budget. Ferrell's performance as Buddy the Elf was praised by audiences and critics alike, with many calling it one of his best performances. It inspired the 2010 Broadway musical Elf: The Musical and NBC's 2014 stop-motion animated television special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas. It is often listed among the greatest Christmas films of all time.
On Christmas Eve, a baby boy at an orphanage crawls into Santa Claus's sack, and is unwittingly transported back to the North Pole. When the baby is discovered at the workshop, the elves name him Buddy after the brand label on his diaper, and Papa Elf adopts and raises him. Buddy grows up at the North Pole, believing he is an elf and accepted by the elf community, but due to his human size, he is unable to keep up with the other elves and demoted to the demeaning job of toy testing. Soon, Buddy overhears that he is a human, and Papa Elf explains that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells and given up for adoption. Susan subsequently died, and Walter, who now works as a children's book publisher at the Empire State Building in New York City, is unaware of Buddy's existence. To Buddy's horror, Santa reveals that Walter is on the naughty list due to his selfish and unscrupulous demeanor, but suggests Buddy could help redeem him.
Buddy promptly travels to New York and finds his father at work, but even after he mentions Susan Wells, Walter misinterprets him as a dysfunctional christmas-gram messenger and has him kicked out of the premises. Inspired by a sarcastic remark from a security guard, Buddy heads to a local Gimbels department store, where the manager mistakes him for an employee. At the store's Santa Land, he meets Jovie, an unenthusiastic employee with whom he is instantly smitten. After hearing that Santa will be at the store the following day, Buddy jubilantly decorates Santa Land overnight. When Buddy realizes that the Gimbels Santa is not the real Santa, he unmasks him and causes a wild tumult in the store that lands Buddy in jail.
Walter reluctantly bails Buddy out and takes him to a doctor for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is in fact his long-lost son. The doctor convinces Walter to take Buddy home to meet his stepmother Emily and twelve-year-old half-brother Michael, believing once he is faced with reality he will drop the "elf thing" and move on as a regular adult. Walter and Michael are put off by Buddy's strange behavior, but Emily insists that they care for him until he "recovers." Michael eventually warms up to Buddy after Buddy defends him from a gang of bullies in a snowball fight, and Michael encourages Buddy to ask Jovie on a date, which she accepts. During the date, the two fall in love.
Meanwhile, Walter's company is in trouble after their most recent book fails to sell. Walter's boss, Fulton Greenway, lays down a hard deadline for Walter to have a new book ready by Christmas Eve. In desperation, Walter and his team secure a meeting with best-selling children's author Miles Finch. Buddy interrupts the meeting to boast of his newfound love and mistakes Finch, who has dwarfism, for an elf. Buddy unintentionally insults Finch and pesters him into losing his temper. An angered and insulted Finch attacks Buddy and walks out on Walter, who snaps in anger at Buddy for ruining the meeting and harshly disowns him. Heartbroken, Buddy leaves a note for Walter, Emily, and Michael on an Etch A Sketch and wanders about in the streets, lamenting that he does not fit in anywhere.
On Christmas Eve, after finding Finch's notebook full of ideas, Walter and his team scramble to create a book to pitch. As Walter prepares to pitch the book to Greenway that evening, Michael, who found Buddy's note, arrives and informs Walter that Buddy is gone. Realizing he was wrong and forced to choose between his job or his family, Walter quits his job and leaves with Michael to find Buddy.
As Buddy wanders the streets, he watches Santa's sleigh crash in Central Park, attracting a large crowd. Buddy tracks down Santa, who explains that the sleigh has lost its engine and cannot fly without it due to a shortage of Christmas spirit. Buddy finds the engine and is reunited with Walter and Michael. Walter apologizes to Buddy and accepts him as his son. Buddy then takes them to meet Santa, who proves himself to Michael by showing him what he truly wanted for Christmas. Michael takes Santa's list and reads it in front of television news cameras gathered outside the park, proving that Santa Claus is real. The Central Park Rangers, who have a grudge against Santa for placing them on the naughty list, chase the sleigh as Buddy tries to reattach the engine. Jovie leads the crowd in singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," helping raise enough Christmas spirit to fully power the sleigh without the engine for the first time in years.
By the next Christmas, Walter starts his own publishing company with a best-selling book about Buddy's stories. Buddy and Jovie, now married, bring their newborn daughter Susie to visit Papa Elf.
David Berenbaum initially wrote the script in 1993 with Jim Carrey in mind to star. Berenbaum's screenplay underwent uncredited rewrites by Scot Armstrong,Chris Henchy, and the writing team of Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. According to Favreau, the script was initially "much darker" and did not interest him, although he was interested in working with Ferrell's first post-SNL movie. Asked to rewrite it, a turning point came when he realized he could make Buddy's world an homage to the Rankin Bass Christmas specials. This allowed him to conceive of a movie that could be PG rated as opposed to the original script, which he guessed would have been rated PG-13.
Principal photography began on December 2, 2002, and wrapped on March 7, 2003. Filming took place in New York City, as well as in Vancouver and at Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam, British Columbia.
The film makes heavy use of forced perspective to exaggerate the size of Buddy compared to all the other elves. Stop motion animation was employed for certain sequences.CGI usage was kept to a minimum due to Favreau's own preference, something that he would later note he "had to fight very hard" for.
Zooey Deschanel singing was not in the original script, and Favreau added it when he learned she was a singer. When Buddy starts singing in the middle of Santaland at Gimbels, the lyrics were not scripted and Will Ferrell improvised the song on the spot. Even though Buddy is an excellent gift wrapper, Will Ferrell is not, and needed someone else to wrap all the gifts in the movie.
Apart from snow, most of the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the film was created by Rhythm & Hues Studios. Buddy's belch after drinking a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola was real, as dubbed by voice actor Maurice LaMarche.
Elf grossed $173.4 million in North America and $47 million in other territories for a total gross of $220.4 million, against a budget of $33 million.
The film opened at number two at the box office in the United States with $31.1 million, finishing behind The Matrix Revolutions, also in its first week. It topped the box office on its second week of release, beating out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In the United Kingdom, it opened in second behind Love Actually.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 84% based on 193 reviews, and an average rating of 7.03/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 64 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars, calling it "one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece." Writing for Rolling Stone, Peter Travers gave the film two out of four stars, saying: "Ferrell makes the damn thing work. Even though he can't get naked or use naughty words, there's a devil of comedy in Ferrell, and he lets it out to play. Director Jon Favreau has the good sense to just stand out of his way."The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review, saying: "While the words "instant holiday classic" might be pushing it, Elf is at the very least a breezily entertaining, perfectly cast family treat." A. O. Scott of The New York Times also gave the film a positive review, saying: "Elf is a charming, silly family Christmas movie more likely to spread real joy than migraine, indigestion and sugar shock. The movie succeeds because it at once restrains its sticky, gooey good cheer and wildly overdoes it." Anna Smith of Empire magazine gave the film a three out of five stars and said: "Farrell's man-child invites sympathy and sniggers, making this amusing despite some flimsy plotting. Slight gags and a Santa-centered story should keep the kids happy too."Plugged In gave the film a positive review, writing: "The elf-reared Buddy has a heart as big as the arctic north. Does his movie match it?"
The film was nominated for nine awards and won two.
Elf is often ranked among the greatest Christmas films, and airs annually on television during the holiday season. In 2017, Fandango users rated Elf the best Christmas film of the 21st century.
The film was released on DVD and VHS on November 16, 2004, and on Blu-ray on October 28, 2008. It is also available for the PlayStation Portable with Universal Media Disc. This is one of the only two DVDs to be PG rated under the Infinifilm label.
A Broadway musical based upon the film ran on Broadway during the 2010 Christmas season. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan.
The musical officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 10, 2010, after previews from November 2, 2010. The cast included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovie, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthew Gumley as Michael, Valerie Wright as Deb, Michael McCormick as Mr. Greenway, Michael Mandell as Store Manager, and George Wendt as Santa. It ran through to January 2, 2011.
The soundtrack was released on New Line Records in November 2003 in the United States and in October 2005 in the United Kingdom, including its signature song "Baby, It's Cold Outside" by Deschanel and Leon Redbone, releasing it as a single. It was certified Gold by the RIAA in April 2011. Having sold 695,000 copies in the United States, it is the second best-selling film soundtrack/holiday album hybrid since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991, behind only The Polar Express.
Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas is an hour-long stop-motion animated musical television special based on the film and the musical of the same name. While Edward Asner was the only cast member from the film to reprise his role, the rest of the cast included Jim Parsons as Buddy, Mark Hamill as Walter Hobbs, Kate Micucci as Jovie, Rachael MacFarlane as Emily Hobbs, Max Charles as Michael Hobbs, and Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Greenway. It was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and first aired on NBC on December 16, 2014. It features songs from the musical.
A video game based on the film was released on November 4, 2004 for the Game Boy Advance, developed by Human Soft and published by Crave Entertainment. The game follows the same plot as the movie; within the game, the player has to collect candies throughout each level while avoiding various objects and polar bears. The game, however, received mixed to negative reviews by critics.
In September 2013, Mental Floss reported that Favreau was interested in making a sequel to the film, entitled Elf 2: Buddy Saves Christmas. Later in December 2013, Ferrell stated that he does not want to make a sequel to Elf. In January 2016, Favreau stated that a sequel to Elf could still happen. The next month Ferrell reiterated that a sequel was unlikely, and stated that he was generally reluctant to do sequels unless there was a story that justifies it. In 2020, James Caan reaffirmed that a sequel was unlikely stating that Ferrell and Favreau didn't get along.