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RETRO REVIEW: Elf - the funniest and most heartwarming Christmas film Hollywood has produced

December 19th, 2022 8:00 AM

By Dylan Mangan

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HOW do you do justice to a film as widely-loved as Elf?

It became an instant classic after being released, is one of the funniest and most heartwarming Christmas films Hollywood has produced, and is a must-watch every year.

The basic story, for those unaware - one day Santa is doing the rounds when a small, human, orphan crawls into his sleigh and hitches a ride back to the North Pole. Raised as an elf, Buddy longs to meet his real father and leaves the comfort of his home for the comparatively wild New York to complete his search. High jinks ensue.

It's funny to think, but Elf was one of the films that launched Will Ferrell's career. While he had been a regular on SNL in the late 90s, and had a brilliant role in Zoolander in 2001, Elf remains one of the films he is best remembered for. When the film was released in 2003, the world had yet to see Anchorman, and in the following years we saw the release of classics such as Blades of GlorySemi-Pro, Wedding Crashers and more.

Indeed, the fact the film was released in 2003 should be a cause for concern among filmmakers around the world. Almost 20 years on and none of them have managed to surpass Elf in the Christmas comedy stakes. Yes there are better films, and dare I say it yes, there are better Christmas films, but few as funny and few as widely appealing as this one.

Looking back at old reviews of films can make for funny reading. One reviewer opened their account of the film in 2003 with the following: 'If I were to tell you Elf stars Will Ferrell as a human named Buddy who thinks he is an elf and Ed Asner as Santa Claus, would you feel an urgent desire to see this film? Neither did I.'

Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

From the very first scene in which Buddy is revealed, squeezed into a chair in a classroom as if he is a parent sitting in on his child's junior infants class, you know you're in safe hands.

The glee with which he performs is contagious. Part of why his performance is so popular is that it reminds you of the feeling you had on Christmas morning as a child — except in Buddy's world every morning is Christmas morning.

And it's perhaps only with hindsight that you realise how perfectly matched Will Ferrell and general Christmas glee are. He has almost become synonymous with over-the-top JOY — the kind which could have been cringe-worthy if it didn't come across as so genuine.

His casting is so on the money that it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. There are others who may have done a good job, but none who would have become as iconic.

The casting around Ferrell is brilliant, too. James Caan plays his biological father with the air of a man who knows all to well what it's like to have wild children running around the place, while Zooey Deschanel's performance as Buddy's love interest set the stage for how her career would pan out.

But what really makes Elf so good isn't necessarily the acting or the directing or the script or any of those important factors, it's the feeling it gives you.

Christmas time brings with it lots of clichés about childlike wonder or grumpy Scrooges, but Elf handles them all with purpose and dexterity. A film full of clichés doesn't become one, and a story full of stereotypes doesn't rely on them.

Instead, it relies on the audience's memories of Christmas, of what it was like to struggle to get to sleep on Christmas Eve and jump out of bed the next morning.

It relies on recreating those memories.

I hate to say it, but anyone who doesn't like this film is truly a 'cotton-headed ninnymuggins'.

How is Elf related to West Cork?

There's an idea which says that all people are six or fewer social connections away from knowing Kevin Bacon. For example, through friends of friends and cousins of cousins, I am six degrees away from the Hollywood actor.

I sat next to someone at a birthday dinner who is friends with someone who acted in Conversations with Friends with Joe Alwyn who is Taylor Swift's boyfriend who acted in a music video with Lucas Till who starred in X-Men with Kevin Bacon. We're practically best friends.

I believe you can do the same for people and West Cork.

So how can we link Elf to the area?

It's an easy one as Will Ferrell himself took a trip to Kinsale this summer for a spot of golfing. Will Ferrell's West Cork number is 1.

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