As anyone who saw him on 'Saturday Night Live' or even this year's 'Old School' will know, Will Ferrell is at his best when he is shedding every vestige of decorum and dignity in favour of a few laughs. His new family comedy 'Elf' may not go quite as far as it could, but it avoids the easy option of these genre movies and tries to work some degree of real wit and imagination into its family-orientated theme.
Ferrell plays Buddy, the title character. Years previous as Santa was making his rounds, a human orphan accidentally ends up in Santa's sack. Brought back to the North Pole, he is named Buddy and raised as an elf by Papa Elf (Newhart), however, as Buddy grows older (and it becomes obvious that he is actually not an elf), he realises that he must go and find his real father. Venturing off to New York, Buddy soon locates said pa, Walter (Caan) a hard as nails publisher, upon whom hard times are falling.
Directed by Jon Favreau ('Swingers', 'Made'), 'Elf' is a smart, sweet Christmas movie with a good heart. Favreau directs with a dashy charm, working off David Berenbaum's effortlessly good natured script, which has more than a few moments of genuine humour. (The most memorable sequence sees Buddy exposing a faux Santa in a department store.) Ferrell once again strips himself down and exposes a goofy, if slightly repetitive, charm. Admittedly, the picture flirts with sentimentality a little too much, eventually getting lost in the final few minutes, but 'Elf' is something rather unexpected. And when you're talking about Christmas movies, that's a compliment in my book.