ELF (Jon Favreau, 2003)

Oversized, unwieldy Buddy, who has been raised by elves, leaves the North Pole to find his human father, a children’s book editor in New York City, where he is a fish out of water. Buddy’s father, Walter Hobbs, reluctantly takes him in, Buddy falls in love with Jovie, and Buddy on Christmas Eve is instrumental in restoring the spirit of Christmas to ordinary people. Jon Favreau directed from David Berenbaum’s script.
     His sweetness and gentleness are why we like Buddy, who touches our hearts. However, it is an act of cruelty by which Buddy wins over young stepbrother Michael: in fast motion, he pelts with snowballs school bullies who are pelting them as they walk home. Does Buddy do this precisely to win over Michael, who has roundly rejected Buddy’s intrusion into his life? Will Ferrell is good at playing the sweet, clumsy elf, but he is inept at suggesting the character’s human dimension.
     Indeed, this is with few exceptions a poorly acted film. (Zooey Deschanel is heavenly as Jovie.) Michael’s father as well as Michael chuck their objections to Buddy mighty quick, each on a dime, without any coherent explanation. In this regard, what we see is akin to the most superficial high school production. On the other hand, the final movement, where Buddy more or less gets lost, is dominated by Ed Asner’s brilliant Santa Claus, a role that grounds the fantastic character in recognizable humanity and therefore might have provided Ferrell with a better tack to take with his own role had he only been smart enough and gifted enough to learn from Asner’s example and put what he learned into performance, since it seems that Favreau either didn’t take the time to explain anything to Ferrell or got nowhere when he did.

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