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ELF

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Edward Asner, Bob Newhart
Director: Jon Favreau
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Screen 1.33:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 95 Minutes
Release Date: November 16, 2004

"Your costume's pretty."

"Oh, it's not a costume. I'm an elf. Well, technically I'm a human but I was raised by elves."

Film ***

Elf is quite simply the funniest and most endearing holiday movie to come around in some time. The only other movie it rivals in the funny department would have to be Bad Santa, which of course isn't intended for the target audience of this movie.

At first glance, I was wondering if a film with such an edgy comedy talent like Will Ferrell in the lead could succeed in both areas of pure hilarity and wholesome family entertainment. Since the movie is aimed at a younger audience, it's important to take note of the family entertainment factor. Elf easily succeeds in both departments.

Ferrell, in his first big starring role, stars as an elf named Buddy. He's a bit different from all the other elves in that he happens to acquire a height of 6 feet, which is a giant compared to the normal elf size. When he starts to feel that he's lacking something the other elves have in the toy making department, Buddy is told a shocking revelation. He's not really an elf, but has been raised in elf-land ever since he mistakenly crawled into Santa's sleigh during the Crinkle's stop at an orphanage when Buddy was an infant.

In addition, Buddy also discovers that he does, in fact, have a real father. Buddy then sets off to New York City, where his biological father resides. He expects to discover a whole new world where everyone is just as kind and friendly as they are in the elf world. But of course, since this is New York City, nothing could be farther from the truth.

The father turns out to be something of a contemporary Scrooge named Walter Hobbs (James Caan). Upon looking at Buddy, Walter can't even begin to take this 6 foot elf's story seriously. Walter's personal physician (played by director Favreau) suggests that he allow Buddy to move in with him and get to know his wife and other son.

Buddy also manages to bewilder the employees of a department store. There, he tries to convince everyone that there North Pole set up isn't really the North Pole. He gets into frequent arguments with the store manager (Faizon Love) about what really goes on in the North Pole. And a luminous co-worker named Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) steals his heart.

Although it works along a typical fish-out-of-water scenario, Elf is filled with endless laughs, most of which involved Buddy's misunderstanding of the new world around him. I instantly applauded when Buddy, having just arrived in NYC, observes the window of a coffee shop that has a sign reading "The World's Greatest Cup of Coffee". Buddy then walks into the shop and congratulates the employees for a job well done. A later scene where he gets into a scuffle with a department store Santa is priceless.

As an added bonus, Favreau pays some homage to the beloved old Christmas TV specials, such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

Helmed by Will Ferrell's wonderful childlike performance, and a pitch perfect mix of laughter and holiday cheer, Elf is easily destined to become a new holiday classic for years to come.

Video ****

New Line has created, yet again, a marvelous transfer of a movie. The 2 disc release wisely offers the anamorphic widescreen version on Disc 1 and the full screen version on Disc 2. The anamorphic picture is gloriously clear. The settings of New York and the North Pole both look phenomenal in detail, which the presentation offers a great deal of. Colors are strong and natural as can be, as expected.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix provided here does a most remarkable job in enlivening this Christmas comedy to wondrous sounding heights. Music playback is a key in the sound performance, with many holiday tunes thrown in for good measure, and a great deal of the physical comedy pays off surprisingly well. A few technical effects play off strong, too, like the climatic bit involving Santa's rocket powered sleigh. For a comedy, a more than well done presentation.

Features ****

New Line returns to their Infinifilm best, with this jolly-loaded 2-disc package. Features are spread across each disc.

In the Beyond the Movie, we have several featurettes, including "Kids On Christmas", "Deck The Halls", "Santa Mania", and "Christmas In Tinsel Town", as well as a "Fact Track".

In the All Access Pass features section, there are two commentary tracks; one with director Jon Favreau and the one with Will Ferrell. There are also some deleted scenes, more featurettes, including "Behind The Scenes: Tag Along With Will Ferrell", "Film School For Kids", "How They Made The North Pole", "Lights, Camera, Puffin!", and "That's A Wrap...", as well as a Music From Elf segment.

There's also more extra goodies in the Fun 'N' Games area, featuring Elf Karaoke, Read-Along, Elf - A Short Story of a Tall Tale, Buddy's Adventure Game: The Race Down Mt. Icing, Elf In the City, Snowball Fight, Fix Santa's Sleigh and Secret Elevator O' Fun.

Summary:

Elf has a well balanced array of laughs and heartwarming yuletide delight to make it a potential Christmas time classic for years to come. The 2 disc Infinifilm offering from New Line is a terrific package that is sure to keep your holiday cheer at an all time high as Christmas draws near.

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