Setting the scene, Papa Elf recounts the story of how baby Buddy climbed out of his orphanage crib and into Santa’s sack, making his way back to the other Elves. It’s pretty fair to say that Buddy is one hell of a bad present maker. He has no speed in comparison with his fellow Elves, but always works his hardest to impress Santa and Papa Elf. In his own words, he is “a cotton-headed ninny muggins”. We see his human reluctance to trust in anything when he is testing jack-in-the-boxes. Each time he winds one up he knows what will happen, but he still has the same reaction and it’s absolutely priceless.
When Buddy realises Papa Elf isn’t his real father, he goes on a quest to New York to find him, giving us one of the best parts of the film – Buddy’s introduction to the city. With such a childlike fascination in everything, he goes a little crazy, eating all the gum off the sidewalks, running round and round revolving doors and playing hopscotch across the zebra crossings while remaining oblivious to the oncoming traffic. Even the elevator buttons that light up “like a Christmas tree” on the way up the Empire State Building have him giddy with excitement.
Buddy’s real Dad, Walter, soon realises the mail room is the best place to keep Buddy away from his office, but he ends up getting drunk with a co-workers ‘syrup’ in his coffee which leads to some wonderful improv from Ferrell and a brilliant drunk dance on a table. The source of Buddy’s constant happiness is eventually revealed when he downs an entire bottle of coke and puts maple syrup on everything – even spaghetti. Be warned, his ultimate breakfast is one that might give your children ideas, so it should be noted that candy and candy canes are only major food groups for Elves.
It’s Gimbels Department Store where Buddy truly seems to fit in, finding solace in the Christmas grotto and causing mayhem for the floor manager. I’ve watched the moment when he is hit by a car outside a million times and it never fails to floor me. While the majority of those working at Gimbels seem to hate Christmas and the elevated work hours it brings with it, Buddy stands out a mile and soon sets his eyes on Zooey Deschanel’s quirky Jovie. The bathroom duet they share is absolutely adorable, but does seem to hold the record for going from cute to rapey to hilarious at breakneck speed. Buddy’s wonderfully old school in his way with Jovie, telling her she looks “miraculous” and bringing out a real fascination in everything, eventually helping her revert to childhood with him – he’s completely infectious.
It’s hard to believe this is directed by Favreau and makes you question whether it’s actually the kind of stuff he does best. He also gets his token cameo here as a doctor who does an exceptionally quick paternity test for baby daddy Walter and tries to stop Buddy swallowing whole balls of cotton wool. The thing about Elf is that it’s never flat-out offensive. It teases and implies, but the Christmas spirit is kept throughout and at its heart it really is a family drama, albeit extremely unconventional.
There are plenty of moral issues within, but it never gets too complicated for a PG film, remaining fun and easygoing. With brilliantly subtle touches such as Buddy writing letters on an etch-a-sketch and lines like “if you see a sign that says ‘Peep Show’, that doesn’t mean that they’re letting you look at the new toys before Christmas”, Elf is the perfect Christmas film for adults who love their comedy and don’t want the extra worry of having to cover their childrens’ ears.