Even though it was released in 2003, only 15 years ago, “Elf” has become one of America’s most cherished Christmas films. (Remember, this is a very crowded, stocking-stuffed field, with flicks like 1947’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” and 1954’s “White Christmas.”) Last year, Fandango held a poll where its users deemed the Will Ferrell comedy to be the best Christmas movie of the 21st century. Equally surprising, Entertainment Weekly magazine dubbed it the fourth greatest holiday movie of all time!
That’s a remarkable accomplishment for a film that almost didn’t get made. Comedy superstar Jim Carrey was slated to play Buddy, the human elf. When he pulled out of the property, the movie nearly went kaput! But, thankfully, Ferrell was tapped to play the lovable oversized Santa helper. The world of comedy — and collectible plush — would never be the same.
Yes, “Elf” introduced a young audience to the antics of Will Ferrell. The very tall, very comedic actor had been enormously popular on “Saturday Night Live.” However, lots of youngsters are in bed before 11:30 on weekends, so Ferrell was mostly seen as an adult comic. “Elf” changed all of that.
Channeling his inner five year old, Ferrell portrayed Buddy as a forever-young spirit. Whether he’s turning a set of revolving doors into a Christmas carousel or singing loud for all to hear (the best way to spread Christmas cheer), Ferrell’s performance is one for the ages. It’s amazing to consider that kids didn’t really know who he was until this breakout role. “Elf” is also the movie that brought the narwhal into public scrutiny. Though many folks thought it was a fantasy creation — it certainly looked like one — the interlude where Mr. Narwhal wishes Buddy good luck in finding his dad has become a treasured movie moment and popular meme.
Mr. Narwhal, voiced by the “Elf” director Jon Favreau, captured popular imagination, and plush companies recognized it with a flood of collectible tie-ins. Narwhals became a big plush favorite in 2015, and there is no turning back. In fact, all of the animated characters that populate “Elf” can be found in local mom-and-pop shops, big-box stores, and online. For the Ferrell fanatic in your house — or maybe you are a proud “cotton-headed ninny muggings” yourself — there are endless possibilities to buy plush critters that can create the festive mood and good cheer of the comedy.
If you have some of the creatures already (puffin, polar bear, walrus, snowman, and, of course, elf), you’re already ahead of the cheerful curve. If you’re lacking a narwhal or a puffin, don’t fret. All of these animals are available, and all are priced from downright affordable to absolutely affordable! It’s just a matter of checking online or keeping one’s eyes open when you’re doing your holiday shopping.
What’s cute about gifting the characters from “Elf” is that the movie has become synonymous with optimism and openheartedness. For anyone who has watched it (and for those who binge-watch it during movie marathons), the screenplay underscores that an individual is never truly lost when he is surrounded by family and friends, as diverse as snowmen and secretaries, sons and seals. Both Buddy the Elf and Walter, his human dad, are saved and redeemed by their reunion and eventual acceptance of one another.
Buddy, who always towered above the other elves in stature but not in skills, finds a reason for his “differences” when he learns about and then searches for his human father. His dad, played by James Caan, is a New York City publisher/editor who has forgotten the meaning of family, generosity, goodwill, and happiness. Chasing the next big bestseller, he’s sold out his time, his family connections, and his future. That is, until he meets Buddy.
The movie is uplifting and appeals to the big kid who resides in all of us. Even though Buddy does find a girlfriend — and (spoiler) marries her by the movie’s conclusion — their courtship is told in a very innocent and childlike way. Buddy and Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) are fated to be together, even though her disposition seems to be just as sour as his is sweet. (Elves subsist on a diet rich in calories and sugar. The four food groups, per the script, are “candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.”) In todays hypervigilant atmosphere, the only risqué moment between Buddy and Jovie is their impromptu duetting on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” That song has been banned this year from radio playlists around the country.
When “Elf” was made, Zooey Deschanel was also a relative unknown commodity. With only six independent films under her vintage-store, retro-fashion belt, Deschanel was an ingénue that nobody was aware of. She wasn’t on the public’s radar; “Elf” changed all that. The original script did not call for Jovie to be a singer. Director Favreau learned about her laidback, mild-jazz singing chops and had the screenplay tailored to fit his leading lady.
Since then, Deschanel has scored big as the star of TV’s “New Girl” sitcom and as the ideal love object in “500 Days of Summer.” She’s also forged a whole alternative career as one half of the indie pop duo, She & Him. Launched in 2008, with musical partner M. Ward, their albums sell well, and their Christmas collaboration (“A Very She & Him Christmas”) has been a constant holiday staple since 2011. The duo released a second Christmas offering in 2016, “Christmas Party.” That album received good reviews, but didn’t sell as well as the prior holiday release. “Elf” was responsible for re-directing the path of this talented, quirky actress.
Since the release of “Elf” in 2003, the movie has enjoyed huge success as a DVD and a Blu-Ray; it’s streamed endlessly on movie platforms; it has a cottage industry of movie T-shirts, pajamas, home décor, posters, and handmade Etsy goods. “Elf” has become a worldwide phenomenon.
Spawning a Broadway musical, which tours nationally, and a stop-motion animation spin-off, it’s a feel-good film that accomplishes just that. Setting up plush collectibles that mirror the North Pole inhabitants, as well as Buddy and Jovie too, is a marvelous way to make Christmas extra merry and bright. And Misty, the Douglas light-up narwhal, is guaranteed to brighten your home, hearth, and heart.
Like Buddy says, when planning his perfect date: “First we’ll make snow angels for two hours, then we’ll go ice-skating, then we’ll eat a whole roll of Tollhouse cookie dough as fast as we can, and then we’ll snuggle.”