(Originally posted 11/10/03)
Despite feeling obligated to see The Matrix Revolutions, I went with my gut this past weekend and saw Elf instead. Smart move. While it can't fully overcome its hokey plot formula -- a mixture of The Jerk and every other SNL-style comedy of the past ten years, in which a bumbling man-child hero overcomes obstacles to find love and happiness -- Jon Favreau's consistently humorous comedy exudes genuine holiday cheer. Will Ferrell's Buddy, a human raised by Santa's diminutive elves, returns to New York City to find his real family, oblivious to the ways of the real world. Ferrell prances around in a ridiculous green elf costume (it looks like it's made out of cheap felt), speaks in a high-pitched, mildly feminine voice, and flails about with the unbridled manic energy of a toddler interacting with the world for the first time. The film relies heavily on the collision between Buddy's innocence and New Yorkers' cynicism (epitomized by a grumpy James Caan as Buddy's dad), and sometimes this structure leads to predictable set-ups, such as Buddy's successful wooing of Zooey Deschanel's bland department store clerk. But for the most part, the film is funny enough to make its shortcomings forgivable. The combination of a Ray Harryhausen-esque stop-motion North Pole snowman (an amusing nod to TV classics like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer), Buddy's wrestling match with a Santa imposter, and supporting turns by Andy Richter and Tenacious D's Kyle Gass won me over. Unlike other recent studio holiday films that try to appeal to both kids and adults -- think The Santa Clause or Jingle All the Way -- Elf nimbly straddles that fine line between silliness and sweetness.