Fifteen Years Later, Elf Is Still a Christmas Treat

On the anniversary of its release, we made a list of reasons (and checked it twice) why Jon Favreau's 2003 hit is already a holiday classic.

by | November 7, 2018 | Comments

New Line courtesy Everett Collection
(Photo by New Line courtesy Everett Collection)

On November 7, 2003, Buddy the Elf “passed through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gumdrops, and then walked through the Lincoln Tunnel” and right into our hearts.

Written by David Berenbaum and directed by Jon Favreau, Elf was the holiday hit of the year, taking in more than $200 million worldwide, and earning equal praise from critics (it’s Certified Fresh at 84%) and audiences (it sports a 74% Audience Score).

Since then, Elf has become a holiday TV stalwart, spawned a hit Broadway musical and a stop-motion animated special, and turned into one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time.

Even now, at 15 years old (old enough to doubt the existence of Santa), Elf is still full of Christmas cheer. So, why has this film earned a place on the Nice List for life?

It Turned Jon Favreau into a Director… and May Have Kickstarted the MCU

New Line courtesy Everett Collection
(Photo by New Line courtesy Everett Collection)

Prior to Elf, Jon Favreau was recognizable actor, but a relative unknown as a director. Granted, true Favreau-heads (Favr-ites?) might look to his 2001 independent film Made (Fresh at 71%) as Favreau’s directorial coming out party, but he was better known as one of the “money men” from Swingers and Monica’s millionaire boyfriend from Friends. But that all changed when he stepped behind the camera for Elf.

With his innovative and charming direction, Elf would go on to make nearly seven times its budget, and Favreau would go on to direct Iron ManIron Man 2, The Jungle Book, and the upcoming The Lion King.

But, if Favreau hadn’t taken on Elf (or if it hadn’t been quite a critical and commercial success), would he have been trusted to direct Iron Man? And if he hadn’t directed Iron Man, would the movie still have had the same vibrancy that made it such a hit? And would it then even spawn a sequel and set the stage for Captain America, The AvengersGuardians of the Galaxy, and the rest of the blockbuster behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Thankfully, Jon Favreau is so money, and Elf made sure we all knew it.

It Made Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel into Stars

New Line Cinema
(Photo by New Line Cinema)

In 2003, Will Ferrell had already notched his name in TV lore with an impressive run on Saturday Night Live and stolen scenes in classic grown-up comedies like Old School, Austin Powers, and Zoolander, but it wasn’t known if the rambunctious man-child actor could carry a movie as a leading man, let alone a family film. Until, that is, everyone saw Elf.

The risk to cast Ferrell paid off, and launched him from recent SNL departee to Hollywood’s next great comedy star. In the following years, Ferrell continued to rack up hits with both adult-oriented comedies like Anchorman, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys and family-friendly fare, including Kicking & Screaming, The Lego Movie, and Daddy’s Home.

Elf also marked a coming-out party for Ferrell’s co-star Zooey Deschanel. After small yet memorable parts in Almost Famous and The New Guy, Deschanel was dangerously close to being known better as “that girl” than as “Zooey Deschanel.”

But playing the role of reluctant mall elf and Buddy’s reticent love interest, Jovie, Deschanel delivered a star-making performance, showcasing the charm, singing talent, and adorkable-ness that would make her into a darling of the indie film world and a staple of the sitcom one.

It Excels in Physical Humor

Will Ferrell has always been a larger-than-life performer, but Elf took that quality and ran with it.

As the only human in the North Pole (and a 6’3″ one at that), Buddy the Elf stands out amongst the diminutive elves of Santa’s workshop, but Ferrell needed some movie magic to truly look like a fish out of water.

Thanks to forced perspective, which manipulated the set to make the other actors appear smaller, Ferrell managed to tower over his elfin counterparts without having to resort to CGI or green screens. Favreau called this process “painstaking,” but the end result looks seamless and allowed the actors to appear as normal as possible.

It’s Super Quotable, All Year Round

Who can forget “He’s an angry elf,” “You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don’t smell like Santa,” or “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear?”

Those are all well and good, but unfortunately, they’re only really well and good for about two months a year. But, you know what’s good almost all the time? Every other quote in the movie!

Answering the phone? “Buddy the elf. What’s your favorite color?”

Taking a trip to Northern California? “Francisco! That’s fun to say! Francisco… Frannncisco… Franciscooo…”

Watching Cersei Lannister plot a scheme? “You sit on a throne of lies!”

Elf Goes Retro

New Line Cinema
(Photo by New Line Cinema)

Unlike many Christmas movies of the 21st century, which sought to bring a modern sheen to the holiday, Elf went the opposite direction, drawing artistic inspiration from campy stop-motion holiday classics from Rankin/Bass like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and Jack Frost to give a “timeless” feel to the whole film.

In an interview with 20/20 in 2017, director Jon Favreau said, “We used stop-motion animation… so when you watch it, it doesn’t feel like it ages the same way that a film that has a lot of digital effects does.” And even when Elf featured CGI, it used it to mimic the same classic stop-motion feel.

And it worked. Compared to other CGI-filled Christmas movies from the 2000s — including The Santa Clause 2 and 3 (55% and 17% on the Tomatometer, respectively), The Polar Express (55%), and Disney’s A Christmas Carol (54%) — Elf’s Certified Fresh 84% ranks on top. And fans agree as well, as last year Elf was selected as the Best Christmas Movie of the 21st Century by FandangoNOW users.

Tag Cloud

45 SXSW Warner Bros. Countdown OneApp revenge Spike TLC Pixar Ghostbusters Horror Musical NBC AMC History screen actors guild Vudu Teen WGN Mystery TCA Winter 2020 sequel miniseries See It Skip It First Look Rock MTV DC Universe Disney Channel blockbuster Television Academy TV Land Character Guide series supernatural witnail Bravo quibi Dark Horse Comics Disney Plus Ovation adaptation Nickelodeon Sony Pictures Nat Geo rotten movies we love based on movie Music south america SundanceTV HBO Max vampires Comic Book Apple TV Plus FXX finale game show SDCC Brie Larson casting 2016 spanish language foreign dramedy Acorn TV Mudbound war romantic comedy Pirates book Amazon richard e. Grant NYCC Rocketman Marvel Television facebook talk show Awards Tour Tomatazos Song of Ice and Fire festivals Fox News Certified Fresh Crunchyroll Pop 007 joker Fall TV X-Men LGBT spinoff VH1 Women's History Month Calendar Anna Paquin Endgame Emmy Nominations ghosts hispanic true crime San Diego Comic-Con TruTV Starz political drama Oscars FX Lifetime Christmas movies adventure cooking Tubi screenings Thanksgiving Summer Premiere Dates Avengers Emmys 24 frames Super Bowl teaser cancelled television boxoffice Shondaland natural history Lionsgate stand-up comedy PaleyFest Arrowverse politics Crackle 2017 cancelled TV series Photos TIFF Sundance Podcast Kids & Family Comedy Central television harry potter award winner RT History comics Academy Awards TCA Sundance Now New York Comic Con Star Wars crossover PBS The Arrangement green book travel Awards Drama police drama 71st Emmy Awards Comedy Animation YouTube Premium dc space IFC Films Mindy Kaling anime USA Network A&E movies Marvel Studios psycho mockumentary comic Set visit Showtime animated Country DC Comics Winners canceled Disney+ Disney Plus Elton John Syfy justice league cults YouTube Apple Grammys 2018 Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Black Mirror Opinion cats RT21 Winter TV composers Holidays directors Disney FOX Shudder Trophy Talk CW Seed Discovery Channel Tarantino Fantasy historical drama name the review YouTube Red disaster singing competition docudrama Valentine's Day versus Toys Ellie Kemper The Walking Dead theme song ABC Comics on TV tv talk Lucasfilm latino Netflix discovery 20th Century Fox 21st Century Fox Walt Disney Pictures cancelled TV shows Interview GIFs serial killer Sundance TV E3 unscripted streaming MCU toy story E! crime drama canceled TV shows Martial Arts Family Writers Guild of America Pride Month zombie thriller Stephen King TCA 2017 game of thrones National Geographic Turner Classic Movies technology free movies CBS All Access USA golden globes Rocky CBS Best and Worst GLAAD children's TV TV renewals nature elevated horror BBC 2020 WarnerMedia sports First Reviews Heroines APB Action crime DC streaming service social media strong female leads cinemax independent Apple TV+ Esquire The CW christmas movies Creative Arts Emmys Paramount halloween science fiction Video Games Box Office spy thriller Cosplay Logo President Infographic anthology LGBTQ Freeform Binge Guide sitcom cancelled Cannes CMT Mary poppins Star Trek period drama 2015 2019 hist zero dark thirty kids HBO Spectrum Originals slashers cops Chernobyl indie Film Festival OWN Hallmark Christmas movies Nominations reboot sag awards Red Carpet binge ABC Family blaxploitation Superheroes Tumblr zombies aliens Year in Review Reality Christmas Paramount Network spain Film ratings Hulu The Purge Marvel Sci-Fi Amazon Prime Baby Yoda video Rom-Com DGA comiccon what to watch American Society of Cinematographers werewolf psychological thriller TBS Watching Series IFC Epix Adult Swim Superheroe Cartoon Network Food Network diversity renewed TV shows GoT Columbia Pictures TNT transformers Spring TV Disney streaming service Turner TV The Witch medical drama Musicals dragons Quiz romance Hallmark batman spider-man crime thriller ESPN Sneak Peek Election Mary Tyler Moore mutant BET Schedule A24 Western YA Reality Competition BBC America Lifetime cars TCM breaking bad CNN Amazon Prime Video Universal Masterpiece jamie lee curtis Pet Sematary doctor who Captain marvel cartoon El Rey Trailer MSNBC Netflix Christmas movies Mary Poppins Returns Britbox ITV VICE Polls and Games Trivia Classic Film Holiday Extras DirecTV Peacock Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Biopics biography robots Marathons dceu