News

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

Spike critics BET Awards BBC Kids & Family sports robots Writers Guild of America SXSW award winner Fall TV ratings Rom-Com Comedy Pride Month Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Winter TV Spring TV Apple TV+ travel Rocketman asian-american Peacock dramedy HBO Go Song of Ice and Fire WarnerMedia Crackle what to watch VICE video psycho American Society of Cinematographers X-Men canceled TV shows scary movies Ghostbusters Box Office ABC ESPN TCA Stephen King Mindy Kaling DC streaming service USA christmas movies 20th Century Fox cinemax OneApp Polls and Games FXX Mary Poppins Returns Year in Review cancelled TV series sag awards mission: impossible 2020 indie WGN LGBT elevated horror period drama blockbuster CBS All Access Election Lucasfilm universal monsters teaser The Arrangement NYCC Tubi game of thrones 2016 cults 2015 E3 cancelled criterion The Walking Dead concert mutant films sitcom Comic Book streaming Cannes Character Guide Dark Horse Comics dceu Amazon comic Sundance TV RT21 Endgame crime drama Schedule The Witch DC Comics TCA 2017 Emmys screen actors guild green book Lifetime Christmas movies TIFF Black History Month indiana jones Winners a nightmare on elm street Logo TNT Warner Bros. festivals Marvel Studios Set visit Spectrum Originals TV Land Columbia Pictures Holiday dark Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Pirates Holidays police drama Lifetime jamie lee curtis Freeform Horror Pop TV YouTube Premium harry potter batman Drama politics Lionsgate screenings cancelled television 71st Emmy Awards spy thriller Quiz cartoon animated anime movie Elton John CBS comiccon natural history Hulu DC Universe franchise witnail Super Bowl Disney Channel all-time Nat Geo zero dark thirty Interview adventure cats Certified Fresh TV renewals Britbox Funimation richard e. Grant Photos adaptation Crunchyroll 45 Mystery Turner Classic Movies free movies true crime APB Syfy Acorn TV TV thriller game show Action parents Valentine's Day Esquire cars unscripted TruTV SundanceTV medical drama Hallmark Summer The Purge mockumentary Pixar Sci-Fi Rocky docudrama reboot vampires Tomatazos YA USA Network documentaries RT History NBC PaleyFest GoT TCM Women's History Month TLC crime Sony Pictures foreign social media Red Carpet BET diversity 4/20 Trailer discovery supernatural ABC Family Opinion child's play Marathons facebook slashers First Look rotten movies we love Rock blaxploitation Hear Us Out IFC Films Discovery Channel Star Trek stand-up comedy PBS tv talk BBC America MTV New York Comic Con Country science fiction Emmy Nominations spanish language satire Arrowverse Star Wars technology Walt Disney Pictures spider-man zombies nature TBS President breaking bad political drama anthology dogs Cosplay MSNBC Best and Worst Avengers finale Hallmark Christmas movies IFC Sneak Peek Sundance Now Comics on TV kids Amazon Prime CW Seed documentary Cartoon Network hist aliens Anna Paquin Martial Arts historical drama A&E cancelled TV shows Podcast twilight Travel Channel Tarantino Film Festival golden globes PlayStation Showtime Shondaland Superheroe quibi Teen Tumblr Apple TV Plus BAFTA Creative Arts Emmys Fantasy Paramount FX on Hulu television Trivia serial killer Amazon Prime Video psychological thriller Starz stoner boxoffice werewolf Baby Yoda singing competition Reality Competition Thanksgiving Television Academy BBC One zombie Premiere Dates Brie Larson San Diego Comic-Con spinoff E! based on movie 24 frames Infographic TCA Winter 2020 sequel Animation El Rey FOX 2018 composers Fox News Black Mirror Marvel Television dragons Classic Film spain Superheroes 2017 Universal Turner Binge Guide Nickelodeon Video Games independent VH1 war 2019 binge Music casting SDCC Netflix reviews See It Skip It GLAAD DGA Mudbound book Reality strong female leads Awards cooking Academy Awards Pet Sematary Watching Series dc best versus Vudu Marvel Countdown 21st Century Fox MCU canceled Mary poppins History Adult Swim joker Amazon Studios Netflix Christmas movies transformers ITV justice league Disney+ Disney Plus Sundance Shudder HBO Bravo miniseries ghosts video on demand halloween DirecTV Nominations chucky latino Paramount Network name the review Disney Plus OWN Captain marvel Biopics cops south america Grammys Pop Masterpiece Chernobyl Oscars toy story Extras The CW comics Toys National Geographic theme song revenge Disney streaming service disaster Awards Tour LGBTQ comedies Apple directors biography Comedy Central space Film GIFs Heroines Family crossover VOD news A24 Western YouTube YouTube Red talk show FX First Reviews Food Network CMT Ellie Kemper crime thriller 007 children's TV die hard movies series CNN renewed TV shows Trophy Talk Christmas Ovation Calendar romantic comedy Disney Mary Tyler Moore hispanic doctor who AMC Musicals romance Musical Epix HBO Max