News

21 Most Memorable Movie Moments: "Santa, here? I know him!" from Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau reveal how they conjured Christmas magic, why the movie endures, and which Elf moment brought Ferrell to tears.

by | December 18, 2018 | Comments

Watch: Jon Favreau and will Farrell on the making of Elf above.

In 2019, Rotten Tomatoes will turn 21, and to mark the occasion we’re celebrating the 21 Most Memorable Moments from the movies over the last 21 years. In a special video series launching next year, we will speak to the actors and filmmakers who made those moments happen, revealing behind-the-scenes details of how they came to be and diving deep into why they’ve stuck with us for so long. Once we’ve announced all 21, it will be up to you, the fans, to vote for which is the most memorable moment of all. As a special preview of the series, we’re dropping our first ‘21 Most Memorable Moments’ video right now: Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau take us behind the scenes of Elf.

VOTE FOR THIS MOMENT IN OUR 21 MOST MEMORABLE MOVIE MOMENTS POLL


The Movie: Elf (2003) 84%

Fifteen years after its release, Elf is a bona fide Christmas classic – arguably the only Christmas movie released in the last 20 years to truly deserve that title. Don’t believe us? Turn on your TV this month. Or take a look at a T-shirt rack this week and marvel at the number Elf-inspired memes plastering the seasonal tees.

A Christmas classic is exactly what director Jon Favreau, who initially came on board the project for rewrites, wanted to make. Inspired by Rankin Bass Christmas specials, as well as the joy and energy emanating from his fresh out-of-SNL star, Favreau hit the streets of New York City – less than two years after 9/11 – to craft a long-lasting piece of seasonal joy from the simple tale of an Elf named Buddy and his journey to the big smoke to find his dad.

“My pitch was to make it feel like Buddy was a human that grew up in a ’60s Christmas special.”

Jon Favreau: “I was actually hired on to do rewrites. There was an original script that was quite different in tone. It was a much harder comedy. My pitch when I was hired to write was to make it feel like Buddy was a human that grew up in a ’60s Christmas special. And I brought it down from a harder PG-13 to a PG film. The innocence was something that I really wanted to lean into as I worked on it. He was always an innocent character, but he was a bit more of a foil to the action and to the comedy. I tried to strike a balance that was a bit sweeter.”

Elf
(Photo by © New Line)

“There’s this impression where, when you leave a show like SNL, you just have all these things lined up – and I really didn’t.”

Will Ferrell: “I [had] left Saturday Night Live. I think there’s always this impression where, when you leave a show like that, you just have all these things lined up – and I really didn’t. I had Old School, that was finished, but they were holding onto it. They weren’t releasing it quite yet, which is usually not a good sign. And then I had this script about a guy playing an elf…a human being raised by elves. And that was really all that was percolating. [But] this idea that a human is raised by elves at the North Pole, it just felt like something you’d never seen before. A classic fish-out-of-water story.”

“We shot a lot of that stuff independent-film–style with a van and a camera.”

Favreau: “Instead of hiring a lot of extras, we shot a lot of that stuff [Buddy on the streets of New York] independent-film–style with a van and a camera. Went out there and then we got people to sign releases. Of course, Will has really good comedic concentration so he was able to stay in character the whole time, and we used what worked. He’s really the key to the whole thing. He’s got such a wonderful energy and presence, and just him wearing that outfit was so inherently funny anyway because of his size.”

Elf
(Photo by © New Line)

“I was running around the streets of New York in yellow tights thinking to myself, Boy, I do hope this works.”

Ferrell: “I was kind of known at Saturday Night Live for – yes, for sketches like the [Spartan] Cheerleaders and things like that – but also for a lot of really edgy stuff. For every grandmother that came up to me and said, ‘I love this,’ I had the rowdy frat guy who was citing something he liked from the show. So here I was running around the streets of New York in yellow tights thinking to myself, Boy, I do hope this works, for a number of reasons. But this could easily be my last movie.”


The Moment: “Santa, here? I know him!”

Picking one moment from Elf was nearly impossible. Would you go with the scene in which Buddy tells the Gimbel’s mall Santa, “You sit on a throne of lies”? (We almost did.) Perhaps his syrup-and-spaghetti feast? (The look on James Caan’s face: Priceless.) We landed on the moment when Buddy hears that Santa will be arriving at Gimbel’s and just about explodes with excitement. Perhaps no other moment in the film better captures Buddy’s infectious joy and innocence.

“We originally hoped to shoot in Macy’s…the one stipulation was that we could not say that there was a fake Santa in Macy’s.”

Favreau: “We’d originally hoped to shoot in Macy’s. And Macy’s was actually really open to the idea of us shooting there, and even saying that maybe we could participate in the parade. However, the one stipulation was that we could not say that there was a fake Santa in Macy’s. So that’s part of their brand and people go to their Santaland every year, and they didn’t wanna blow it for young kids. Which I get. So, we kept thinking about, what could it be? [When] I grew up there was always Macy’s and Gimbel’s. Of course, Gimbel’s is featured in Miracle on 34th Street, so it’s a bit of an Easter egg for Christmas movie fans.”

Elf
(Photo by © New Line)

“I know that the first couple takes really took people by surprise, that I would go that big with it.” 

Favreau: “I remember the scene in Gimbel’s where Faizon Love makes the announcement that Santa is coming, and he just screams, ‘Santa!’. [Will] just loves to commit. He really knows where the laugh is in the scene. And then the reaction of [Faizon] being the manager, looking, thinking his employee is screaming in his face, is probably one of my favorite moments of the movie.”

Ferrell: “That kind of exclamation of ‘Santa!’ and screaming it, that was just my articulation of Buddy literally taking that piece of news [that Santa is coming] at face value and [thinking] what would be his literal reaction. A man without a country in this strange land finally getting to see someone he knows really well – it would just be the most jubilant reaction ever. I know that the first couple takes really took people by surprise, that I would go that big with it. And all of that, ‘Santa, I know him,’ all of that playing around we did, that was all improvised there.”

Elf
(Photo by © New Line)

“My biggest job on that film was to sort through all the various takes.”

Favreau: “Will just did lots of different choices for lots of different moments. My biggest job on that film, along with the editor Dan Lebental, was to just sort through all the various takes. We didn’t have a lot of time, it wasn’t a big-budget movie. But there was always room to play and to have fun and try different alts. And then [we had to] string all of the great different performances or improvisations together into a cohesive performance that served the story, while still taking full advantage of all the laughs that he was able to find.”

Ferrell: “It’s funny. James Caan, we were at the premiere, and I took this as a great compliment…he was like, ‘Great job. I thought you were too over the top the whole time.’”


The Impact: A Seasonal Favorite

Go online and you can buy Elf snow globes. And Elf jack-in-the-boxes. And Elf costumes, of course. And many, many Elf storybooks. Meanwhile, Elf: The Musical, which opened on Broadway in 2010 in a testament to just how popular the film had become, is still touring the country. Elf, it’s fair to say, has become a pretty big deal since it premiered in 2003. But you don’t need merchandise and musicals to tell you that – just ask a friend. Or go up to Will Ferrell or Jon Favreau on the street and ask them how frequently people go up to them on the street to talk about the movie? You probably won’t be the first to do so that day. The duo set out to create a seasonal hit with legs, and they hit their mark.

“I can’t let everyone see me cry here at my own movie.”

Ferrell: “[At the L.A. premiere] I knew it was working at that moment where Buddy is in the back of the sleigh and everyone’s singing in Central Park and there’s enough Christmas spirit to get it lifted off, and he’s waving goodbye. I’m like, Oh, I can’t let everyone see me cry here at my own movie. I was like, Oh gosh, this is working on a level that I didn’t anticipate, and that was pretty cool. I remember getting a call from Nora Ephron, because we were just starting the sit down to get to do Bewitched. And during that opening weekend, she was like, ‘You really should enjoy this because this doesn’t happen a lot, where you have a movie that everyone is talking about.’ And she’s like, ‘I hope you enjoy it. Just really.’ So I remember her words, I was like, ‘OK, yeah. You’re right. This is crazy.'”

Elf
(Photo by © New Line)

“It wasn’t too long after 9/11, it was filmed in New York, I think it brought some nice energy to us at a challenging time.”

Favreau: “When it came out what we really wanted a movie like that. It wasn’t too long after 9/11, it was filmed in New York, I think it brought some nice energy to us at a time when – if you think back that far – it was a really challenging time and it was nice to bring a nice breath of innocence to the world and especially to the city at that time. I’m really proud of it. If it’s ever in a theater or playing on television, I love to check in on it. And I can tell through social media that it’s something that people have made a tradition of. I’ll see pictures online of people saying, ‘Hey I’m introducing my son or my daughter to this movie for the first time.’ And they’ll post a picture of Elf on television and there’s a little three-year-old sitting there looking up at the screen. And that really makes me happy and it’s the best part of the job.”


Elf was released on November 7, 2003. Buy or rent it at FandangNOW.

#1

Elf (2003)
84%

#1
Adjusted Score: 89.471%
Critics Consensus: A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers.
Synopsis: For his sophomore stab at directing, actor/writer/director Jon Favreau (Swingers, Made), took on this holiday comedy starring Saturday Night Live-alum... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau

Tag Cloud

Freeform christmas movies harry potter TV Land Cartoon Network cops documentary indie theme song mission: impossible BBC First Look Shudder Television Academy APB BET DC streaming service Rock Ovation Awards talk show comiccon YouTube Esquire Nat Geo composers 2015 E3 canceled dragons BET Awards cancelled television worst universal monsters TCA Winter 2020 hollywood Disney Plus Year in Review Awards Tour romance Tumblr New York Comic Con batman Star Trek award winner Marvel Studios indiana jones Amazon Prime Video USA Network crime thriller HBO Max Watching Series cinemax TruTV DirecTV Rocketman Teen 4/20 movie PaleyFest TBS Animation NYCC IFC Films binge slashers Lifetime Christmas movies sequel adaptation The Arrangement Disney Channel witnail Film kids documentaries HBO PBS vampires SXSW sports independent Brie Larson Film Festival unscripted Sundance social media cartoon renewed TV shows Holiday reboot what to watch asian-american travel E! WarnerMedia stop motion elevated horror VH1 Kids & Family disaster parents Disney+ Disney Plus MTV Super Bowl PlayStation sitcom TCA 2017 TV comic Video Games Apple dramedy Spring TV Infographic concert Ellie Kemper Fantasy Britbox Extras Acorn TV canceled TV shows VICE historical drama dark mutant RT History YouTube Premium The Witch Masterpiece anime obituary FX hispanic USA Shondaland Hear Us Out based on movie Summer Tomatazos Nickelodeon free movies Comics on TV werewolf cancelled TV series science fiction casting Heroines 71st Emmy Awards Pop robots movies Cosplay romantic comedy anthology Reality Competition Podcast 2016 Fox News 24 frames Dark Horse Comics green book Martial Arts Pop TV TLC FOX zombies Music Hulu spider-man Black Mirror 20th Century Fox TIFF Oscars Black History Month laika Marvel Television Emmy Nominations classics cults joker spinoff Writers Guild of America satire Mary Tyler Moore teaser GLAAD TNT BAFTA Holidays Paramount Interview GIFs spain game show Cannes superhero spy thriller Lucasfilm Tarantino finale 2018 Universal Trophy Talk miniseries GoT south america Chilling Adventures of Sabrina singing competition films Reality thriller Quiz Premiere Dates Star Wars all-time nature Box Office Opinion Food Network Lifetime Classic Film Best and Worst justice league Hallmark VOD Marathons See It Skip It facebook X-Men SDCC boxoffice OWN Starz Election tv talk Mindy Kaling emmy awards stoner Thanksgiving DGA sequels ratings Academy Awards diversity Amazon Studios NBC police drama cancelled TV shows Creative Arts Emmys Spectrum Originals CBS Biopics Character Guide TCA A&E The Walking Dead Crunchyroll spanish language Peacock Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt RT21 name the review Trailer animated Marvel Chernobyl screen actors guild aliens The Purge Funimation SundanceTV children's TV psycho chucky biography Epix criterion reviews Travel Channel Musical CMT rotten Photos Bravo Pet Sematary YouTube Red Discovery Channel 45 Comedy technology ghosts stand-up comedy Vudu ESPN Western news American Society of Cinematographers AMC crime adventure cancelled Drama Amazon Spike true crime Trivia war Musicals Showtime MSNBC ITV FXX cooking scary movies Sci-Fi franchise Family Christmas Warner Bros. Women's History Month politics Superheroe Sundance TV LGBT Rocky Netflix zero dark thirty directors television Calendar discovery Nominations LGBTQ BBC America Valentine's Day OneApp nbcuniversal Tubi Binge Guide TV renewals Lionsgate Comedy Central DC Universe Netflix Christmas movies Disney National Geographic foreign Sneak Peek TCA Awards sag awards First Reviews Winners ABC Family Walt Disney Pictures cats twilight hist child's play Toys Mary Poppins Returns Emmys period drama CNN Fall TV El Rey Grammys Logo CW Seed ABC 2017 Turner 72 Emmy Awards Amazon Prime 21st Century Fox MCU 007 FX on Hulu Captain marvel Pixar Mary poppins Hallmark Christmas movies supernatural Pride Month quibi Schedule strong female leads serial killer The CW screenings toy story WGN Certified Fresh Columbia Pictures DC Comics Set visit cars medical drama political drama Action dceu Superheroes Apple TV+ TCM docudrama Comic Book dc revenge Sony Pictures YA latino Anna Paquin mockumentary History video on demand video IFC Arrowverse blockbuster dogs psychological thriller Countdown Adult Swim jamie lee curtis comics Paramount Network transformers Rom-Com versus doctor who Turner Classic Movies space Elton John crime drama Mystery zombie Stephen King HBO Go crossover 2020 Syfy Endgame Red Carpet a nightmare on elm street President Apple TV Plus golden globes San Diego Comic-Con Country Crackle breaking bad natural history game of thrones critics halloween Polls and Games CBS All Access Television Critics Association Pirates rotten movies we love 2019 blaxploitation festivals BBC One Avengers Baby Yoda Disney streaming service best series Horror fast and furious Winter TV richard e. Grant die hard Ghostbusters A24 comedies streaming Song of Ice and Fire book Sundance Now Mudbound