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) 85%

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)
85%

#1
Adjusted Score: 91235%
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: Buddy (Will Ferrell) was accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa's elves.... [More]
Directed By: Jon Favreau

Tag Cloud

2020 Fargo trailers Sundance TV See It Skip It Prime Video SXSW 2022 Sneak Peek Interview Sony Pictures cooking 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards natural history jurassic park a nightmare on elm street Black History Month American Society of Cinematographers NBC rt archives venice Bravo archives BET Awards 2019 award winner aliens dreamworks 71st Emmy Awards Acorn TV 4/20 international obi wan Opinion Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt politics worst movies green book dragons jamie lee curtis halloween cops YouTube Premium breaking bad reboot Netflix Christmas movies Crunchyroll Lifetime Christmas movies franchise The Academy spain legend sag awards crime lord of the rings book witnail hispanic posters name the review 2018 leaderboard scorecard Hallmark Christmas movies Columbia Pictures elevated horror Pop Extras south america Showtime Endgame cancelled TV series 1990s First Reviews universal monsters nfl X-Men action-comedy Holidays NYCC vampires Disney Channel video on demand Photos Polls and Games Superheroe 79th Golden Globes Awards FX on Hulu Action streamig Comedy Central Box Office streaming movies singing competition Marvel Studios superman Rocketman slasher BAFTA criterion casting Marathons spanish language news President 2021 Image Comics Nominations Focus Features thriller golden globe awards rt labs Baby Yoda spanish adventure 99% TIFF zombies black comedy OWN ESPN Oscar Best Actor dceu godzilla Comedy diversity Paramount Network Paramount Pictures zombie RT History Reality game of thrones basketball king kong Captain marvel football crime drama Set visit stop motion hist dc space Lucasfilm fast and furious crossover Summer TCM teaser Stephen King Mindy Kaling Marvel 20th Century Fox Mary Tyler Moore vs. ratings television Cosplay Ovation Pacific Islander NBA Ellie Kemper San Diego Comic-Con Amazon Prime Video Mary Poppins Returns Television Critics Association SDCC Binge Guide Music ghosts CW Seed LGBTQ AMC TV movies scary movies Amazon Studios Warner Bros. live event tv talk high school Winners Pirates psycho ABC Family technology strong female leads CMT Best Director Fox News Amazon Prime black Kids & Family Exclusive Video rom-coms justice league women Rock Valentine's Day Alien Sci-Fi Certified Fresh directors 72 Emmy Awards LGBT Apple TV Plus discovery Trivia romantic comedy mutant fresh Musicals Classic Film australia Super Bowl Chernobyl classics BBC America Television Academy 2015 Apple TV+ DC Comics Hear Us Out facebook YA Animation anime DGA WarnerMedia TCA Awards Spring TV Tumblr Election reviews cancelled Disney Plus BET Country Apple The Walking Dead festivals FOX latino saw foreign kids Paramount Plus children's TV blaxploitation History kong stoner historical drama docuseries Mary poppins 21st Century Fox MGM joker IMDb TV The Purge Calendar Infographic cults PaleyFest GLAAD Food Network unscripted TV cats batman Rom-Com 24 frames japan nbcuniversal animated movie Broadway HFPA cartoon Trophy Talk mob TV renewals nature E! transformers Crackle Discovery Channel richard e. Grant AMC Plus Best and Worst Nickelodeon Oscars USA Network TCA 2017 game show rotten movies we love supernatural telelvision Star Wars popular robots biography SundanceTV comics laika Shudder Lionsgate debate CBS Paramount VH1 documentaries theme song Teen royal family period drama heist movie summer preview Song of Ice and Fire sequels Podcast movies young adult 94th Oscars Hulu monster movies wonder woman documentary king arthur Travel Channel independent El Rey TCA scene in color french Biopics CNN Netflix Winter TV halloween tv werewolf Writers Guild of America critic resources 90s spy thriller Adult Swim Avengers binge canceled TV shows The Arrangement Vudu toronto Hollywood Foreign Press Association cars quibi Best Actress Ghostbusters science fiction TBS SXSW dark Disney dogs Cannes sopranos TruTV Women's History Month ITV Emmys Funimation Spike adaptation Awards Disney streaming service Legendary comic books YouTube Red Tags: Comedy films CBS All Access A24 miniseries all-time HBO ABC Signature Tomatazos Logo VOD Universal italian Character Guide Christmas The Walt Disney Company feel good book adaptation trophy cinemax blockbuster social media political drama prank hollywood concert kaiju Chilling Adventures of Sabrina HBO Go Epix BBC ABC The CW Creative Arts Emmys IFC Films sitcom series Disney+ Disney Plus docudrama MCU aapi Tubi E3 serial killer cancelled TV shows suspense parents Freeform die hard target Brie Larson Elton John japanese Thanksgiving Turner Esquire Mudbound Martial Arts slashers 73rd Emmy Awards razzies festival Holiday ViacomCBS Premiere Dates mission: impossible composers screenings new zealand dramedy screen actors guild Grammys Hallmark GoT spider-man Drama Heroines asian-american based on movie Pet Sematary summer TV preview TLC james bond comic marvel cinematic universe worst 2017 DC streaming service anthology Schedule First Look christmas movies Cartoon Network indiana jones satire Sundance Comic-Con@Home 2021 war emmy awards Film marvel comics MSNBC olympics spider-verse superhero Year in Review pirates of the caribbean Comic Book DC Universe WGN mockumentary Best Picture 2016 Starz Arrowverse Syfy comic book movies critics Neflix toy story Mystery APB what to watch remakes YouTube golden globes crime thriller hispanic heritage month sports new star wars movies TCA Winter 2020 Star Trek Britbox dexter video comedies Marvel Television Rocky Countdown South by Southwest Film Festival know your critic talk show rt labs critics edition revenge obituary Universal Pictures IFC Sundance Now live action sequel USA Anna Paquin twilight disaster true crime Instagram Live boxing comiccon Video Games Trailer Reality Competition cancelled television Watching Series stand-up comedy FXX scary 007 deadpool genre Lifetime mcc Pop TV renewed TV shows MTV Nat Geo ID boxoffice canceled VICE TV One Awards Tour hidden camera New York Comic Con new york A&E Pride Month best psychological thriller Red Carpet FX TNT Walt Disney Pictures Spectrum Originals Tarantino 93rd Oscars HBO Max Masterpiece Comics on TV National Geographic Fox Searchlight DirecTV travel Western biopic Turner Classic Movies streaming blockbusters art house gangster BBC One child's play Emmy Nominations Pixar Toys Horror indie chucky summer TV RT21 doctor who The Witch PlayStation OneApp Peacock Academy Awards Musical Dark Horse Comics Superheroes zero dark thirty medical drama Wes Anderson versus Quiz free movies harry potter police drama Black Mirror Film Festival Tokyo Olympics GIFs Family comic book movie Fantasy Shondaland TV Land Fall TV Amazon finale 45 spinoff rotten PBS adenture romance