To me, Elf (2003) is up there with Home Alone (1990), Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) as one of the greatest Christmas films ever made, but watching it on Christmas Day whilst in New York made me appreciate it even more. As a great man once said: “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down.”
The juxtaposition of the insatiably happy Buddy (played by Will Ferrell) with the jaded and consumer driven megalopolis of ‘The Big Apple’ is absolutely impeccable. His love of Christmas seems to represent the purity, innocence and true meaning of the festive season, which is in stark contrast to elements such as: his biological father’s cynical decision to publish a Children’s book with pages missing; the corporate atmosphere in Gimbel’s department store; and the capitalist driven culture of completely unnecessary hyperbole, such as the “world’s best cup of coffee” sign:
Buddy’s happy-go-lucky outlook is predominantly down to director Jon Favreau as an auteur – as well as Will Ferrell’s irreplaceable performance, of course. Although Favreau didn’t write the original screenplay, the Elf that we see is very much his story. He told Rolling Stone‘s Gary Susman (2013) that after his first look at the script, he “wasn’t particularly interested.” However, after a second look, he began rewriting it “as though he [Buddy] grew up as an elf in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, one of those Rankin/Bass Christmas specials I grew up with.” This resulted in Buddy becoming “more innocent, and the world became more of a pastiche of the Rankin/Bass films.” It’s difficult to imagine Elf without this acknowledgement of classic Christmas entertainment heritage.
I can confirm from personal experience that New Yorkers do not like it if you recreate this scene and go round a revolving door multiple times. I can also confirm that there are plenty of places purporting to serve the world’s best cup of coffee. Which is preposterous, because the world’s best cup of coffee is in Newcastle, not New York.
Zoey Deschanel’s performance as Jovie is one of the best things about Elf. It could be said that in the scene above, she’s washing away the corporate dirt of Christmas and becoming clean, like Buddy. It could also be said that she’s just singing in the shower. That depends on how you want to interpret the symbolic codes and semiotics, but I think I’ll wait until my dissertation before beginning a post-structuralist analysis of my favourite Christmas movie.
I wonder whether Barthes would’ve enjoyed Elf?
Bra34b (2010) Elf: Baby It’s Cold Outisde. Available at: http://youtu.be/U7RMy7Vg0LU (Accessed: 4 January 2015).
Deb C (2008) Will Ferrell Loves That Door. Available at: http://youtu.be/8bAfiG7hTvM (Accessed: 4 January 2015).
Elf (2003) Directed by Jon Favreau [Film]. Los Angeles: New Line Cinema.
Home Alone (1990) Directed by Chris Columbus[Film]. Los Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Directed by George Seaton [Film]. Lost Angeles: 20th Century Fox.
PlayStarRocker (2009) LCD Soundsystem – New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. Available at: http://youtu.be/-eohHwsplvY (Accessed: 4 January 2015).
prazfighta (2006) Words Best Cup of Coffee. Available at: http://youtu.be/CUPDRnUWeBA (Accessed: 4 January 2015).
Susman, G. (2013) ‘Elf’ at 10: Jon Favreau Reflects on Buddy’s Magical Legacy. Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/elf-at-10-jon-favreau-reflects-on-buddys-magical-legacy-20131224 (Accessed: 4 January 2015).
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) Directed by Brian Henson [Film]. Burbank: Buena Vista Pictures.
Warner Bros. (2003) Elf Photo. Available at: http://www.warnerbros.com/elf (Accessed/downloaded: 4 January 2015).