15 reasons why Elf is the greatest Christmas movie of modern times
Simon Kinnear | On 01, Dec 2015Reading time: 4 mins
Everybody has their Yuletide favourites, from It’s A Wonderful Life to Die Hard. Quite right; they’re classics. But few recent films have broken through to movie fans’ all-time Christmas playlist… with one notable exception.
In only 12 years since it arrived in cinemas, Elf has become a rarer sight than seeing Santa’s sleigh on Christmas Eve: a genuine modern classic. Here are 15 reasons why:
Elf on TV Alert:
Elf is broadcast on ITV at 6.10pm on Sunday 15th December 2019, at 5.15pm on 24th December 2019 and on Christmas Day at 4.10pm.
1. Rising Star Will Ferrell
It’s easy for a has-been comedian to have a hit with a Christmas family comedy. What’s really great about Elf is that it caught Will Ferrell right at the moment he was moving from cult TV comic to movie superstar. He’s hungry for this opportunity, and – with apologies to Ron Burgundy – it’s still his greatest film, because Buddy’s alien perspective and irrepressible enthusiasm provide plentiful scope for Ferrell’s brand of non-sequitur surrealism.
2. The premise
Part of the reason Elf feels so timeless is its well-engineered collision between anarchy and conformity. Buddy’s quest has echoes of Crocodile Dundee (naïve foreigner visits New York), Big (innocent man-child visits New York) and especially The Jerk (oblivious adoptee in search of his real family visits… well, St Louis, actually, but you get the idea). Elf is easily their equal.
3. The North Pole
Kudos to the production designers for depicting Santa’s home as stylised, two-dimensional sets, just so that Ferrell can look even more ridiculous as he stomps his way around. It’s one of the most distinctive visions of the North Pole, even before we meet Leon The Snowman.
4. Jon Favreau
Favreau’s direction is defined by the same warm, laid-back vibe that defined his writing and acting in Swingers, before he hit the big-time with Iron Man. This pulls off the high-wire act between cute and schmaltzy remarkably well, finding a natural level of charm instead of hammering home the festive sentiment.
5. Directions to New York
If you ever get lost, just remember: pass through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then walk through the Lincoln Tunnel.
6. James Caan
A round of applause for casting director Susie Farris. The gruff, misanthropic Caan – a Corleone, no less – is outstanding as Buddy’s human father, Walter. He’s a good enough actor to make Walter’s gradual thawing rather moving, without ever mugging for audience affection.
7. Cinema’s best ever plan for a Christmas date
8. The Four Main Food Groups
In order: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup. Frankly, this should be the obligatory diet for everybody at Christmas, unless you’re diabetic.
9. Outing The Imposter Santa
The identity of a department store Santa has fuelled everything from Miracle On 34th Street to Bad Santa. Elf joins that pantheon for the mighty moment when Buddy goes head-to-head with the actor hired by Gimbels. “You sit on a throne of lies!”
10. Elf Language
David Berenbaum’s screenplay offers its own, oh-so-cute and ever-so-quotable language for the cotton-head ninnymoggins that is Buddy. Even the swearing suits the mood: “Son of a nutcracker!”
11. New York
…has seldom looked lovelier outside of a Woody Allen film. The date sequence with the ice skating and the giant Christmas tree is one of the most magical of Yuletide moments.
12. Angry Peter Dinklage
Years before Game Of Thrones, Peter Dinklage was the go-to guy for the self-aware, militant dwarf. (Remember ace 1990s comedy Living In Oblivion, where Dinklage has a mighty rant about movie dream sequences?) His finest such moment, though, is his cameo here as asshole author Miles Finch, getting physical when Buddy insists on calling him an elf. “He must be a South Pole elf,” Buddy muses.
13. Spaghetti with Syrup
You know you want some.
14. Zooey Deschanel singing Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
The film’s breakout star has since gone on to a successful music career as the ‘she’ in She & Him, but nothing she’s recorded has quite warmed the cockles than her performance here, from fragile solo to a rousing accompaniment from a crowd of Noo Yawkers.
15. Smiling’s My Favourite
Ultimately, the reason why Elf is the greatest Christmas movie of modern times is that it leaves you with a smile. It’s witty without being vulgar, sweet without being cloying, and as Christmassy as singing loud for all to hear.
Elf is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I rent or buy Elf online in the UK?
For more, including a full list of VOD sites, see where can I watch Elf online?