What Makes Will Ferrell’s ELF a Christmas Classic?

For many the best part of  Christmas is watching the same beloved holiday movies again, and this year we’re paying tribute to our favorites by breaking down everything that makes them an annual must-watch, from our favorite characters and moments, to all the ways they celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. In our first  Classic Christmas Movie Breakdown we’re looking at the the story of Santa’s helper who went to New York to meet his real dad,  Will Ferrell‘s Elf.

The biggest testament to  Elf‘s greatness is how quickly it became a permanent member of the Christmas movie pantheon. Directed by  Jon Favreau, the movie only came out in 2003, but it’s already entrenched as a definitive part of our yearly holiday viewing tradition. So how did it manage to do that in such a short time? It has an amazing cast, two of the best settings for any Christmas movie possible–the North Pole and New York City–and an original, expertly written script. It’s a pure delight from start to finish with one of the best Christmas characters ever at the heart of it all.

Let’s start ripping this open like a present on Christmas morning.

Does Santa appear? Is he real? 

Not only is he real, he’s played by  Ed Asner, one of the best big screen Santas ever. His half grumpy/all sweet attitude works perfectly for a jolly guy with an impossibly difficult job.

Do any magical creatures talk?

They do in the North Pole, where little critters inspired by classic ’60s animated Christmas specials talk to Buddy. The most magical–and best–is Leon the Snowman, a wise, super cool creature who gives Buddy advice in a very funny scene. Leon deserves his own animated special.

Are there any religious components?

Only if you consider being in New York at Christmas time a holy experience, so yeah kinda.

How lovable is the main character?

Buddy is arguably the single most lovable character in any Christmas movie ever. Seriously, who else is as sweet, charming, and totally innocent like him? Plus he’s probably the funniest one too.

How evil is the villain?

The main villain is Buddy’s real dad Walter, played by James Caan. He’s not really evil though, it’s that he’s lost his way when it comes to understanding what’s important in life. But even before he comes to his senses at the end of the movie–when he walks away from the movie’s minor villain, his boss at the publishing company who made him work on Christmas Eve–Walter did take Buddy into his home and look after him.

How sincere or cynical is the movie about Christmas?

This movie is all heart and it loves everything about the holiday. The stories about Santa and his workshop are real, Christmas is literally saved by the power of holiday cheer, and everyone gets a happy ending. What more could you want from a Christmas movie?

Does anyone sing? Is there a big group sing along?

Zooey Deschanel’s Jovie sings alone in the shower while Buddy secretly duets with her while sitting on the sink (it’s not nearly as creepy as it sounds in print). But the big musical moment comes at the end of the film, when Jovie works up the courage to sing in front of others because it’s the only way to power Santa’s sleigh and save the day. Everyone near Central Park joins in with her, and then TV viewers across the city start singing too. It’s sentimental without being saccharine, which is the best description for the whole movie.

What are the biggest Christmas themes?

Family and holiday cheer. Buddy meets his real dad and in the process helps his father realize that in life family is important, not work. Santa also explains to Buddy that even though he might be a human, he’s more of an elf than anyone else because of how much he loves and believes in Santa. Plus Christmas gets saved because of actual Christmas cheer brought on by singing, which powers the magic of Santa’s sleigh.

Most memorable quote?

There are a number of great lines, like when Buddy screams, “Santa’s coming! I know him!” and when he answers his father’s phone at work and says, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?”

But the nod goes to the line that comes up the most in life real life, because it’s impossible not to say, “I like to whisper too,” any time someone talks quietly near you.

Best scene?

The single most hilarious moment is when Buddy silently freaks out when he hears the intercom at the toy store, but the funniest scene is when he loses his mind because he thinks Santa is coming to the store, only to find out it’s an impostor.

Although we also love the only scene when we see Peter Dinklage, when his character Miles Finch is hired by Walter to write a new children’s book, but Buddy keeps insulting him because he sincerely thinks Miles is an elf.

Most emotional moment?

The saddest scene is when Walter tells Buddy to get out of his life and Buddy runs away, and the most powerful one is the big singalong that saves Christmas. But the most emotional moment goes to when Walter’s son Michael comes to him on Christmas Eve during the big meeting at work to tell him Buddy has run away. Walter tries to get him to leave, but Michael tells him that while Buddy cares about everyone, he only cares about himself. That’s the moment when Walter’s heart grows three sizes too big, and we’re always suckers for that moment in a Christmas movie.

And there’s no better sign a Christmas movie is a classic than the fact that even though we watch it every year, we’re still suckers for it every time.

But what do you think? Was there anything we missed? Do you disagree with any of our choices? Unwrap your thoughts under the tree in our comments section below.

Images: New Line Cinema

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