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Elf **1/2
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Starring Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan
Directed by Jon Favreau

"I like whispering too."

     Elf, the new holiday film, will cement Will Ferrell into the public's consciousness.  He runs the show as a grown up human who was raised as an elf at the North Pole.  Laughs ensue, but there wouldn't have been nearly so many had it not been for Ferrell's deft handling of a comic character set to become a favorite.
     Elf centers its story around Buddy (Ferrell), a human who, as we learn through his adopted parent Papa Elf's (Bob Newhart) opening monologue, was brought to the North Pole as an infant by mistake one Christmas eve.  Papa Elf, an elf who never got to settle down and have elves of his own took him in and raised him as his own. He grew up and soon stuck out as different to all the other elves.  Papa Elf decided it was time to tell him what he knew about his past. 
     It seems as though Buddy has a biological father in New York city that never knew Buddy existed.  The news thrills Buddy and before long he's off to New York to meet his father and spread Christmas cheer.  What follows in a mostly funny exercise in fish-out-of-water storytelling.
     Buddy has spent his entire life living the elf life characterized by its stark contrast to normal American life and even bigger contrast to New York life.  Get it?  He won't always understand things.  Ha Ha Ha Ha. 
     That's about the size of the humor.  The gags don't come until he reaches New York.  Once they hit, they don't let up until the candy coated ending.
     There isn't a lot of substance to the story, but it does have its moments.  And those moments come courtesy of Will Ferrell.  He goes for broke, always playing the character to the hilt.  Buddy provides us with some great lines that are sure to find their way into pop culture for years to come.
     The direction from Jon Favreau isn't anything special, but it does its job fine.  We get taken from one end of the story to the other, but not much more occurs.  He doesn't try anything new.  We've seen all of it before.  He does show a clever ability to bring humor to scenes that might have played flat under other's direction.  Still, he's directing Ferrell, so getting laughs couldn't have been too tough for the guy.
     Zooey Deschanel is a sassy girl if I've ever seen one (and I have).  She has proven this in films like The Good Girl and Almost Famous.  But she's not sassy here.  She's just bitter.  Trust me, there's a difference.  I know the movie isn't necessarily going for reality, but I couldn't see what her character, Jovie, would see in Buddy that would possess her to start a romance with him.  Sure, he's lovable, but he's also quite juvenile.  I hear all the time from girls how they want mature men.  Buddy certainly wouldn't fall under that category.
     Yes, that complaint was petty, but my biggest one is not.  The film is corny.  Any film that takes a group of random New Yorkers and has them join together in the singing of a Christmas carol is corny. 
     All the talk about Christmas Spirit got on my nerves as well.  Now, I'm no Scrooge, but I do prefer Santa Claus not being seen as the symbol of Christmas.  All will be lost if we don't believe in Santa.  I'd be afraid, but I'm just not able to be.  It's possible to have a movie that plays up the fantasy world that includes elves, but the idea that Christmas has nothing to do with Jesus' birth makes me mad.  And it's for kids.  Ask kids what they've learned after seeing the movie and you might be startled to see that they've forgotten the most important thing about Christmas.  You know what I'm talking about.
     While my faith creates a bias against the film, I can see value in Will Ferrell's hilarious antics and some clean family fun for the holidays.  But the film does get too cutesy at times and it would have been better served by treating kids like the smart human beings they can be.  The film did just that for about two-thirds of its duration before falling prey to crusty cheesiness.



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