Elf is a 2003 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau and written by David Berenbaum. It stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Ed Asner, and Bob Newhart. It was released in the United States on November 7, 2003 by New Line Cinema. The story is about one of Santa's elves (Ferrell) who learns of his true identity as a human and goes to New York City to meet his biological father (Caan), spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics as he goes.
The film received positive reviews from critics and earned $220.4 million worldwide on a $33 million budget. The movie inspired the 2010 broadway musical Elf: The Musical and NBC's 2014 stop-motion animated television special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas.
Papa Elf tells the audience about elves and their jobs they work at. The elves' first job is making shoes while the old cobbler sleeps, much to their annoyance. Their second job is baking cookies in the tree which is very dangerous of doing it during the dry season, and their third job, which every elf likes is making toys.
One Christmas Eve, an orphaned baby boy stows away on Santa Claus's sack of toys. When discovered back at the North Pole, the baby is named "Buddy" because of the brand on his diaper and is adopted by Papa Elf.
Buddy grows up at the North Pole believing he is an elf, but due to his human size is unable to successfully perform elf tasks such as toy making. When Buddy accidentally learns that he is human, Papa Elf explains that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells, and was given up for adoption without Walter knowing of his existence. Susan later died, and Walter now works at a children's book company in New York City. Buddy decides to travel to New York to find his father, whom Santa indicates is on the naughty list due to his greed and selfishness.
Upon his arrival in New York City, he unintentionally displays his ignorance in several ways; he crosses the street at the wrong time, he chews discarded gum on the subway station's handrails (ignoring one of Santa's warnings), and he takes a coffee shop's claim to have the "world's best cup of coffee" literally. Buddy eventually finds his father's office in the Empire State Building, Walter lets him in, thinking they sent him a Christmas gram, but when Buddy tells him about Susan Wells, Walter calls security to eject him.
After taking a security guard's sarcastic suggestion to go "back to Gimbels" due to his elf outfit. Buddy explores Gimbels, where the store's manager mistakes him for an employee at the Santa Land area. Whilst there, he meets Jovie, an unenthusiastic Gimbels employee to whom he is instantly attracted. After learning that Santa Claus will be arriving the next morning, Buddy stays behind after-hours and gives the Santa Land a huge makeover using expensive merchandise from throughout the store. He also buys Walter a red sensual woman's nightie because it's advertised as being "for that special someone", but is once again ejected by security when Buddy tries to give it to him personally the next morning.
The next day at Gimbels, Buddy is appalled that the department store's Santa is not real, and a destructive brawl breaks out between the two of them after Buddy rips off the man's fake beard in front of the children to expose him as an impostor, which leads to Buddy being arrested and banned from the store. After receiving the nightie, Walter gets a call from the police and reluctantly bails him out of prison. Walter takes him to a pediatrician for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is in fact Walter's biological son. The doctor convinces him to take Buddy home to meet his stepmother, Emily, and 12-year-old half-brother, Michael. Walter and Michael are annoyed by Buddy's childlike behavior, but Emily insists that they take care of him until he "recovers".
Buddy helps Michael defeat a gang of bullies in a snowball fight, and Michael encourages Buddy to ask Jovie out. Meanwhile, Walter learns from his boss Fulton Greenway that his company is in financial trouble after publishing a book "The Puppy and the Pigeon" that flopped because two pages are missing (believing that the price of reprinting the books is too expensive). Greenway organizes a book pitch to take place on Christmas Eve, and Walter and his associates, Eugene and Morris, arrange a meeting with best-selling children's author Miles Finch in attempt to hire him.
The next day, Walter reluctantly brings Buddy to work with him after being pressured by Emily, and he sends him down to work in the mailroom to keep him out of the way. Buddy accidentally becomes drunk on a co-worker's whiskey after mistaking it for maple syrup and ends up throwing an outrageous dance party that disrupts a phone conversation between Walter and Finch. On Christmas Eve, Buddy goes on a date with Jovie and manages to win her over.
The vertically challenged Finch arrives, and is about to discuss his ideas for the cover of a children's book, when Buddy bursts into the Walter's office to tell him about his newfound love, interrupting a meeting with Finch. Buddy accidentally offends Finch, who has dwarfism, by mistaking him for an elf. Finch finally loses his temper after being called an "angry elf" and attacks Buddy before storming out of the conference room. Furious that his chance to save the company has been ruined and finally had enough, Walter disowns Buddy and yells at him to get out of his life. Deeply hurt, Buddy writes as message on an etch-a-sketch apologizing for running everyone's lives (as well as cramming 11 cookies into the VCR) and leaves Walter's apartment.
Walter begins to feel remorseful and has given up hope of saving the company, until Eugene and Morris reveal they found a notebook Finch left behind that is filled with ideas for children's books. Walter pitches ideas from the notebook to Greenway, but Michael bursts into the office and interrupts the meeting to tell Walter that Buddy has run away. He manages to convince Walter that to put his family above his job for the first time, and Walter tries to ask Greenway to reschedule the meeting. When Greenway callously refuses, Walter and Michael insult Greenway before allowing the latter to fire Walter who is walking out.
Meanwhile, Buddy, whilst lamenting on his situation, witnesses Santa's sleigh crash into Central Park, and which attracts a large crowd, the police, and the media. Buddy finds Santa, who tells him that the sleigh's engine broke off and the last bit of Christmas spirit (which powers the sleigh) on the sleigh's Clausometer is gone, meaning that he can no longer fly it unless belief in him is restored. Buddy goes off to find the engine, and runs into Walter and Michael just as he locates it. Walter apologizes to Buddy and accepts him as his son, and Buddy takes them to meet Santa. Once Santa tells them of his situation, Buddy tells Walter and Michael his plan. Michael grabs his list and reads it in front of the gathered TV news cameras outside the park so that people all over New York City can believe in him, while the Central Park Rangers, who never forgave Santa for putting them on the naughty list, chase his sleigh (Walter disguises himself as Santa Claus in an attempt to stall them, but to no avail) as Buddy tries to reattach the engine.
However, Jovie, who was standing outside of the park after seeing the event on the news, remembers what Buddy told her when they first met about how singing is the best way to spread the joy of Christmas and manages to lead the crowd into singing "Santa Claus is coming to Town" while overcoming her shyness. This raises enough Christmas spirit lift the sleigh into the air, but not enough to make it fly off. Michael discovers that the reason for this is because Walter is just mouthing the words, and encourages him to sing along. He does so, and this gives the sleigh full power allowing it to fly off into the night sky. The news camera didn't capture the sleigh on air, so that the Christmas spirit is safe.
Next Christmas, Walter has started his own independent publishing company with the first best-selling book released titled Elf, an account of Buddy's adventures written and illustrated by Buddy himself. Sometime later, Buddy and Jovie get married and have a daughter named Susie, named after Buddy's biological mother. During the film's closure, the family visits Papa Elf at the North Pole.
- Will Ferrell as Buddy Hobbs. He is the main protagonist of the film and he thinks he's a elf until he finally realizes he's a human after overhearing a conversation between two elves.
- James Caan as Walter Hobbs, Buddy's only biological father who never knew of Buddy's existence and works at Greenway Publishing in the Empire State Building. He has been on the naughty list since he became greedy and selfish.
- Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, and unenthusiastic Gimbels employee, and Buddy's love interest, later wife. Jovie doesn't like singing in front of the crowd, but she gets over it, by leading the crowd to sing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town".
- Mary Steenburgen as Emily Hobbs, Walter's current wife and Buddy's stepmother.
- Daniel Tay as Michael Hobbs, Buddy's half-brother. Michael is annoyed by Buddy at first due to his childlike behavior, but becomes softer and befriends him after the snowball fight.
- Edward Asner as Santa Claus, the main Christmas icon who delivers gifts to children on Christmas eve.
- Bob Newhart as Papa Elf, Buddy's adoptive father and the eldest of all elves.
- Faizon Love as Gimbel's manager, he makes sure his employees work on time. After the incident with Buddy and the fake Santa, he has to stand-in as the store's Santa.
- Peter Dinklage as Miles Finch, an best-selling children's book author. Because he has dwarfism, he takes offense by being mistaken for an elf.
- Amy Sedaris as Deb, Walter's secretary.
- Michael Lerner as Mr. Fulton Greenway, Walter's boss and founder of Greenway Publishing. He is the hidden main antagonist. He shows no remorse when he forces his employees to attend a meeting on Christmas Eve Night.
- Andy Richter as Morris, Walter's associate
- Kyle Gass as Eugene Dupree, Walter's associate
- Artie Lange as Gimbel's Santa, he was the store's Santa briefly until Buddy exposes him as a fake causing the two to fight. The manager pins down the enraged employee and has him replaced.
- Peter Billingsley as Ming Ming (uncredited)
- Leon Redbone (voice) as Leon the Snowman. He convinces Buddy about travelling to New York City and tells him some advices (e.g. don't eat the yellow snow)
- Ray Harryhausen (voice) as Polar Bear Cub
- Jon Favreau as Dr. Leonardo, a pediatrician who finds Buddy is Walter's biological son by giving him a DNA test.
- Jon Favreau as provides the voices of the Baby Seal, Mr. Narwhal, and the Canadian Raccoon.
- Mark Acheson as mailroom worker. He befriended Buddy when he sent down to the mailroom in order for Walter to concentrate on his work.
Despite the snow, most of the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the film was created by Rhythm & Hues Studios. The movie makes heavy use of forced perspective to exaggerate the size of Buddy compared to all the other elves. Stop motion animation was also used for the North Pole Creatures. Zooey Deschanel singing was not in the original script and Favreau added it when he soon learned she was a singer. Buddy belches for twelve seconds, after drinking a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. The belch was real, as dubbed by voice actor Maurice LaMarche. Buddy starts singing in the middle of Santa-land at Gimbel's. The lyrics were not in the script and Will Ferrell made up the entire song on the spot. Even though Buddy is an excellent gift wrapper, Will Ferrell is not and needed someone else to wrap all the gifts in the movie. The film was not entirely shot in New York City but there are several scenes shot in Vancouver, and Coquitlam, British Columbia at Riverview Hospital.
On June 9, 2003, Jon Favreau announced that he would direct a 2003 American Christmas comedy film, titled Elf, about one of Santa's elves who learns of his true identity as a human and goes to New York City to meet his biological father, spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics as he goes; which would be released in cinemas on November 7, 2003 in the United States. Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki and Shauna Robertson produced it with the budget of $33 million and David Berenbaum wrote the film. It was also announced that Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, and the other actors would star in it. New Line Cinema acquired distribution rights to it. John Debney would compose the music for it. Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions co-produced it. Jim Carrey at first was originally attached to portray Buddy in the film, but ultimately turned down the role.
Elf grossed $173.4 million in North America and $47 million in other territories for a total gross of $220.4 million, against a budget of $33 million. The film opened at number two at the US box office with $31.1 million, finishing behind The Matrix Revolutions, also in its first week. It topped the box office on its second week of release, beating out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In the UK it opened in second behind Love Actually.
On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 84% based on 188 reviews and an average rating of 7/10. The site's consensus reading, "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." On Metacritic it has a score of 64 out of 100 based on 38 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Roger Ebert gave it 3/4 stars, calling it "one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece."
The film is available on DVD, VHS, and Blu-ray, the latter of which was released on October 28, 2008. It is also available for the PlayStation Portable with Universal Media Disc.
- Main article: Elf: The Musical
A Broadway musical based upon the film ran on Broadway during the 2010 Christmas season. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan.
The musical officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 10, 2010, after previews from November 2, 2010. The cast included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovie, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthew Gumley as Michael, Valerie Wright as Deb, Michael McCormick as Mr. Greenway, Michael Mandell as Store Manager, and George Wendt as Santa. It ran through to January 2, 2011.
- Main article: Elf (soundtrack)
- Main article: Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas
- On one of the trailers of the film, The Warner Bros. Pictures logo is seen, but the studio didn't distribute the film with New Line Cinema.