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  • Writer's pictureThomas Duncan

Elf (2003) ft. Adam Hitchcock

What is this movie is about?/Elevator Pitch: A long-lost son brings a family back together for Christmas.

Plot Summary: Buddy (Will Ferrell) is an orphan who wound up in Santa’s sack and made it all the way back to the North Pole with him. Santa’s elves take him in and raise him as one of their own. As an adult, Buddy is too large to stay with the elves, and Santa (Ed Asner) lets him to go to New York City where he sets out to find his birth father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan). However, Hobbs is on Santa’s naughty list because he’s a heartless jerk. He has no idea Buddy is his son, and treats him with distain. Rejected, Buddy moves about the city experiencing things through the eyes of an elf and causing problems wherever he goes.


  • Jon Favreau, Director

  • David Berenbaum, Writer

  • Will Ferrell as Buddy Hobbs

  • James Caan as Walter Hobbs

  • Zooey Deschanel as Jovie

  • Mary Steenburgen as Emily Hobbs

  • Bob Newhart as Papa Elf

  • Ed Asner as Santa Claus

  • Daniel Tay as Michael Hobbs

  • Faizon Love as Wanda

  • Peter Dinklage as Miles Finch

  • Amy Sedaris as Deb

  • Michael Lerner as Fulton Greenway

  • Andy Richter as Morris

  • Kyle Gass as Eugene Dupree

  • Artie Lange as the Fake Santa

  • Jon Favreau as Dr. Ben Leonardo


  • Elf was released on November 7, 2003.

  • It grossed $176.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $47.2 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $223.9 million, against a production budget of $33 million.

  • At the time of its release, Elf received widely positive reviews even from A.O. Scott (and he hates everything).

  • Elf is often ranked among the greatest Christmas films, and airs annually on television and some theaters during the holiday season. It is rated as one of the best or favorite holiday movies by these outlets:

    • Digital Spy – #3

    • Total Film#3

    • GamesRadar+ - #5

    • Entertainment Weekly#4

    • San Francisco Chronicle#4

    • The Guardian#4

    • The Hollywood Reporter#6

    • Forbes#7

    • Newsday#7

    • Empire#11

    • Chicago Tribune#17

    • New York Daily News - #23

  • The film has been also popular enough to spawn a Broadway musical, video game, and animated special.

  • Elf currently holds an 85% among critics on RT, a 64 score on Metacritic, and 3.5 out of 5 on Letterboxd.

Did You Know:

  • Several minor traffic accidents occurred when Will Ferrell walked through the Lincoln Tunnel in his costume, because people were so surprised (and distracted from their driving) to see him wearing an elf outfit.

  • The scene when Buddy eats different candies and pastries with the spaghetti noodles had to be shot twice, because Will Ferrell vomited the first time.

  • Will Ferrell suffered from headaches throughout filming, as he had to actually eat all of the sugary foodstuffs in the Elf food pyramid on camera.

  • The cotton balls Buddy eats while in the doctor's office were actually cotton candy that had not been dyed.

  • Director Jon Favreau used a remote control to trigger the Jack in the Box toys to get the startled reactions from Will Ferrell.

  • The film was able to use elements from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) freely because that film is not properly copyrighted, containing an error in the Roman numerals of its copyright notice.

  • The design for Santa's Workshop as well as the elf uniforms come from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964). The elf uniforms completely mirror the ones from the television special. Most of the animals in the North Pole are also designed to look like the same form of stop-motion animation used in Rudolph.

  • The apartment in which Buddy's dad lives is the same apartment building (exterior shot) in which Dana Barrett lived in Ghostbusters (1984).

  • The scene where the fake Santa is chasing Buddy had to be done in one take, because it was too hard to rebuild everything.

  • Wanda Sykes was originally slated to play the Gimbel's Manager but backed out at the last minute. She was replaced by Faizon Love, who insisted on still wearing the nametag made for Sykes, which is why his tag inexplicably says "Wanda."

  • Due to his policy of appearing in family friendly films Chevy Chase was briefly considered for the role of Papa Elf by director Jon Favreau. However Will Ferrell vetoed this idea because he disliked working with Chase when he returned to guest host Saturday Night Live (1975) in the mid-1990s. Ferrell said Chase was the worst host he worked with during his tenure on that show.

Best Performance: Will Ferrell (Buddy)

Best Secondary Performance: James Caan (Walter)/Jon Favreau (Director)

Most Charismatic Award: Zooey Deschanel (Jovie)/Peter Dinklage (Finch)/Bob Newhart (Papa Elf)

Best Scene:

  • The North Pole

  • Buddy in NYC

  • Christmas-Gram

  • Santa's Coming!

  • Baby, It's Cold Outside...

  • The Elf Food Groups

  • Snowball Fight

  • Mail Room

  • Miles Finch

  • Santa's Sleigh

Favorite Scene: Snowball Fight/Miles Finch

Most Indelible Moment: Miles Finch/Buddy Eating Gum from the Subway

In Memorium:

  • Ruth Madoc, 79, British actress (Hi-de-Hi!, Fiddler on the Roof, Little Britain), and singer.

  • Carl Kleinschmitt, 85, American television writer (The Dick Van Dyke Show, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C., 1st and Ten).

  • Richard Miller, 80, American visual effects artist (Star Trek, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Rocketeer). Created the iconic Princess Leia bikini in Return of the Jedi (1983).

  • Angelo Badalamenti, 85, American film and television composer (Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive), Grammy winner (1991).

  • Georgia Holt, 96, American singer and actress (Watch the Birdie, Grounds for Marriage), subject of Dear Mom, Love Cher.

  • Helen Slayton-Hughes, 92, American actress (Parks and Recreation, Crazy on the Outside, Moxie). Ethel Beavers on Parks and Recreation.

  • Stuart Margolin, 82, American actor (The Rockford Files, Death Wish, Bret Maverick), Emmy winner (1979, 1980).

  • Grant Wahl, 49, American sports journalist and executive producer (Good Rivals).

Best Lines/Funniest Lines:

Buddy: We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup.

Santa: ...And if you see a sign that says "Peep Show", that doesn't mean that they're letting you look at presents before Christmas.

Buddy: The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

Buddy: [to the racoon] Does somebody need a hug?

Emily: So, Buddy, how'd you sleep?

Buddy: Great! I got a full 40 minutes!

Buddy: [thinking Miles is an elf] Did you have to borrow a reindeer to get down here?

Miles Finch: Hey, jackweed, I get more action in a week than you've had in your entire life. I've got houses in L.A., Paris and Vail. In each one, a 70 inch plasma screen. So I suggest you wipe that stupid smile off your face before I come over there and SMACK it off! You feeling strong, my friend? Call me elf one more time.

Buddy: [after a pause] He's an angry elf.

Buddy: I thought maybe we could make ginger bread houses, and eat cookie dough, and go ice skating, and maybe even hold hands.

Walter: No, I think we should take a $30,000 bath so some kid can know what happened to a puppy and a friggin' pigeon.

Buddy: [whispering to the department store Santa] You sit on a throne of lies!

Buddy: I'm sorry that I ruined your lives and crammed eleven cookies in the VCR. I don't belong here. I don't belong anywhere. I'll never forget you. Love, Buddy.

Buddy: [as he is hit by a snowball] SON of a NUTcracker!

[excitedly enters a shop with neon sign: World's Best Cup of Coffee]

Buddy: You did it! Congratulations! "World's Best Cup of Coffee." Great job, everybody. It's great to meet you.

Santa: Well, there are some things you should know. First off, you see gum on the street, leave it there. It isn't free candy.

Buddy: I'm a cotton-headed ninny-muggins!

Eugene: [brainstorming for a new book] What about this: a tribe of asparagus children, but they're self-conscious about the way their pee smells.

Buddy: [to Jovie] I think you're really beautiful and I feel really warm when I'm around you and my tongue swells up.


Buddy: So... do you wanna eat food?

Morris: What's more vulnerable than a peach?

Mr. Narwhal: Bye Buddy, hope you find your dad.

Buddy: Thanks, Mr. Narwhal.

The Stanley Rubric:

Legacy: 8.5

Impact/Significance: 8.17

Novelty: 6.83

Classic-ness: 7.17

Rewatchability: 7.83

Audience Score: 8.4 (89% Google, 79% RT)

Total: 46.9

Remaining Questions:

  • If Santa had a soft spot for children, why didn't he raise Buddy himself or with Mrs. Claus?

  • Is this Will Ferrell's most iconic role?

  • How do the parents not believe in Santa if presents magically show up every year?

  • Have the people at the publishing house ever read a book?

  • How do Elves get protein?

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