Elf (Ultimate Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]

Actors: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner
Format: AC-3, Collector's Edition, Dolby, Dubbed, Full Screen, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: Cantonese, Chinese, English, French, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: New Line Home Video
DVD Release Date: October 26, 2010
Run Time: 95 minutes


Let it be known that close members of my household have banished me to a permanent spot on the naughty list for not enjoying Elf as much as a lot of people do. Jon Favreau’s holiday farce about a human orphan raised by elves in Santa’s workshop holds its share of charms, or so I am assured. Most of them, unfortunately, have been lost on me.

The troubles begin with the obvious fish-out-of-water plot, in which Will Ferrell’s naïve Buddy makes his way to New York City in search of his real father (James Caan). There, his sunny nature ride smack-dab into the cynical, exhausted real world: too concerned with real life to remember the magic of Christmas. Along the way, he inadvertently woos a pretty shop girl (Zooey Deschanel) , offends a big-time little person (Peter Dinklage) and rescues the true meaning of Christmas in some manner whose specifics continue to elude me.

That’s to be expected, since Elf rarely concerns itself with specifics. Instead, it relies on the contrast between happy Buddy and sour rest-of-the-world to pull it along. Ferrell is smart enough to play his character straight, rather than winking at the camera. When accompanied by his usual flailing pratfalls, his earnest enthusiasm sells us on the basic premise, which might otherwise succumb to Hollywood contrivance. For those in tune with his shtick, that’s more than enough: you can watch him bumble his way around the Big Apple, depants a few straight men and fill several thousand surly Scrooges with a little holiday joy, and count the experience as worthwhile.

Unfortunately, Elf leans on that crutch far too often to give us anything else worthwhile. The flimsy structure wobbles from one notion to another without any real purpose. Early scenes send up those old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials, only to be abandoned in the latter half of the film in a move which feels disjointed and incomplete. Would-be antagonists come and go, but never find much traction, as Caan’s father slowly warms and the various other folks thrown in Buddy’s way either vanish outright or quickly succumb to his sparkling smile. That leads to an awkward climax involving the Central Park Rangers of all people, who show up out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly.

The results leave Elf amorphous and ill-formed, relying solely on the strength of the gags to win the day. Ed Asner lends some help as a streetwise Santa Claus, but Deschanel seems completely at sea and Bob Newhart does little as Buddy’s elf father. Favreau has strong comedic instincts, and as an extended series of Christmas sketches, Elf could be a lot worse. The trouble comes for those of us who expect something less breezy in our holiday entertainment, or for whom Farrell’s charms prove insufficient.

THE DISC: Warners tries to make this collector’s tin look more impressive than it is. The Blu-ray itself offers the same audio/video quality as the DVD, and most of the goodies in the tin (such as an Elf stocking and a series of Christmas stickers) are utterly disposable. It does include a nice CD of music from the film, however, and the bonus features on the Blu-ray hold their share of interest. They include some funny deleted scenes, an eclectic mix of featurettes, a karaoke sing-along (with and without lyrics) and audio commentary from both Favreau and Farrell. The former proves much more interesting: Favreau makes a number of insightful observations, while Farrell merely reiterates key storyline points.

WORTH IT? You might be better served with the basic Blu-ray, devoid of any extras. It will save you some money and you won’t miss much. Big-time fans of the film should enjoy the tin set, however.

RECOMMENDATION: Elf makes for reliable (if unchallenging) family entertainment, and Farrell’s fans should enjoy it. Others may prefer a Christmas film with a little more heft.

- Rob Vaux



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