2003 Certificate: pg


Winningly daft comedy starring Will Ferrell as Buddy, a human who is raised as an elf at the North Pole but, having outgrown his surroundings, returns to New York to find his true identity. Unfortunately, Dad (James Caan) is a greedy children's book publisher who's landed himself on Santa's "naughty list". Zooey Deschanel is the shop assistant who becomes Buddy's little helper while Peter Dinklage is at his scene-stealing best as an arrogant author.


  • Jon Favreau


  • Will Ferrell

  • Zooey Deschanel

  • James Caan

  • Bob Newhart

  • Mary Steenburgen

  • Ed Asner


It would surely be a case for the social services if the news got out that a baby orphan was being raised by children with stuck-on whiskers in an icy sweat shop.

But this is exactly what happens one Christmas Eve when little Buddy crawls out of his orphanage cot and into Santa's bag of toys.

Whisked back to the North Pole, he is adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart, looking distinctly abashed in a felt hat, green tunic and yellow tights) and put to work in the toy workshop.

Gradually it dawns on even the dim Buddy (Ferrell) that he is not as other elves - he's about three times the size for a start.

When he elects to know the truth, he finds that his dad, unaware of his existence, is living in New York but his mum died shortly after his birth.

To make matters worse, his dad is on Santa's "naughty list" for pulling stunts like knowingly publishing children's books with two pages missing.

And his long, lost brother Michael doesn't believe in Santa or elves. In fact, it seems Manhattan is a place where everyone has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas.

Over time, Elf has won a legion of fans; like a big, dopey puppy it aims to lick you into submission.

So while Ferrell's oafish elf irritates more than endears, his general enthusiasm and sly delivery of the odd killer line ("You sit on a throne of lies" he hisses at a department store Santa) ensure even the harshest critics will make it the necessary allowances. It is for Christmas, after all.

Favreau, who made his directorial debut with the overlooked Made, doesn't really bring any of the strengths of that or his writing debut Swingers to the children's party.

It's not that it's particularly bad, just numbingly average and the sort of made-for-TV you'd watch slumped on the sofa after Christmas lunch.

There's a token effort at amusing the grown-ups - a snowman warns Buddy not to eat "yellow snow" - but the rest of it pretty much Tom Hanks's Big warmed over.

Zooey Deschanel is wasted as Buddy's love interest and Ferrell's oafish elf irritates more than endears - you find yourself smirking when he's hit by a yellow cab.

Like a cheap Christmas cracker, it does everything that's expected of it but without much conviction.