One Christmas Eve, an infant crawls into Santa’s sack while the big man is visiting an orphanage, and isn’t discovered until Santa (Ed Asner) is back at the North Pole. Adopted by the Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), the baby grows into Buddy (Will Ferrell). Though Buddy does his best, he is enormously clumsy by elf standards. He decided to head off to New York City to meet his birth father (James Caan), the Scrooge-like editor of a children’s book publisher. Buddy descends on the big city with infectious naivete, and has no end of misadventures while he tries to inculcate the Christmas spirit back into his father.
This was a delightful surprise, infinitely better than the uninspiring trailers had led me to believe. Ferrell is the very incarnation of bouncing, wide-eyed, über-innocence, and his collisions with NYC realities are frequently side-splittingly funny. There are numerous extremely quotable lines, and the syrupy sentimentality that plagues most self-consciously Christmas-oriented movies is largely kept to a minimum. The forced perspective in the North Pole scenes is howlingly obvious, but the fanciful production design makes up for that flaw. The case has been made (convincingly, I think), that there have been no legitimate Christmas classics made since1983’s A Christmas Story. It is, of course, far too early to tell how Elf will stand the test of time, but its mix of sharp wit and child-like whimsy makes it a serious contender. It is also entirely fitting that Peter Billingsley, the star of A Christmas Story makes a cameo here as the head elf.
Music plays a very big role in the film, in terms of both the original score and the expected collection of Christmas standards. The sound here is big, and the music is very well served by the mix. The surround effects are pretty solid too, even in subtle ways (note how, in a generally quiet scene, when Ferrell steps into an elevator for the first time, the background noise of the Empire State Building mutters away in the rear speakers). The dialogue is perfectly clear and never overwhelmed by music or effects.
The film comes in two aspect ratios (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 fullscreen),one on each disc. The colours are extremely bright, as one would expect in a Christmas movie.The image is extremely sharp, and there is no grain. Some edge enhancement is visible, at leaston some monitors.
This is another of New Line’s Infnifilm releases, which means that the extras can be accessed either individually, or triggered when prompts appear during the course of the movie. The film’s kid-friendly appeal, which wasn’t completely apparent in the trailers, is now obvious. The Infinifilm option allows viewers to choose between two different types of features: “Beyond the Movie,” which looks at real-world issues addressed in the film; and “All-Access Pass,” which is behind-the-scenes featurettes. Disc 1 (the widescreen version) concentrates on the latter. Here you will find two commentaries, one by director John Favreau, the other by Ferrell. Both have long pauses and a tendency to state the obvious. There are 8 deleted/alternate scenes, and the behind the scenes featurettes are “Tag Along with Will Ferrell,” “Film School for Kids,” “How They Made the North Pole,” “Lights, Camera, Puffin!” and “That’s a Wrap…”. The only “Beyond the Movie” feature here is a fact tract.
Disc 2 (fullscreen) simply has the theatrical trailer and a collection of 14 musical clips introduced by Favreau as the “All-Access” features. The “Beyond the Movie” extras here are“Kids on Christmas,” “Deck the Halls” (all about Christmas decorations), “Santa Mania,” and“Christmas in Tinseltown.” There are DVD-ROM features as well, but here is where most of the extras for your viewers are to be found: a read-along storybook, karaoke for 3 carols, and four games (“The Race Down Mt. Icing,” “ Fix Santa’s Sleigh,” “Elf in the City” and “Snowball Fight”). Win them all to unlock the “Elevator O’ Fun.” These are the usual limited DVD games,and I confess that I could not get “Snowball Fight” to work properly. Maybe that’s says more about me. The menus on both discs are very elaborate, complete with detailed instructions onhow to work Infinifilm, and tabs to pull to further animate the pop-up-book look of the menu screens.
Okay, I’m a convert. I really enjoyed the film. And the extras package is pretty complete.I doubt there’ll be any reason for double-dipping here.