Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Christmas Movie Marathon Day 5

          I'm trying something different to get in the holiday spirit this year. Every day, from now through Christmas, I will be watching a different Christmas movie or television special. I have compiled the list of features ahead of time and am drawing one, at random, from my Christmas stocking everyday to determine what gets watched. Thank you for joining me in this endeavor. Now let's look at day 5's selection.

Elf (2003)

           Elf was released when I was in my senior year of high school, but I didn't see it until the holiday season of 2010. I'm not exactly sure why this is. At first I thought I might have been experiencing Will Ferrell burn-out, but a quick Google search reveals to me that Anchorman and the rest of his run of hit comedies came out after this. Only Old School predates it. The hard truth is I guess I must have thought myself too good for a Christmas movie in 2003. That sadly makes sense; I was not far removed from the height of my moody teenage years at that point. Regardless of why I didn't see it initially, I have enjoyed seeing it since. However, I am pretty sure I have only ever watched it on cable. This viewing marks my first time ever seeking it out specifically.


           The plot for Elf is fairly straight forward. It opens by relating how one Christmas an orphan baby managed to stow away in Santa's sack and was brought back to the North Pole. Being a sucker for babies, Santa allows the child to remain and be brought up by Papa Elf. Buddy, as the child is named, has a happy childhood and is raised as an elf, never realizing why he is so much taller, deeper voiced, and worse at making toys. Due to some overheard water cooler talk between two elves, Buddy finally is alerted to the fact that he is human at age 30. In light of this revelation and after consulting with Santa and Papa Elf, Buddy embarks to find his biological father who lives in New York. Durring his departure Santa warns Buddy not to get his hopes up too much as his father is on the naughty list.
           After a journey that pays homage to the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials (they have to be coming up at some point, don't they), Buddy arrives in New York and we are treated to a number of fish out of water scenes. Through a case of mistaken identity, Buddy ends up working at Gimbels where he meets a young woman named, Jovie. Buddy is able, after DNA testing, to convince his biological dad, Walter, that they are indeed related and Buddy ends up staying with him, his wife and his son. Buddy's Christmas spirit and general earnest and caring nature is infectious and soon everyone, other than Walter, has come to think of him as family.

Is it too late to get a movie or special starring the arctic puffin? I really would like one.

           However, after Buddy messes up a Christmas Eve story pitch meeting at Walter's job, Walter scold Buddy and tells him that he wants nothing to do with him. This sends Buddy to the streets of New York pondering how he fits in neither in the world of humans nor the world of elves. Just as he is at his lowest point, Buddy sees Santa's sleigh crash in to Central Park and he rushes there to help. Meanwhile, Walter son Michael finds the note Buddy left and heads to his dad's office to convince him to help search for Buddy. Seeing the positive effect Buddy has had on Michael, Walter realizes the mistake that he has made and heads out to find Buddy. Walter and Michael find Buddy with Santa in Central Park. Santa's sleigh's jet engine has failed and the only hope for flight is a miraculous sudden surge of Christmas spirit. While Buddy attempts repairs on the engine, Michael rushes off to the crowd gathered outside the park with Santa's list using the fact that it knows what people asked for to boost belief in Santa hoping that it will be enough to get the Sleigh of the ground. As the dreaded Central Park Rangers close in on Santa and Buddy, Jovie arrives at the crowd and leads them in impromptu Christmas carols which finally tip the level of Christmas Spirit and allow Santa and Buddy to make an airborne escape. With Christmas saved, we find Buddy and Jovie marry and have a kid, and Walter opens his own publishing house which publishes Buddy's “fictional” story.

The comparisons between the Nazgûl and the Central Park Rangers are many.

Final Thoughts

          Elf is a film that gets by on style over substance. I recognize that phrase has negative connotations but in this case it is not a bad thing. Elf's plot is pretty thin and a lot of the characters are little more that cookie cutter templates. However, what Elf has going for it is a novel concept, a human raised by elves, and an abundance of heart. This movie oozes schmaltzy charm and unadulterated Christmas cheer in a way that would be overbearing if not in the capable hands of Will Ferrell, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, et. al. If there was one thing that served to take me out of the movie at all it is the deluge of product placement. Maybe it is just me, but it seems as though at some point in the early 2000s product placement in movies got widely out of control to the point where you could be forgiven for thinking Micheal Bay had a hand in every movie produced. To this point, while seeing the elves make toys that are current and relevant rather that rocking horses and wooden toy soldiers is good, the movie often feels like an extended Etch-a-Sketch commercial. Further, I know Pop-Tarts are delicious, but I don't know many houses that keep a box out on both the kitchen counter and the kitchen table with labels pointed directly towards camera.

Have you bought an Etch-a-Sketch yet?

           In the end, these are minor nitpicks and are more emblematic of when the movie was made rather than any real deficiency with it. The earnestness of the film is enough to propel it past much of the rest of the holiday film fare one is likely to find. Overall, I am glad that I discovered this film in spite of my angsty teenage self. It has secured a place in my regular holiday rotation and, while I realize most of you saw this long before I did, I think that if you give it a chance it can find a place in yours as well. That is day 5. Hard to believe this project is already 1/6 done. Christmastime flies. See you all here tomorrow for day 6.

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