2003-11-21 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Elf’ – Little Big Man

MovieScope By Robert Snyder ‘Elf’ – Little Big Man

MovieScope By Robert Snyder
‘Elf’ – Little Big Man

On a TV talk show recently, actor James Caan said that, while shooting a movie last year, he was waiting to see some four-legged deer-like animals, which never appeared. Caan thought he was making a feature called, "Elk." In fact, he was filming, "Elf."

As uptight, tight-fisted children’s book editor Walter Hobbs, Caan seems confused. And, judging by his talk-show comment, he clearly was. So quick was he to grab a paycheck that he appears to have neglected to have  read the script or even its title. But, the confusion works to his comic advantage…in that, Walter is almost as mixed up as his long-lost son, Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell). Back in the ‘60’s, ever-inquisitive baby Buddy crawls into Santa’s sack during the Jolly One’s Christmas Eve jaunt.

Brought back at the North Pole, Claus (Ed Asner) offers the human infant as a foundling for childless Poppa Elf (Bob Newhart). All is fine until Buddy grows bigger…and bigger…and bigger.

Despite his earnest attitude to be an authentic Elf, he’s simply too human, size-wise. Off he goes to Manhattan to find real father Walter. Though married to wife Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and with pre-teen son Michael (Daniel Tay), Walter still has a soft spot buried beneath his workaholic façade for his deceased spouse and mother of the previously unknown Buddy.

Caan plays his pain much as he did as the gambling gangster obsessed with his dead wife (Sarah Jessica Parker) in "Honeymoon in Vegas." If it wasn’t for Ferrell and the New York City exteriors, he may have thought he was making the same movie.

While it’s not explained why being an adult elf makes Buddy emotionally and mentally immature, he is as sexless and childlike as Sponge Bob. Despite a few sugary moments with pretty store worker Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), Ferrell’s Saturday Night Live Spartan cheerleader is a regular Don Juan compared to Buddy.

Still, much humor is gleaned from the little big Elf’s NYC naivety. Wearing his elf outfit, he is slammed by cabs, floored by elevators and outraged by the phony Gimbels Santa. However, it is dear old Dad whom he’s after. He never misses a minute to jump up and down, screaming, "Daddy, I love you," to the perplexed Caan/Hobbs.

"Elf" is a lot of fun, if you can stomach a corny Christmas story and put up with Ferrell’s over-enthusiastic idiocy, which co-star Caan and his character seem to barely tolerate. But, Walter’s insensitivity doesn’t totally make him a Scrooge because Buddy is truly obnoxious in his own sweet way.

Is "Elf" a Christmas classic? While not another "It’s a Wonderful Life," "Elf" is sure to have more staying power than Bill Murray’s 1988 "Scrooged." It is just a matter of which Saturday Night Live alumnus best jingles your bells.

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