Elf: Infinifilm Edition

Will Ferrell, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Edward Asner, Zooey Deschanel, Andy Richter, Bob Newhart, Peter Dinklage, Faizon Love, Daniel Tay, Amy Sedaris, Kyle Gass. Directed by Jon Favreau. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic). Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo. 95 minutes. 2004. New Line N7168. PG. $29.95.

Picture ***
Sound ***
Film ***

Christmas now has an odd association with misfits, largely due to the masterful Rankin-Bass TV specials Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Island of Misfit Toys. Elf not only pays tribute to those Christmas classics by including narrator Leon the Snowman (Leon Redbone), a spoof on Burl Ives' Sam the Snowman in the Rankin-Bass classics, but also borrows heavily from the plotline of Misfit Toys, in which an elf leaves Santa's Workshop to find himself.

Like that earlier elf, Buddy (Will Ferrell) doesn't fit in—literally—at Santa's Workshop: he's simply too big. He's actually a human being who was adopted as an infant by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). Buddy doesn't know he's not an elf; he thinks he's just "special." Eventually, Papa Elf tells Buddy about his heritage, and Buddy goes off to the big city to look for his real dad.

If the idea of Will Ferrell in green tights and elf costume isn't enough to make you want to watch Elf, let me tell you that the film is not only quite funny, but a sweet movie that's also appropriate for kids. Not some contrived holiday product in the style of The Santa Clause 2 or Jingle All the Way, it blends humor with feeling without going over the top with the warm fuzzies—except maybe at the end, when the entire city of New York sings Christmas carols in unison.

The casting is brilliant. Envision the towering Ferrell sitting on Newhart's lap. James Caan, as Buddy's money-hungry biological father, reminds me of his role in Bottlerocket, where he played another devious but comic character. And let's not forget Peter Dinklage, the dwarf in Station Agent, who here plays an egocentric writer who takes issue with Buddy calling him an "elf"—which, of course, is what Buddy thinks he is.

Extras include amusing deleted scenes, additional footage, somewhat superficial featurettes on a variety of subjects (such as the making of the North Pole), audio commentary by Ferrell and director John Favreau, and interactive features, such as karaoke and "Buddy's Adventure Game." You can also use New Line's Infinifilm feature to access the screenplay while watching the film.

The sound is standard stuff, nothing jumping out as being particularly noteworthy. The dialog is clear, and the surrounds contain mostly ambient effects, such as cars whizzing by on the streets of New York. The 1.85:1 image looks great, with no noticeable artifacts. The scenes at the beginning of the film are especially nice; the bright, bold colors of Santa and his elves in their workshop really pop.

But Elf isn't something you'll use to show off your system to your buddies on Christmas Eve. Rather, it's a surprisingly funny holiday film that you can watch with your family without fear of disappointment. Get out the eggnog.—KR