Elf (film)

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For other uses, see Elf (disambiguation).
Elf theatrical release poster
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jon Favreau
Produced by Jon Berg
Todd Komarnicki
Shauna Robertson
Written by David Berenbaum
Music by John Debney
Cinematography Greg Gardiner
Edited by Dan Lebental
Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions
Distributed by New Line Cinema
Release dates
  • November 7, 2003 (2003-11-07)
Running time
97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $33 million
Box office $220.4 million

Elf (stylized as elf) is a 2003 American Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau and written by David Berenbaum. It stars Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, and Zooey Deschanel. It was released in the United States on November 7, 2003 and grossed $220,443,451 worldwide. The story is about one of Santa's elves who learns of his true identity as a human and goes to New York City to meet his biological father, spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics as he goes.

The movie inspired the 2010 broadway musical Elf: The Musical and NBC's 2014 animated television special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas.


One Christmas, during a stop at an orphanage, a baby boy, captivated by the sight of a teddy bear, crawls into Santa Claus's (Ed Asner) sack of gifts while he is delivering toys on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus unknowingly takes the boy back to the North Pole, where Papa Elf volunteers to raise him. One of the elves notices the child is wearing "Little Buddy" brand diapers and concludes the boy's name is Buddy.

Buddy (Will Ferrell) grows up into physical adulthood in the North Pole and is unaware of his humanness. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) makes him his apprentice and explains that he repairs the "Kringle 3000, 500 Reindeer-Power" jet engine on Santa's sleigh, which he invented when the Christmas spirit that powers the sleigh started declining after people started to stop believing in Santa Claus, forcing him to build the engine to assist Santa. Due to his being a human in an environment designed for the North Pole elves, Buddy is uncomfortably bigger than the elves, and is unable to use the items utilized by them. His toy making skills are comparatively inferior and he is unable to keep up with the elves' high quotas, and despite the elves' assurances that he's just "special", is demoted to a demeaning job testing the toys the elves make. While working, he overhears a conversation where another elf reveals that Buddy is a human. Papa Elf reveals that Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and Susan Wells and given up for adoption, and that Walter never knew of his existence. He explains how Susan later died and that Walter now works at a children's book company in New York City. Buddy is convinced by Leon the Snowman (Leon Redbone) to go to New York City and find his father. Buddy sets out for a long trip to New York City to track down his father. Prior to leaving, Santa advises him that New York is not as innocent as Leon implies, giving him advice Buddy mostly ignores. He lastly informs him that his father, Walter, is on the naughty list.

Upon arrival at New York City, Buddy finds his father in his office in the Empire State Building. Walter Hobbs initially lets him in, despite thinking Buddy is sending him a Christmas gram but when Susan Wells is mentioned, he instead calls security on him, who advise Buddy he go to Gimbels, where the Gimbels manager (Faizon Love), mistakes him for a worker. Here, he eventually meets a woman named Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a Gimbels employee whom he falls in love with. When the department store Santa (Artie Lange) arrives that day to meet children, Buddy is shocked to discover that he is not the genuine Santa he knows, and the two scuffle after Buddy accidentally rips off the man's fake beard. He is arrested and turns himself into jail. When Walter bails Buddy out, he takes him to a pediatrician (Jon Favreau) for a DNA test to find out that he is in fact Walter's son. Once confirmed, he takes him home to meet his stepmother, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and 12-year-old half-brother named Michael (Daniel Tay). Buddy confounds the family by his childlike enthusiasm, eccentric food taste, and insistence that he actually walked from the North Pole.

Buddy befriends Michael after helping him defeat bullies in a snowball fight in Central Park, and Michael helps Buddy ask Jovie out on a date. In this time, Michael states that he does not believe Walter to be a good father, as he always prioritises his work above his family and is not always there for him. Walter, meanwhile, finds out his business is in trouble after publishing the flop "The Puppy and the Pigeon" with two missing pages, believing the price of the books to be too expensive for a reprint. Buddy gets a job in the Empire State Building mail room while going to work with Walter, who desperately tried to get rid of him because of the serious trouble he is in. Unfortunately, he accidentally becomes drunk on the first day, mistaking his coworker's whisky for syrup, and subsequently throws an outrageous party in the mail room. He goes on a date with Jovie and is able to win her over with his childlike enthusiasm. In an effort to save his company, Walter decides to hire the temperamental bestselling children's writer Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage) in search of new ideas for children's literature. After Finch arrives, Buddy enters the conference room to tell Walter about his newfound love and mistakes Finch for an elf because of his dwarfism. After becoming offended by Buddy's questions, Finch loses his temper and attacks Buddy before storming out. Enraged at Buddy for driving out his notable potential client, Walter says that he doesn't care that he is his son and yells at him to get out of his life and leave. Heartbroken, Buddy runs away.

After Buddy leaves, Walter's associates find that Finch left a notebook filled with ideas behind, thus saving his pitch. Michael finds a message Buddy left on an Etch A Sketch apologizing for ruining Walter's life and saying goodbye. He then bursts in on Walter's board meeting to frantically inform him that Buddy is gone. Realizing what he has done and convinced by Michael that he has been putting his job over his family, Walter leaves with Michael to find Buddy, despite losing his job as a result. Meanwhile, Buddy sees Santa's sleigh crash in Central Park. He finds Santa, who explains that he lost the sleigh's engine, and that the last bit of Christmas spirit had faded as well. Walter and Michael then encounter Buddy in Central Park, where Walter apologizes to Buddy for his behavior and accepts him as his son. Buddy takes them to meet Santa, who reveals to Michael that believing in him can make his sleigh fly. Michael reads Santa's list in front of TV cameras gathered outside the park, so that people all across New York City believe in him. The Central Park Rangers begin to chase his sleigh while Buddy is still trying to reattach the engine.

Jovie manages to overcome her shyness and get the sleigh back in the air by the power of Christmas spirit when she leads the crowd of people in singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" on live TV, recalling Buddy's statement; "The best way to spread Christmas cheer is to sing loud for all to hear." However, Santa is still unable to fully power the sleigh. Walter, who was mouthing the words, is convinced by Michael to overcome his lack of Christmas spirit and starts singing for real. This allows the sleigh enough power to fly higher and save Christmas. By the next Christmas, Walter starts his own publishing company with the first best-selling book released titled Elf, an account of Buddy's adventures written and illustrated by Buddy himself.

Sometime later, Buddy and Jovie are married. They have a daughter named Susie, named after Buddy's now-deceased biological mother. During the film's closure, the family visits Papa Elf at the North Pole.



Apart from snow, most of the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the film was created by Rhythm & Hues Studios.[2] The movie makes heavy use of forced perspective to make Buddy the Elf appear much larger than all the other elves. Stop motion animation was also used.[3]

Zooey Deschanel singing was not in the original script and Favreau added it when he learned she was a singer.[3] Buddy belches for twelve seconds, after drinking a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola. The belch was real, as dubbed by voice actor Maurice LaMarche.[4] A line of jack-in-the-box toys are heard emitting a "hyena laugh" sound effect that first appeared in Lady And The Tramp.[citation needed]

Elf was not entirely shot in New York City; there are several scenes shot in Vancouver, at Coquitlam, British Columbia, at Riverview Hospital.[3][5]


Box office[edit]

Elf opened at number 2 at the US box office with $31.1 million, finishing behind The Matrix Revolutions, also in its first week.[6]

The film would go on to earn a total gross of over $220 million at the box office worldwide,[7] greatly exceeding its production budget of $33 million. In the US it topped the box office on its second week of release, beating out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In the UK it ranked #2 behind Love Actually.[8]

  • Domestic: $173,398,518
  • International: $47,044,933
  • Total: $220,443,451

Critical response[edit]

The film received positive reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 84%, based on 185 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. The site's consensus reading, "A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers."[9] On Metacritic the film has a score of 64 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10]

Roger Ebert gave the film 3/4 stars.[11]


The film was nominated for 9 awards and won 2.[12]

  • 2004 ASCAP award - Top Box Office Films (John Debney)
  • 2004 Golden Trailer - Best Comedy
  • 2004 Blimp Award - Favorite Movie
  • 2004 MTV Movie Award - Best Comedic Performance (Will Ferrell)
  • 2004 PFCS Award - Best Live Action Family Film and Best Use of Previously Published or Recorded Music
  • 2004 Teen Choice Award - Choice Movie Actor (Will Ferrell) and Choice Movie - comedy
  • 2005 Golden Satellite Award - Best Youth DVD

Critics' rankings[edit]

Since its release, the film has joined the many holiday-themed films which air annually on television during the Christmas season.


Main article: Elf: The Musical

A Broadway musical based upon the film ran on Broadway during the 2010 Christmas season. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan.

The musical officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 10, 2010, after previews from November 2, 2010. The cast included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovie, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthew Gumley as Michael, Valerie Wright as Deb, Michael McCormick as Mr. Greenway, Michael Mandell as Store Manager, and George Wendt as Santa. The musical ran through to January 2, 2011.[25]



The soundtrack was released on New Line Records in November 2003 in the USA[26] and in October 2005 in the UK.[27] The soundtrack was certified Gold by the RIAA in April 2011.[28] Having sold 695,000 copies in the United States, it is the second best-selling film soundtrack/holiday album hybrid since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991, behind only The Polar Express.[29]

  1. "Pennies from Heaven" - Louis Prima
  2. "Sleigh Ride" - Ella Fitzgerald and the Frank De Vol Orchestra
  3. "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" - Lena Horne
  4. "Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus Party" - Ferrante and Teicher/Les Baxter
  5. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Leon Redbone/Zooey Deschanel
  6. "Jingle Bells" - Jim Reeves
  7. "The Nutcracker Suite" - Brian Setzer
  8. "Christmas Island" - Leon Redbone
  9. "Santa Baby" - Eartha Kitt/Henri René and His Orchestra
  10. "Winter Wonderland" - Leon Redbone
  11. "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - Eddy Arnold
  12. "Nothing from Nothing" - Billy Preston


The score to the film, composed and conducted by John Debney and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, was released by Varese Sarabande.[30]

  1. Papa Elf (1:35)
  2. Main Title (1:59)
  3. Buddy's Journey (2:38)
  4. A Stroll With Buddy (1:32)
  5. Christmas Medley (2:23)
  6. Weird Wonderland (1:34)
  7. The Frozen Battlefield (1:29)
  8. Buddy's Theme (:58)
  9. Santa's In Trouble (2:06)
  10. A Walk In The Park (1:01)
  11. Attack Of The Little People (1:15)
  12. Central Park Rangers (2:54)
  13. Working With Dad (:36)
  14. A Snowman's Advice (1:47)
  15. Showdown In The Park (3:31)
  16. Buddy And Santa Take Flight (1:15)
  17. Spaghetti And Syrup (1:36)

Home media[edit]

Elf is available on DVD, VHS, and Blu-ray, the latter of which was released on October 28, 2008. It is also available for the PlayStation Portable with Universal Media Disc.

Animated special[edit]

Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas is an hour-long stop-motion animated musical television special based on the 2003 film Elf and the Broadway musical of the same name. It stars Jim Parsons as Buddy, along with Mark Hamill as Walter, Kate Micucci as Jovie, Rachel McFarlane as Emily, and Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Greenway. Asner also reprises his role as Santa. The special was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and first aired on NBC on December 16, 2014. The special uses songs from the Broadway musical.


  1. ^ "Elf Movie - Bob Newhart Interview". Movies.about.com. 2013-12-19. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  2. ^ Stephanie Snipes CNN (2003-11-07). "CNN.com - How to create an 'Elf' - Nov. 7, 2003". Edition.cnn.com. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  3. ^ a b c Gary Susman (2013-12-24). "'Elf' at 10: Jon Favreau Reflects on Buddy's Magical Legacy | Movies News". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  4. ^ "Maurice LaMarche interview on Talk Radio Meltdown - Explanation of Buddy the Elf's belch at 21:52". Talk Radio Meltdown. Retrieved 27 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "Explanation of the sound effect". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 7-9, 2003". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Elf (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  8. ^ "Elf beats Crowe at US box office". bbc.co.uk (BBC News). 16 November 2003. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  9. ^ "Elf at Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Elf". Metacritic. 
  11. ^ Emerson, Jim (2003-11-07). "Elf Movie Review & Film Summary (2003)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  12. ^ "Elf Awards". IMDB. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  13. ^ "The 30 Best Christmas Movies Ever". empireonline.com (Bauer Consumer Media). December 2010. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  14. ^ "Merry Christmas! The best Christmas movies ever". Daily News New York. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  15. ^ "Top 10 Christmas Movies". About.com (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  16. ^ Reynolds, Simon (December 19, 2011). "Muppet Christmas Carol tops Digital Spy favourite Christmas film poll". Digital Spy (Hearst Magazines UK). Retrieved December 24, 2011. 
  17. ^ Hughes, Mark. "Elf #7 Forbes best christmas movies of all time". 
  18. ^ "Newsday Elf 7th best christmas film". 
  19. ^ "Guardian Greatest christmas movies Elf #4". HanMan. 
  20. ^ "Chicago tribune #17 elf greatest christmas film of all time". HanMan. 
  21. ^ "SFC Elf #4 Greatest christmas movie of all time". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  22. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (2011-12-26). "Entertainment Weekly Greatest xmas movies of all time Elf #4". 
  23. ^ "Elf #3 total film greatest xmas film of all time". 
  24. ^ Couch, Aaron. "Elf #6 Greatest xmas film of all time". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  25. ^ Hetrick, Adam."Beth Leavel, Mark Jacoby and George Wendt to Star in Elf – The Musical on Broadway" playbill.com, August 11, 2010
  26. ^ "Elf Soundtrack". Amazon.com. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  27. ^ "Elf Original Soundtrack". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  28. ^ "American certifications – Elf: Music from the Major Motion Picture". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  29. ^ Caulfield, Keith (December 6, 2014). "Billboard 200 Chart Moves: 'Guardians' on Cassette Cashes In". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  30. ^ "Hollywood Studio Symphony". Retrieved 1 January 2010. 

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