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 Cinema1
Release dates
  • November 7, 2003 (2003-11-07)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $33 million
Box office $220.4 million

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

The film received positive reviews from critics and earned $220.4 million worldwide on a $33 million budget. The movie inspired the 2010 broadway musical Elf: The Musical and NBC's 2014 stop-motion animated television special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas.


One Christmas Eve, 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 toys. Santa unknowingly takes the boy back to the North Pole, and when discovered, is named Buddy because of his "Little Buddy" branded diaper. Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) volunteers to raise him.

Buddy (Will Ferrell) grows up at the North Pole and is unaware of his humanity. Papa Elf makes him his apprentice and explains that he repairs the "Kringle 3000, 500 Reindeer-Power" jet engine on Santa's sleigh, which he invented in the 1960s when the Christmas spirit that powers the sleigh started declining after people began to stop believing in Santa Claus. Due to his being a human in an environment designed for elves, Buddy is uncomfortably bigger than them, and is unable to use the items utilized by them. His toy making skills are comparatively inferior, leaving Buddy behind the elves' high quotas, and despite the elves' assurances that he's just "special", is demoted to a demeaning job testing toys. Whilst working, he overhears a conversation in which one of the elves mentions that Buddy is in fact 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 travel to New York to find his father. Before leaving, Santa informs him that his father, Walter, is on the naughty list due to his greed and selfishness, much to Buddy's dismay.

Upon arriving in New York City, Buddy fails to comprehend several aspects of the human world, like crossing the street at the wrong time, chewing discarded gum from a subway banister (ignoring Santa's warning), and taking a coffee shop's claim to have the "world's best cup of coffee" literally. Eventually, he finds his father in his office in the Empire State Building. Walter initially lets him in, thinking Buddy is sending him a Christmas gram but when Buddy tells him about Susan Wells, an incredulous Walter has Buddy ejected by the security. After taking one of the guard's sarcastic suggestion to go "back to Gimbels", the store's manager (Faizon Love) mistakes him for an employee at the derelict Santa Land area. Whilst there, he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), an unenthusiastic Gimbels employee to whom he is instantly attracted too. Upon learning that Santa will be arriving the next day, Buddy stays behind after hours and spends the night giving the Santa Land a huge makeover using all sorts of merchandise from around the store. He also purchases a sensual woman's nightie because it's advertised as being "for that special someone" and attempt to give it to Walter, only for the security to confiscate it from him and throw him out again.

Back at Gimbels, Buddy is shocked to discover that the department store's Santa (Artie Lange) is not the genuine Santa that he knows. He rips off the man's fake beard in front of the children to expose him as an imposter, causing the two to get into a fight that wrecks most of the decorations. The manager jumps in to restrain the enraged Santa employee and has Buddy arrested and banned from the store. After receiving the nightie, Walter gets a call from the police about Buddy's imprisonment and, after reluctantly bailing him out, takes him to a pediatrician (Jon Favreau) for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is in fact Walter's biological son. Although Walter sees Buddy's personality as a form of insanity, the doctor convinces him into taking Buddy home to meet his stepmother, Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and 12-year-old half-brother Michael (Daniel Tay). Walter and Michael are put off by Buddy's childlike behavior, but Emily insists that they take care of him until he "recovers".

Buddy eventually befriends Michael after helping him defeat a gang of bullies in a snowball fight, and Michael encourages Buddy to ask Jovie out. Meanwhile, Walter learns from his boss Fulton Greenway (Michael Lerner) that his company is failing after publishing the flop "The Puppy and the Pigeon" with two missing pages, after Walter refused to reprint the book citing high prices. Greenway says that the next big pitch for a new book will take place on Christmas Eve and expects Walter to be there or face dismissal. The next day, after some pressure from Emily, Walter reluctantly takes Buddy to work with him and sends him down to the mailroom so he cannot be disturbed. However, he accidentally becomes drunk after mistaking a co-worker's whiskey for syrup and throws an outrageous dance party, causing the mailroom supervisor to interrupt a phone conversation between Walter, his associates Eugene and Morris (Kyle Gass and Andy Richter), and best-selling children's author Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage), whom Walter wants to hire as a last resort to save his company. Buddy goes on a date with Jovie and manages to win her over.

On Christmas Eve, Finch arrives at Walter's company and begins to share some of his suggestions for book covers, but Buddy bursts into the conference room to tell Walter about his newfound love and thinks Finch is an elf due to his dwarfism. Finch brushes it off, but becomes annoyed when Buddy asks him how he managed to leave the North Pole and if Santa knows that he is there. Finch finally loses his temper after being called an "angry elf" and attacks Buddy before storming out of the conference room. Furious that the one chance of saving his company has been ruined at the hands of Buddy and tired of putting up with his behaviour, Walter tells him that he does not care that he is an elf, that he is crazy, or that he is his son, and yells at him to get out of his life. Deeply saddened and hurt, Buddy leaves Walter's apartment after writing a message on an etch-a-sketch apologizing for ruining his family's lives.

Back at the office, Walter starts feeling extremely remorseful for yelling at Buddy and has given up hope on saving his company, when Eugene and Morris reveal they found a notebook Finch left behind in the conference room. Discovering that it is filled with excellent ideas for children's books, Walter excitedly tells them to get a storyboard ready before Greenway's arrival that night. Meanwhile, Michael finds Buddy's note, and bursts in on Walter's meeting with Greenway to frantically tell him that Buddy is gone. After Michael points out that Walter seems to care more about himself than his family, Walter asks Greenway to reschedule, but when he callously refuses, Walter and Michael tell him "up yours" before leaving. As a result, Greenway fires Walter. Buddy, while lamenting his situation, sees Santa's sleigh crash in Central Park, which attracts the attention of various news stations, the NYPD, and fellow New Yorkers. When Buddy finds Santa, he explains that the sleigh's engine had broken off, and that the last bit of Christmas spirit which powers the sleigh has faded as well. Walter and Michael find Buddy just as he locates the engine and apologizes for what he said and accepts him as his son. Buddy then takes them to meet Santa, who reveals that believing in him can make his sleigh fly. Getting an idea, Michael steals Santa's list and reads it in front of the TV cameras set up outside the park so that people all over New York City can believe in him, while the Central Park Rangers, who never forgave Santa for putting them on the naughty list, chase his sleigh as Buddy tries to reattach the engine.

Jovie, in the crowd after seeing the events on TV, overcomes her shyness and gets the sleigh back in the air by leading 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 singing 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 earnestly. This allows the sleigh to fly higher without the engine, as the Christmas Spirit has been restored. The TV cameras are unable to capture Santa's sleigh as the news lady is in shock, so the world's collective Christmas Spirit is safe.

By next Christmas, Walter has started 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 have a daughter named Susie, named after Buddy's biological mother. During the film's closure, the family visits Papa Elf at the North Pole.


Jim Carrey was originally attached to portray Buddy.[2]


Apart from snow, most of the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the film was created by Rhythm & Hues Studios.[3] The movie makes heavy use of forced perspective to exaggerate the size of Buddy the Elf compared to all the other elves. Stop motion animation was also used.[4] Zooey Deschanel singing was not in the original script and Favreau added it when he learned she was a singer.[4] 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.[5] Elf was not entirely shot in New York City; there are several scenes shot in Vancouver, at Coquitlam, British Columbia, at Riverview Hospital.[4][6]


Jon Favreau is the film's director.

On June 9, 2003, it was announced that Jon Favreau would direct a 2003 American Christmas comedy film 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 titled Elf which would be released in cinemas on November 7, 2003 in the United States. Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki and Shauna Robertson produced the film with the budget of $33 million and David Berenbaum wrote the film. It was announced that Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Michael Lerner, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Artie Lange, Peter Billingsley, Leon Redbone, Ray Harryhausen, Jon Favreau and Mark Acheson would star in the movie. New Line Cinema acquired distribution rights to the film. John Debney would compose the music for the movie. Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions co-produced the film.


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.[7] The film would go on to earn a total gross amount of $220,443,451 at the box office worldwide,[8] 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.[9]


  • 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."[10] On Metacritic the film has a score of 64 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[11] Roger Ebert gave the film 3/4 stars.[12]


The film was nominated for nine awards and won two.[13]

  • 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 - Comedy (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.

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.


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.[26]



The soundtrack was released on New Line Records in November 2003 in the USA[27] and in October 2005 in the UK.[28] The soundtrack was certified Gold by the RIAA in April 2011.[29] 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.[30]

  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.[31]

  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)

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, Rachael MacFarlane 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. ^ The film's distribution rights were transferred to Warner Bros. in 2008.


  1. ^ "Elf Movie - Bob Newhart Interview". Movies.about.com. 2013-12-19. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  2. ^ Mullins, Jenna (18 December 2014). "NEWS/ 56 Facts You May Not Know About Your Favorite Holiday Films". E! News. Retrieved 17 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Snipes, Stephanie (November 7, 2003). "How to create an 'Elf'". CNN.com (CNN). Retrieved December 25, 2015. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "Maurice LaMarche interview on Talk Radio Meltdown - Explanation of Buddy the Elf's belch at 21:52". Talk Radio Meltdown. Retrieved 27 May 2011. 
  6. ^ "Explanation of the sound effect". Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for November 7-9, 2003". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 9 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Elf (2003)". Box Office Mojo. Amazon.com. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  9. ^ "Elf beats Crowe at US box office". bbc.co.uk (BBC News). 16 November 2003. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  10. ^ "Elf at Rotten Tomatoes". Flixster Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 12, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Elf". Metacritic. 
  12. ^ Emerson, Jim (2003-11-07). "Elf Movie Review & Film Summary (2003)". Roger Ebert. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  13. ^ "Elf Awards". IMDb. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  14. ^ "The 30 Best Christmas Movies Ever". empireonline.com (Bauer Consumer Media). December 2010. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  15. ^ "Merry Christmas! The best Christmas movies ever". Daily News New York. 21 December 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  16. ^ "Top 10 Christmas Movies". About.com (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  17. ^ Reynolds, Simon (December 19, 2011). "Muppet Christmas Carol tops Digital Spy favourite Christmas film poll". Digital Spy (Hearst Magazines UK). Retrieved December 24, 2011. 
  18. ^ Hughes, Mark. "Elf #7 Forbes best christmas movies of all time". 
  19. ^ "Newsday Elf 7th best christmas film". 
  20. ^ "Guardian Greatest christmas movies Elf #4". HanMan. 
  21. ^ "Chicago tribune #17 elf greatest christmas film of all time". HanMan. 
  22. ^ "SFC Elf #4 Greatest christmas movie of all time". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  23. ^ Nashawaty, Chris (2011-12-26). "Entertainment Weekly Greatest xmas movies of all time Elf #4". 
  24. ^ "Elf #3 total film greatest xmas film of all time". 
  25. ^ Couch, Aaron. "Elf #6 Greatest xmas film of all time". The Hollywood Reporter. 
  26. ^ Hetrick, Adam."Beth Leavel, Mark Jacoby and George Wendt to Star in Elf – The Musical on Broadway" playbill.com, August 11, 2010
  27. ^ "Elf Soundtrack". Amazon.com. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  28. ^ "Elf Original Soundtrack". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 1 January 2010. 
  29. ^ "American certifications – Elf: Music from the Major Motion Picture". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  30. ^ Caulfield, Keith (December 6, 2014). "Billboard 200 Chart Moves: 'Guardians' on Cassette Cashes In". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  31. ^ "Hollywood Studio Symphony". Retrieved 1 January 2010. 

External links[edit]