November 7th marks the 20th anniversary of one of the best Christmas movies ever made, Elf. Since its release, the Will Ferrell-led flick has become a holiday staple for so many people. I know it doesn’t feel like the holidays until I’ve watched Buddy the Elf frolic through New York City, narrowly avoiding yellow cabs.
Jon Favreau's yuletide romp is one of the few modern Christmas movies that has truly cemented itself as a classic. And that's an impressive feat, given that so many new holiday movies are released every year. For the most part, the flick has aged fairly well (though one of CinemaBlend's own writers raised some sobering questions about it). Nevertheless, it holds up better than some other holiday movies like Love, Actually that haven't aged well. With Elf turning 20, this is the perfect time to take a look at why exactly it's still one of the best holiday films even after all these years.
It’s Not Just A Christmas Movie, It's Also A Romantic Comedy
The Hallmark Channel seems to have the romantic holiday movie market on lockdown (and its imminent Countdown to Christmas slate is an annual treat). But its not the only entertainment entity that can create heartwarming and festive fare. When you think about it, Elf actually could be defined as a Christmas romantic comedy, thanks to the relationship between Buddy and Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). I don't know about you, but I definitely think it fits the bill.
The character's relationship checks all the boxes when it comes to rom-coms. Buddy and Jovie have an electric meet-cute that takes place at Gimbels department store, where she's decorating a tree. They personify the grumpy/sunshine trope, thanks to Jovie's cynical outlook and Buddy’s enthusiasm for just about anything -- including spinning doors and random cups of coffee. And ultimately, they help each other become better people by the end of the movie.
Though their romance isn’t at the center of the story, it does add an extra layer of depth that so many other holiday classics lack. All in all, their love story is one of the reasons why I hit play year after year.
The Movie Puts A Lot Of Positive Emphasis On Family
When it comes to families in holiday-centric motion pictures, things are usually chaotic and messy. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is all about familial ties, yet the Griswolds and their clan spend much of their time arguing. Home Alone, meanwhile, has to send an entire brood to a different country for Kevin to realize how lucky he is. And The Santa Clause features a messy custody battle that leaves both parties miserable for a stretch. It’s so rare to see a holiday movie focus on the positive parts of the family, which is why Jon Favreau's film deserves its spot on every list of best Xmas movies.
Sure, Elf has its fair share of troubles regarding relatives. For instance, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) never thought to tell Buddy he was adopted, and Walter (James Caan) is extremely hesitant about welcoming him into his family. But, by the end, family is what saves them all. It’s Buddy’s presence that helps Walter realize how much he’s been prioritizing work over his relationship with his other son, Michael (Daniel Tay).
The 2003 comedy is also a great holiday movie that shows that families come in all shapes and sizes. Even though Buddy reconnects with his biological father, he never loses the love and adoration he has for Papa Elf, who raised him. At the end of the day, you can never have too much of this kind of love!
Elf Pays Homage To Several Holiday Classics
An underrated element of the movie that so many people miss is how much it pays homage to other classics from the genre. Case in point, Buddy’s costume is nearly identical to the clothes worn by the elves in the animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.
In fact, the costumes were so similar that the production almost didn’t happen because lawyers were concerned about potential lawsuits. (Anyone with an active Netflix subscription can check out Season 3, Episode 8 of the docuseries The Movies That Made Us for more BTS Elf facts.) Both the Jon Favreau-helmed movie and the Rankin/Bass Rudolph special also feature talking, wise snowmen that are eerily similar to each other.
The film also has a very special cameo that some may have overlooked, largely because he goes uncredited in the actual film. Ming Ming, the head elf at Santa’s workshop, is played by Peter Billingsley, a.k.a. Ralphie from A Christmas Story. It’s a special nod for fans of the genre, and it always puts a smile on my face.
The Jokes Are Still Hilarious As Hilarious As The Were 20 Years Ago
Yes, the David Berenbaum-penned flick may tell a great romantic and familial love story. However, at the end of the day, the reason it’s arguably so beloved by so many is because it’s incredibly hilarious. I’ve seen the movie enough times to quote it in its entirety, and yet I still laugh at so many gags, even though I know they’re coming.
Comedy is subjective, but many can probably all agree that this movie absolutely knocks it out of the park. There’s just something for everyone to laugh at here. Do you like physical comedy? Great, then you'll love when Buddy gets hit by a taxi or wrestles with a mall Santa. And the dialogue contributes to a considerable amount of the humor as well. One instance of that would be the scene in which Walter finds out Buddy cut down a Central Park tree. There are also plenty of goofy antics that’ll have you clutching your stomach.
Sometimes that always stands out to me is that this production doesn't use utilize verbal and physical comedy. It also uses set design to get laughs out of audiences. So many of the jokes in the first act hit because Buddy is so much larger than the set pieces he’s interacting with. That's a testament to the hardworking designers.
This Story Absolutely Nails The True Nature Of Christmas Spirit
In recent years, a theme of so many Christmas movies has been the idea that the holiday spirit is waning, which affects how Santa Claus gets around. It’s common because it works, but the resolutions often feel cheap. However, the team behind Elf absolutely nails how to pull off and solve the conflict in a refreshingly heartwarming way.
While Buddy struggles to get acclimated in New York City, he unknowingly passes his elf wisdom on to everyone he interacts with. At the climax of the movie, Michael, Jovie and so many other characters we met along the way come together to sing Christmas songs to spread the cheer and help Santa’s sleigh fly. It’s at that moment that a major theme is conveyed -- Christmas is all about being there for one another and believing in each other.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely want to rewatch Elf now. In celebration 20th anniversary, the movie is being re-released in theaters starting November 17th. If you don’t want to wait that long though, grab a Max subscription and stream it now. Also, keep an eye on our 2023 Christmas movie schedule so you remain in the know new holiday movies.