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Buddy Elf tries to find empty spots on the tree,
where he can hang more "Christmas-y" stuff
like an Etch-A-Sketch or Nike sneaker.

Review written by: Alex Sandell

Many people are already comparing Elf to the true holiday classics.  I've heard it compared to It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and A Christmas Story.  Comparing Elf with It's a Wonderful Life is akin to comparing a Simpson's poster to the Mona Lisa.  You could do justice to the movie by comparing it with a Toys "R" Us catalog. 

Elf proves that Christmas Spirit has indeed been replaced by commercialism.  It almost seems proud to be the film that finally proves it.  The movie doesn't even give the audience a chance to breathe between product placements.  The marketing masters weren't content with the numerous placements written directly into the film's plot -- from Lego's to Etch-A-Sketch to Coca-Cola -- it needs to dress its characters in Nike hats and NFL jackets.  It needs numerous flavors of Hershey's Syrup placed on the kitchen table.  The ads are incessant, obnoxious and impossible to overlook.

I realize that product placements have become sort of the "nature of the beast."  I've even done my best to accept them.  I went as far as to stop using the "what are you selling us, here?" section featured for years on the many reviews written for this website (Elf has inspired me to bring it back to The Juicy Cerebellum).  But I don't think anyone should put up with the amount of crap they're selling us in this film. 

People pay to see these movies.  If they want ads, they can stay home and watch them for free on TV.  If filmgoers tolerate the sickening commercialism of this picture, corporate culture truly has taken over.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised in a world where teeny-boppers accept their pop hero singing the McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" song in a concert they paid a fortune to attend.  But Justin Timberlake is one thing.  This is Jon Favreau. 

What was Favreau thinking?  I didn't think I'd see him sink this low in his lifetime.  This is the guy who sits around discussing art house films with other actors, writers and directors on Dinner for Five.  He's the man who made his screenwriting debut with the hilarious relationship comedy, Swingers

If Favreau would have brought something fresh to Elf, I would have been the first to applaud him for his work.  But Elf is a film by committee.  The movie isn't Favreau's vision.  Jon Favreau is a name to slap on the credits.  He's someone to yell "ACTION!" once each of the corporations has found the best way to place their numerous products. 

He's a shill.

Elf does have some genuinely funny moments, but I doubt Favreau was needed to create a single one of them.  The reason the film works, when it works, is because of Will Ferrell.  Unfortunately, it relies too heavily on Ferrell's talents, asking him to carry the weight of the entire picture on his back.  Whenever Will's off screen, the film loses steam.  The movie is really just a Saturday Night Live skit dressed up in a snowy setting and stuck with a sappy ending. 

Sap and predictability aside, the ending still wouldn't work thanks to the laziness of the writing (David Berenbaum wrote the script).  Without being given a reason, we're asked to believe that a character who has been a huge Scrooge during the duration of the movie is suddenly happy as a clam and totally into the whole Christmas thing.  Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, we're never given any reason why this individual converts. 

No one ever took the time to develop a plot or flesh out a character.  This is a factory film.  It's all about maximizing the profit potential, while minimizing everything else.  It's odd that critics who complained about Disney's entertaining Brother Bear being formulaic are now busy applauding Disney's mediocre Elf.  You could yank out any section of this film and slap it under the word "formula" in the dictionary.  The folks behind the movie -- with possible exception made for Will Ferrell, who seems to want nothing more than to make people laugh -- aren't concerned with anything other than squeezing in a ton of products and a nifty Christmas soundtrack people can buy as a stocking stuffer. 

There's a moment in the film which lampoons the news, and how soft it has become.  The joke goes absolutely no where.  That's how everything in the film is treated.  We're led to believe that Buddy Elf (Will Ferrell) acts like he does because he's been raised by elves, but none of the other elves shown in the film act anything like Buddy.  The movie even fails as a concept.  If it wasn't for the laughs Ferrell provides, Elf would be entirely empty.  In the place of a heart, the flick has merchandising.  And that makes it anything but a holiday favorite for this critic.

But it will give your kids plenty of fun plastic items to nag for this Christmas.  And that's what it's all about, right?  Sigh.

On a scale of 1-10?


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Text (Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].