11/23/2010

Blu-ray Review: Elf -- Ultimate Collector's Edition [Holiday Gift Tin] (2003)



Now Available to Own 






If you took the same syllogistic “if a then b” logic and applied it to actors in a Six Philosophical Degrees of Kevin Bacon style manner, it stands to reason that Meryl Streep must be quite a fan of Will Ferrell.

Instead of dishing up a generous helping of glittering generalities while praising Ferrell's onscreen Taladega Nights love interest Amy Adams, her Doubt costar Streep went a step further to describe Adams' level of talent by acknowledging her gift for believably portraying innocence, which Streep reveals is one of the hardest characteristics to successfully carry out.


And sure enough, there's some degree of innocence that floods through the often outrageous fictitious creations that Ferrell has brought to life in movies like Anchorman, Stranger than Fiction and Step Brothers whether it's in his man-child Adam Sandler-esque personae or through the mask of ignorant arrogance his alter-egos adorn like a shield to cover up their emotional immaturity.


Yet, it's hard to argue that – more than any of his other characters and right on par with Adams' turn as an out-of-her-element princess who goes from Disney animation to live action Manhattan in Enchanted – Ferrell's role as an orphan raised among Santa's elves in the North Pole before winding up in the Big Apple in search of his biological father is his most heartfelt, innocent and guilelessly masterful portrayal yet.


The fact that Ferrell makes it look so effortless and natural is a testament to his skill since admittedly at times the role of Buddy the Elf does walk a fine line between innocence and immature idiocy and a lesser actor may have turned Buddy's naiveté into an opportunity to play it far too broadly. However, even when Ferrell does burst with energetic non sequiturs and sugar-induced jolts of hyperactivity like a kid in a candy store, we're never in doubt that his motives are sweeter than a candy cane, his heart is in the right place and it's completely within the context of the character.

Likewise, Ferrell resists the temptation to break character as well as the fourth wall even for an instant to wink knowingly at the audience in reference to the sheer ridiculousness of some of the situations that comprise director Jon Favreau's now contemporary Christmas classic. In doing so, he remains utterly genuine from start to finish, taking in the city he lived and worked in as a cast member on SNL as though he'd never been there in his entire life.


After roughly thirty years of ignoring the obvious signs that he wasn't an elf, the former orphan who as a baby crawled into the bag belonging to Santa (Ed Asner) is sent on a journey to track down his real dad (James Caan) by his loving adoptive father (Bob Newhart). Determined that a little Christmas cheer is all that his workaholic book publishing papa, Walter Hobbs needs to get off Santa's naughty list, Buddy doesn't let a little thing like Empire State Building security guards spoil his first meeting with the man who never even knew he'd fathered a son.


Needless to say, the arrival of an always cheerful thirty year old grown man wearing a green elf's uniform complete with matching tights takes Walter by complete surprise as he reluctantly gives into the wishes of his loving, thoughtful wife (Mary Steenburgen) and brings Buddy home to stay at his place with his tween son (Daniel Tay) until he adjusts to life away from the North Pole.

In a creative holiday movie lover homage to the classic Christmas feature, Miracle on 34th Street that, like Elf urges viewers to renew their childlike belief in Santa Claus and share in the true meaning of the holiday, Buddy gets work in a department store's North Pole display where his commitment to authenticity gets in the way of the store's commercial celebration.


And just like a department store aims to fit the needs of a diverse clientèle, Elf successfully manages to appeal to a wide range of viewers. An unlikely coming-of-age picture that's also effective as a fish out of water culture clash comedy, Elf is especially meaningful for children who were adopted as well as those who “feel different” than the rest whether it's anything from ethnicity to disability etc.

Additionally, it's a great crossover effort for both independent filmmaker Jon Favreau into the type of big budget blockbusters he'd eventually embrace by taking the helm of the two recent Iron Man movies along with its star who was in dire need of breaking out of the “frat pack.” Just in time for the holidays, Elf is made all shiny and new again in Warner Brother's adorable collectible tin box set.


Given a terrific high-definition transfer to Blu-ray that accentuates its slick production values and feisty musical choices that incorporate Louis Prima and actress Zooey Deschanel who would later enter the music business, the set includes a soundtrack sampler along with gift tags, a holiday stocking and picture frame along with an extra digital copy of the film to download to your portable devices.

More than just another terrific Christmas comedy, Elf reaffirms a child's need to explore their imagination and belief in Santa Claus as well as being part of a loving family unit. At the same time, it inspires genuine laughter in adults who can identify with Buddy's sincerity and his off-the-wall plight in addition to the nostalgia of the season that the film utilizes from start to finish.

When epitomized by a sugar crazed Will Ferrell who just wants to be loved, innocence never felt more hilarious or heartwarming. Now if only we could get Ferrell and Streep to star in a movie together before next season!

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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.