Elf

(2003) ** 1/2 Pg
97 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Jon Favreau. Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, Edward Asner.

In the hands of Will Ferrell, Elf beats a hackneyed script into submission and cajoles smiles and chuckles from obvious material. Parents can freely regard Elf as an essentially guiltless pleasure for the kiddie set, though other discriminating adults (especially those resistant to Ferrell's comedic charms) will want to think twice.

Ferrell plays Buddy, a human orphan who crawls into Santa's bag one night and winds up raised by elves at the North Pole. Narrating Buddy's story is his adoptive father, an elf played by the great Bob Newhart (sadly, screenwriter David Berenbaum forgot to write him any good lines); Ed Asner plays a rosy-cheeked Santa with the expected gusto. Buddy gets it in his head--once told he's human--to seek out his biological father in the great big city (New York, with its department stores product-placed).

In a brilliant stroke, director Jon Favreau (Made) cast Caan as Buddy's dad, a Scroogy children's book publisher. Caan quickly reminds us of his skillful comedic slow-burn, eventually tossing up his arms in exasperation at each of Buddy's unstoppable infractions against Caan's peace on earth. In adherance to formula, Buddy also meets a love interest (Zooey Deschanel) when he inadvertantly finds himself working in a department store, and a kid to take under his wing (Daniel Tay) when he follows his father home.

Ferrell has what may be his funniest film role, playing Buddy as an inexhaustible naïf bubbling over with exasperating good cheer and clumsy good intentions. The Saturday Night Live star's bouts of physical comedy--as well as pleasantly distracting cameos by the likes of Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, and The Station Agent's Peter Dinklage as a star children's author--spackle over the bland plot enough to keep Elf moving, until the film succumbs to overwrought third-act plot machinations. Elf may not be a Red-Ryder rifle under the tree, but it's not exactly a lump of coal in the stocking, either.

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Bluray

Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby True HD 5.1 Surround

Street date: 10/28/2008

Distributor: New Line Home Entertainment

New Line ports Elf over to Blu-ray with a feature-packed special edition preserving the Infinifilm DVD extras. The image quality, like the North Pole, isn't so hot. Digital noise reduction has "airbrushed" away some detail, resulting in a lackluster transfer that's still a step up from DVD, but not high enough to demand an upgrade for those who already own this title. The soundtrack fares better in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround that has a nice kick to it for a five-year-old comedy.

An audio commentary with director Jon Favreau and an audio commentary with actor Will Ferrell each include some light wisecracking and a high quotient of production information, though Ferrell's lightly amusing track proves more soft-spoken. A text-based Trivia Track offers facts about Christmas time and its attendant myths, as well as the movie itself. Focus Points, accessible when enabbled through an icon during playback, elaborate on the production and Christmas in bite-size video segments.

Nine mostly self-explanatory Documentaries (1:28:24 with "Play All" option) about the film and the Christmas season comprise both standard featurettes and kid-oriented ones: “Tag Along with Will Ferrell,” “Film School for Kids," “How They Made the North Pole,” “Lights Camera Puffin!” (animation and special effects), “That’s a Wrap” (post-production), “Kids on Christmas” (they say the darndest things, y'know), “Deck the Halls” (neighborhood Christmas displays), “Santa Mania,” and “Christmas in Tinseltown” (how Hollywood does up Christmas). Kids will enjoy much of this more than adults, making the disc an effective holiday babysitter.

Eight amusing Deleted/Alternate Scenes (11:30, SD) with optional commentary by Favreau are a nice bonus, as is the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (2:30, HD)..

Lastly, Elf Karaoke (4:36) serves up "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," "Deck the Halls," and "Jingle Bells" with follow-the-bouncing-ball interactivity. A Digital Copy is included on a separate DVD, downloadable for portable playback.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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