Not too saccharine, Elf isn’t going to change the world, but it does go a long way in spreading a healthy dose of Christmas cheer. While more ‘serious’ yuletide’ fare like It’s a Wonderful Life certainly deserves a place on the Christmas playlist, Elf too, should join the ranks.
Will Ferrell stars as Buddy Elf, who, as a baby, stows away in Santa’s sack of toys and is whisked off to the North Pole. There he is adopted by one of the elves (Bob Newhart) and raised as one of them. As he grows to human size, Buddy realizes he doesn’t fit in. Buddy decides to go to New York City to find his biological father. Walter (James Caan), is a scrooge-like businessman who needs a refresher in holiday cheer. Along with his newly found family and a cute department store “elf” (Zooey Deschanel), Buddy strives to spread Christmas cheer and find a place where he belongs.
Naïve as he is, Buddy has some memorable experiences in the big city. Decked out in full elf regalia, he redecorates every inch of Gimbel’s for a visit from Santa, attacks a ‘fake’ Santa; drinks fruit flavored perfume and has a terrifying encounter with an escalator. Walter reluctantly agrees to take his son under his wing, but the older man has a laundry list of his own issues: profits are down, pressure is mounting to pitch a hit book by Christmas Eve, and his family is disappointed that he spends every waking hour hard at work.
Elf captures the childlike joy of the Christmas spirit, making it the kind of movie that becomes a time-honored tradition. A large part of that success is due to director Jon Favreau, who made the story of Elf something the audience can relate to. While the story borrows heavily from other well-known stories (most obviously A Christmas Carol and The Ugly Duckling), Favreau brings his own visual flair to the proceedings. The North Pole feels like the North Pole because we’ve seen it presented this way so many other times. The outside of Santa’s shop looks realistic, complete with stop-motion animation creatures. While New York City contrasts with the whitewash buildings of the North Pole, it’s not the grimy, gritty New York we see depicted so often. It looks more like the New York City depicted in holiday films of past. All of this just makes people feel warm inside.
Presented in the proper 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Elf comes to 4K in a beautiful transfer that’s a notable improvement from previous Blu-ray releases. The films color palette—greens, reds, yellows etc. are well saturated and pop off the screen. The superior level of clarity and detail make everything look wonderfully realistic. Depth of field allows for scale inside and out, and smooth movement. Blacks appear deep and inky. Saturation is good. Skin tones are natural and consistent throughout. Facial features and textures look great. There are no visual artifacts. This is a must-have upgrade for fans of the film.
The lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track exploits the film’s activity well. There are moments of subwoofer engagement in the final act and directional effects in the Gimbel’s scenes to provide some level of immersion. However, most of the action remains in the front speakers. Dialogue is consistent in the front channels and doesn’t require too much compensation. Channel panning (when present) is effective.
English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are included.
The following special features have been ported over from previous Blu-ray releases.
4K UHD Disc (film and special features)
- Audio commentary with Director Jon Favreau: Favreau spends a lot of time discussing the visual effects and in-camera trickery. A few of the highlights include casting a baby girl as the pint-sized Buddy, taking cues for this childlike man-elf from the tyke, why he cast James Caan as Buddy’s pop rather than a big-name comedian, shooting with pregnant reindeer, and pointing out just how big Elf‘s finale was in the original script.
- Audio commentary with Actor Will Ferrell: Ferrell’s audio is okay. Its biggest problem is that so many of the comments he makes are covered elsewhere on this disc, and he has a tendency to narrate plot points.
Blu-ray Disc: (film and special features)
- Audio commentary with Director Jon Favreau: Same as above.
- Audio commentary with Actor Will Ferrell: Same as above.
Nine featurettes with a “Play All” option.
- Tag Along with Will Ferrell (7 min.): A camera crew follows Ferrell as he kicks off his day in hair, wardrobe, and makeup.
- Film School for Kids (21 min.): Despite the title, “Film School for Kids” doesn’t talk down to younger viewers who might be giving it a whirl. It’s a comprehensive look at the very different roles that go into putting a movie together, delving in much more depth than most making-of pieces do. This featurette grabs everyone from writers and directors all the way to video assist, dolly grips, and carpenters. Favreau also gives a sense of what the tone is like on the set.
- How They Make the North Pole (12 min.): While touching on the look of the North Pole sets and the trickiness behind tackling the forced perspective photography to make Buddy tower over the elves, this other making-of piece also gives a fist-sized chunk of the crew a chance to step in front of the camera.
- Lights, Camera, Puffin! (6 min.): The Chiodo Brothers (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) run through the stop-motion animation behind some of the critters in the North Pole, from sketching out the original concepts to working out the lighting on-set to animating their creations frame-by-frame.
- That’s a Wrap! (12 min.): The last of the behind-the-scenes featurettes takes a look at post-production.
- Kids on Christmas (6 min.): A gaggle of tyke’s field questions like who is Santa? How does the sleigh work? What was your favorite Christmas gift?
- Deck the Halls (10 min.): A few folks from one end of the country to the other show off their hyper-elaborate holiday decorations.
- Santa Mania (6 min.): Kind of along those same lines, “Santa Mania” chats up a surfin’ Santa, a costume maker stitching together some Santa suits, and the caretakers of a colossal Santa sculpture.
- Christmas in Tinseltown (7 min.): Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood, gabs about…well, Christmas in Tinseltown, focusing mostly on the annual holiday parade from its early days all the way to today.
- Fact Track: It seems to be aimed more squarely at kids, rattling off film terminology, touching on the history of the holiday, and spouting off random notes about the cast.
- Focus Points: At certain points throughout the movie, this feature will toss a bright yellow disc up on the screen. Mashing a button on the remote veers off into some behind-the-scenes material, some of which is recycled from other extras on the disc. There is some unique footage in here, though, including the crew lugging a fake sleigh and reindeer around Central Park for easy reference, a peek at Will Ferrell’s full body digital scan, a Steadicam shoot on the skating rink, and chats with some of the extras scattered throughout the movie.
- Elf Karaoke: (4 min.): This feature invites kids to sing along to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, “Deck the Halls”, and “Jingle Bells”, and it can be played with or without a cheery chorus of vocals.
- Deleted Scenes (11 min.): Eight deleted and extended scenes, including Buddy flinging around a stack of elves during a hockey game, a longer look at Buddy being tucked in for the night, a different cut of the brawl with Peter Dinklage’s smarmy writer, and a peek at a placeholder effects plate of Leon the Snowman before the stop-motion had been dropped in. Favreau offers optional commentary to explain why these eight scenes were shortened or snipped out entirely.
- Theatrical Trailer (3 min.)
- Digital HD Copy.