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Retro on Retro: Jon Favreau’s “Elf” is still terrible

In Retro on Retro, our writers offer retrospectives on retro media

This movie is terrible, and you know it.

Plot:

Directed by Jon Favreau, Elf tells the story of Buddy Hobbs (Will Ferrell), a man who’s lived his whole life in the North Pole with Santa (Ed Asner) and his elves. However, after his presence becomes too much, the elves reveal to Buddy that he is human and he needs to go back to the human world. Trouble arises when Buddy realises his human father (James Caan) is on the naughty list. Since it’s a Christmas movie, you can guess it ends happily.

The good:

Elf has some serious talent in it: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel, and Amy Sedaris. This film is stacked, and it’s directed by Favreau. It even had uncredited rewrites by Adam McKay. With these people, Elf should have been a masterpiece.

But we got what we got.

The Bad:

I hate Elf. It fundamentally isn’t good.

It preys on easy Christmas emotions and is so generic it’s painful. It just ticks all of the boxes of the barebones holiday plot: Man comes home for holidays to save the Christmas spirit, and it all ends with a happy family with a new baby.

The film is a series of easy gags and goofs that rely solely on the premise of Will Ferrell being a childish and obnoxious fish out of water. You can practically see the creative team lazily throw this film together in real time:

Oh, let’s get Ferrell to scream at a mall Santa for not being the real Santa. That’ll be soooooo funny. Let’s get a dwarf actor so we can have a sight gag of him being mistaken for an elf. Let’s have Ferrell make candy pasta, it’ll be hilarious.

Elf’s comedy is so manufactured, it’s almost as if it were produced in a lab to be received just well enough so as not to bomb. I don’t need every film to reinvent the wheel, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for films to strive for a standard beyond mediocrity.

I think nostalgia is tainting our culture’s love for Elf. It came out in 2003, making anyone who saw it in their primary school years at least 20. People in their 20s now have unprecedented access to a world’s worth of entertainment, but instead, they’re obsessed with nostalgia. Elf is just old enough to fall into the “good ol’ days” category.

Verdict:

This movie’s not good. You just miss the days when your parents weren’t divorced.

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