Elf brings holiday cheer

Will Ferrell fans who go into Elf expecting “Frank the Tank” antics will be disappointed. The movie should not be discounted because of it’s kiddie appeal though — Ferrell is warm and funny as Buddy, a man raised by one of Santa’s elves (Bob Newhart).

When Buddy gets too big for the elf-sized North Pole and learns about his human heritage, he sets off to find his long-lost father, played by James Caan.

In a classic X-mas formula story (think The Santa Clause and Prancer) with a twist, Buddy’s dad doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and it’s up to Buddy’s undaunting cheer and affection to change his mind.

Elf takes this old story and puts a clever spin on it, and not just by making the believer in this tale one of Santa’s own.

The film is filled with absurd moments and tributes to the pop culture of Christmas. A claymation snowman offers Buddy advice, and friendly polar creatures (such as “Mr. Narwhal”) bid him farewell when he begins his journey to New York City. The North Pole scene is fantastic fun: between Buddy squeezing around the minature surroundings, colorful costumes, and a snow globe-esque set, the mood is set for the whole film: shmaltzy, funny and good-natured. Once in New York, Buddy attempts visit his father’s office but winds up being escorted out by security.

Buddy finds work in Gimbel’s department store as an elf (surprise), where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a pretty girl with a beautiful voice. When the two first meet, Buddy sings-songs such as: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud, for all to hear!”

This sort of behavior seems odd at first, but when Buddy takes Jovie around New York she gets to see through his naiveté (Buddy manages to incorporate the Lincoln Tunnel into his fairy tales), melting like a marshmallow in cocoa.

Buddy’s main antagonist, however, is his father. Buddy’s dad is on the verge of losing his job and trying to come to terms with the fact that Buddy believes he’s an elf, all the while neglecting Michael (Daniel Tay), Buddy’s brother. Will Buddy win his father over? Will Buddy’s father finally see that it’s wrong to choose a career over the people you love? Will Buddy single-handedly renew his father’s faith in the man in red?

The answers are obvious. However, in Elf, no matter how predictable the end seems, it’s the ride that’s worthwhile.

The cast of the film is nearly flawless. The exception is Caan, who seems to alternate between overacting and disinterest.

While the others have fun in their roles, Caan makes the mistake of taking himself too seriously, a dangerous move in any family film, and particularly a Christmas one.

Ferrell is the star here, and not just in the sense that he gets top billing. He radiates charm and charisma as Buddy, propelling the movie forward with an infectious spirit. However, there are timeswhen he overshadows his castmates.

At times, the sugary syrup in this movie threatens to induce cavities, and not just for Buddy, who douses everything in the stuff.

The confectionary is countered through off-the-wall moments, such as a group of villains known as “The Central Park Rangers.”

This movie is everything it sets out to be: simple and sweet, but also humorous and slightly edgy.

Die-hard Scrooges will scoff, but can’t get much better than this for holiday family fare.