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Depending on who you ask, Jon Favreau’s Elf is either a modern festive classic to rank alongside Home Alone and A Muppet Christmas Carol, or one of the most bafflingly overrated comedies of the 21st century. Where you personally land on this will probably depend heavily on your level of tolerance for Will Ferrell, who dominates the movie so completely that the rest of the cast might as well be played by cardboard cutouts.
This is not necessarily Ferrell’s fault. He may be the closest cinematic equivalent to the experience of being jumped on by an oversized and highly excitable puppy, but in other films – Anchorman and Old School both spring to mind – he proves more than capable of sharing the spotlight with other funny people. Indeed some of his best work comes when he’s got other comic talent to bounce off – there’s a reason he keeps pairing up with John C. Reilly, and even his collaborations with Mark Wahlberg work better than they have any right to.
The problem is that while Elf is packed with talented actors, they’re given almost nothing to do, leaving Ferrell responsible for virtually all of the heavy lifting. For the first 40 or so minutes, that’s enough. But the film rapidly falls apart when it runs out of fun fish out of water set pieces and has to establish something resembling a final act. From the climactic festive sing-along to the rushed and unconvincing romance with an under-utilised Zoey Deschanel, the last 30 minutes or so feels strangely perfunctory. Elf is a good idea interpreted by a good performer, but it’s strangely lacking in authentic Christmas spirit.
Still, there are clearly enough viewers out there with a higher regard for the movie than we managed to muster, and the demands for an Elf sequel seem to grow louder with each passing year. In this week’s episode of Beyond The Box Set, we explore some options for what a follow-up might actually look like, from an oddball spin on the obligatory ‘Buddy saves Christmas’ narrative to a role reversal comedy starring one of Hollywood’s most reliable misanthropes. We think they’d both work pretty well, even if Ferrell doesn’t seem to be on board.
Let us know your thoughts on the Elf phenomena – and our sequel proposals – in the comments section below. If you enjoy the show, please find us on your preferred pod-catcher and hit subscribe to stay on top of all our latest episodes. You can follow the links at the top of this blog post or search ‘Beyond The Box Set’.
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Next week, we’ll be back with another questionable festive classic, although we might be a little harder pushed to find a defender for this one. Until then, happy listening, and never eat the yellow snow…