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Elf is a heart warming Christmas tale starring Will Farrell as Buddy the Elf, who has never fit in with the rest of the elves living at the North Pole. Everything is too small and he often ends up hurting himself, but mostly others, because of his sheer size, and isn’t as talented at making toys as the other elves in Santa’s shop. As another Christmas approaches, he is left feeling overly depressed that he doesn’t fit in at all in at the North Pole. His father, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), giving up that Buddy will figure things out on his own after thirty years, finally reveals Buddy’s true nature to him: Papa Elf had adopted Buddy one Christmas after he was found stowed away as an infant in Santa Claus’ (Edward Asner) bag of gifts, and Buddy is actually a human living in an elves world of perpetual holiday cheer. He also reveals to Buddy that his biological father, children’s book publisher Walter (James Caan), lives down south in New York City…and Walter is on Santa’s Naughty List.

Elf: Infinifilm Edition
Determined to meet his father, wearing only the elf clothes on his back and carrying with him a childlike innocence and demeanor, Buddy travels to New York City. He knows nothing of the outside world; in fact about the only thing he does know is that his father works in the Empire State Building and he makes it his first stop. After a brief encounter with dad, who believes the whole ordeal to be a scheme or a joke, security guards show him the door and tell him to go back to the Macy’s inspired department store across the street where he belongs.  

Taking their advice, Buddy encounters the store’s holiday area and feels somewhat at home in it’s surroundings, especially after meeting department store elf Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) who quickly finds him strange but unassuming and charming. After a misunderstanding with the store Santa, Buddy relies on Walter who bails him out of jail and soon realizes that Buddy is in fact his son. Walter then takes Buddy home to meet his wife Emily and pre-teen son Michael (Mary Steenburgen and Daniel Tay), who quickly warm up to Buddy’s whimsical ways. With all of the major characters now in place, it is up to Buddy to bring some Christmas cheer and spirit to his new found friends and family, (especially the curmudgeon Walter), find his place in the world, win over the girl of his dreams and even ultimately save Christmas for all the little boys and girls.

Will Ferrell delivers a performance that is honest, sweet and naïve and makes the audience really care for Buddy and whether or not he will be accepted in either world; it is definitely one of his best and funniest performances to date and after seeing the film I cannot picture anyone else playing the role. James Caan brings exactly what you would expect from James Caan playing the film’s Scrooge and looks like he is having a great time in the process. Bob Newhart and Edward Asner are also welcome additions to the cast breathing life into Papa Elf and Santa Claus in their small, but memorable roles respectfully.  

Director Jon Favreau, who is not known for making these types of movies, keeps the action and funny bits at a good pace while allowing the characters to search their feelings and develop as the film moves along. The relationship between Jovie and Buddy is particularly well done for this type of film and comes across as real and heartfelt.  In fact, all of he actors get to shine a bit in each of their roles and make the film seem that more merry and bright.

Favreau also has the good sense to keep the special effects to a minimum, which can often happen in these types of films; they are thankfully not over done and actually serve a purpose to the story when they do appear. It is nice to see a family film rely more on character and the screenplay than a lot of razzle dazzle effects that are usually no more then filler. On a big note, the filmmakers should get a pat on the back for placing Rankin & Bass style, stop-motion characters in the film as a sort of homage to those television specials from the ‘60s and ‘70s; it works wonderfully within the context of the story.  

Elf: Infinifilm Edition
I did not catch Elf in theatres last year at this time, and I was not expecting a great film by any means as I find most recent holiday fare to be both insipid and stupid, but I am now wishing that I had caught the film during its theatrical run last season. While the story is somewhat simplistic, the film has a lot of heart and should be a perennial classic during the holiday seasons to come; it is one of the best holiday films to come out in a few years. It also has something going for it that other so-called family/holiday films ( The Grinch for example) do not have, lots of humour throughout and it is appropriate for the entire family to enjoy with a lot of jokes and slapstick for the kids and adults evenly.

Video
New Line has offered the choice between 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and a 1.33:1 pan and scan transfers on two separate discs. As most of you who frequent this site will leave the full screen for the kiddies who pout if left watching otherwise, I will focus my attention to the widescreen version of the film. While the film is full of vivid holiday colours, hues and brightly lit scenes, I found the transfer to look a bit soft or fuzzy in many areas and noticed a bit of grain from time to time, but overall the transfer is good and free of major defects (as a film released just last year should be) with edge enhancement kept to a minimum although noticeable in some scenes. New Line made a good decision in separating the two different transfers and all of the special features across two discs as the transfer would have undoubtedly suffered tremendously from the loss of valuable disc space.

Audio
The DVD offers up English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks but, although the disc is close captioned for the hearing impaired, no subtitle option is found on the disc. While the film does not contain an overly aggressive mix, as most of the audio is focused on the front speakers, the film’s audio is balanced well and suffers from no noticeable problems; the dialogue, sound effects and music can be heard evenly and in good clarity. John Debney’s score is light, fresh, full of holiday cheer and fits in very nicely within the context of the film.

Extras
New Line has given Elf the Infinifilm treatment and the two-disc set holds a lot in store for both adults and kids to enjoy. They have seemingly spread the special features across the two discs so that disc one, which contains the widescreen transfer, holds the more adult oriented special features while disc two contains special features aimed more towards the kids to go along with the full screen transfer. For those not acquainted with what exactly New Line’s Infinifilm is, when enabled from the menu it allows the viewer to watch special features during the course of the film, such as production featurettes then return to the film where you left off. The special features can also be accessed normally through the DVD’s menu system before or after watching the film.

Disc one features two commentary tracks, one featuring director Jon Favreau and the other featuring Will Farrell. While Favreau’s commentary track is adequate but not great, he does offer some nice insight into the film’s production from the director’s point of view. Farrell’s commentary does the same for the most part, but is very humorous and very enjoyable to listen to. Along with the commentary tracks, included is a ‘Fact Track’ for the film offering titbits of information about the film in the form of subtitles which are quite informative and entertaining as well.

Elf: Infinifilm Edition
Next are a series of eight deleted scenes from the film which can be viewed with or without director commentary. These scenes include a longer cut of Buddy’s life at the North Pole, which is very funny, extended bits between Buddy and Walter and an extended cut of Buddy’s run in with a violent, dwarf, children’s book author. Many of the scenes were trimmed for time and are worth viewing; the commentary accompanying them is good as well.

Also housed on disc one is a series of five featurettes totally nearly one hour in length, with the choice to play all of them without returning to the selection menu. The first, ‘Tag Along with Will Ferrell’, features Farrell as he gives some insight to how he prepares for making the movie all the way from makeup to actual scene preparation and it offers a nice look into Farrell’s approach to acting. The next featurette, ‘Film School for Kids’, serves as a documentary on the making of the film with various crew members offering up their own takes on the shooting; again, this is an enjoyable and informative piece. ‘How They Made the North Pole’ describes the process in making the North Pole set used in the film with production designer Rusty Smith and various other production team members while ‘Lights, Camera, Puffin!’ discusses the creation and use of the Rankin & Bass style animation used in the North Pole. The final featurette, ‘That’s a Wrap!’, covers the post production of the film ranging from the editing process, special effects work, scoring and all of the other work included in delivering the finished product to theatres. Whether taken separately or as a whole, the featurettes offer a unique perspective on the film making process and are some the best features of their kind to grace a DVD in some time; they are well worth at least a single viewing.

Finally rounding out the features on disc one is a text feature entitled, ‘Film Dictionary’ which gives the viewer definitions of commonly and not so commonly used terms in the film industry. Although not quite specific to this film in particular, the dictionary can come in handy to those unfamiliar which such Hollywood lingo and jargon.

Now on to disc two where the features are aimed at the younger crowd with its games ‘Fun ‘n’ Games’ section featuring several games, ‘Elf Karaoke’ and a read-a-long story book version of the film included. Also included is the same Infinifilm version of the movie, more featurettes, trailers and DVD-ROM content.

The games included within ‘Buddy’s Adventure Game’ are ‘The Race Down Mt. Icing’, ‘Elf in the City’, ‘Snowball Fight’ and ‘Fix Santa’s Sleigh’. Completing all of the games sequentially will unlock a fifth game entitled ‘Secret Elevator O Fun’. All of the games based on events from the film are squarely aimed at kids and probably won’t hold their attention for very long when compared to their Playstations or XBOXes and are even less entertaining for adults.

‘Elf Karaoke’ invites viewers to since along with a children’s choir to such holiday classics such as ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’, ‘Jingle Bells’, and ‘Deck the Halls’ all while showing clips from the film. Again, this is mainly for the little ones in the household and offers some harmless Christmas Yule tide fun. The read-a-long book transfers the film to storybook form with the option for narration by some anonymous author. The feature probably runs a bit long for most children’s attention spans and they will probably just want to watch the film again rather than read it or have it read to them anyhow.

Elf: Infinifilm Edition
There are four more featurettes to be found on disc two as well totalling nearly a half an hour in length. ‘Kids on Christmas’ features just what the title implies, viewpoints on the holiday season from kids. ‘Deck the Halls’ features everyday people decorating their homes for the Christmas and is an interesting feature documenting all the trouble and joy some go through during the season. ‘Santa Mania’ showcases some of the thousands of Santas seen all across the United States in department stores and sidewalks everywhere and ‘Christmas in Tinseltown’ goes over the history of Christmas from a Hollywood perspective. Although the four featurettes do not have necessarily anything to do with the film, they are in any case some diverting holiday curiosities.

Also included amongst the children’s features is a feature actually geared towards the grownups that focuses on the music used in the film entitled, ‘Music from Elf’. Each clip features commentary from Jon Favreau before each piece from the film as he goes into great detail as to why certain pieces were chosen. Favreau also discusses John Debney’s score and the direction that they had decided to go in for the film’s score. While this feature probably should have been placed on disc one instead, but with space constraints it is understandable why it was not, it is worth giving a look at disc two for this feature once you have exhausted disc one’s features.

The disc also includes the film’s theatrical trailer as well as trailers for other New Line and Warner Bros. family fare such as The Polar Express, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban and Secondhand Lions. A spot for The Dave Thomas Foundation, an organization founded by the late owner of the Wendy’s Classic Hamburgers fast food chain concerning adoption, is also included. I was surprised and pleased to find the spot on the disc which covers a major theme of the film.

The DVD-ROM content features yet more activities for the kids such as a feature to make your own storybook, photo and other printable activities, an image gallery and a script-to-screen feature.  Also included are the standard web links and DVD-ROM content found on most other DVDs.

Also of note is the menu system for the DVD which has to be one of the most original and interactive in a long while. The menu system resembles a child’s pop-up book, complete with pull tabs to place the characters on the menu in motion and back again. While the arrows for these tabs can be confusing at first as they seem to be cursors to view more sub-menus, you will get used to them and find yourself searching each of them out in the course of combing over all of the special features.

Elf: Infinifilm Edition
Overall
Elf is destined to one day be a heralded Christmas classic with its heart warming message of sharing holiday cheer and bonding with family. Appropriate for all ages, both adults and children alike will laugh out loud several times at the antics of Buddy the Elf as portrayed by Will Farrell, and yes, some may even shed a few tears along the way. New Line’s DVD package is exhaustively extensive and seemingly crams in everything but an actual Christmas tree with hours of value in the package. If you are looking for a holiday film that will please everyone, you mustn’t look any further than Elf, it is one great DVD set for the holiday season.


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