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The classic Christmas comedy Elf was released 20 years ago this week, folks, which means it’s time to look back and reflect on all the great things about this amazing Jon Favreau/Will Ferrell comedy. Specifically, our favorite scenes/moments that make us laugh out loud each holiday season. Read — you love to read; reading is your favorite!
Jack in the Box
Elf is at its best when it focuses on Buddy’s bizarre plight — he’s a human who thinks he’s an elf due to growing up in the North Pole. The first act sees him attempting to keep up with his sugar-eating workmates and finding ways to contribute to Santa’s toy-making operation. In one sequence, he takes a gig testing jack-in-the-boxes, a task that freaks him out each time. The situation is so silly, and Ferrell’s reactions are so genuine that you can’t help but laugh at the poor guy’s predicament.
Later, when he learns about his human origins, Buddy decides to visit New York to find his real father. En route, he bids farewell to the “arctic puppets” lingering around Santa’s workshop — a clear homage to those creepy stop-motion animated TV specials from the 1960s. After saying goodbye to a walrus, penguin, and polar bear, Buddy hops on a floating piece of ice and begins to sail away. Bubbles form around him, the music grows ominous, and a giant creature emerges from the water. Even Buddy looks alarmed, but then the massive creature — a narwhal — smiles, waves a fin, and exclaims, “Bye, Buddy, I hope you find your dad.” One of the biggest, most unexpected laughs of the entire film.
New York Montage
Once Buddy arrives in New York, he’s essentially a fish out of water discovering a world he never knew existed. Favreau presents extended montages of Buddy running around the city where he eats gum off the street, takes the time to congratulate a diner for serving the world’s best cup of coffee, gets into a precarious situation on an escalator, and points out the enormity of bathrooms. These simple beats — most of which were improvised on the spot — add to the film’s charm and really give Ferrell plenty of opportunity to show off his quirky sense of humor.
Taxi Cab Collision
The beat that always leaves me in stitches is the taxi cab collision. Ostensibly a transition sequence, the brief moment occurs when Buddy heads from his father’s office to Gimbels department store. This requires him to cross a busy intersection. Being an elf, he has no concept of crosswalks or street signs and makes his way into the road without checking for oncoming traffic. Naturally, a taxi cab slams into him, hitting the poor elf hard enough to knock him off his feet. What makes this bit work so well is how it happens so unexpectedly. There’s zero buildup to the gag — it’s shocking enough to make one jump in their seats. Even the music on the soundtrack stops abruptly. It’s brilliant.
Smiling is My Favorite
Once Buddy settles down in Gimbels, he’s confronted by a store manager who mistakes him for an employee. The two engage in banter regarding the North Pole, and the annoyed manager eventually asks Buddy why he’s smiling. “I just like to smile; smiling is my favorite.” Thus, a billion t-shirts, coffee mugs, and thermoses were born, all with Ferrell’s mug and the immortal line. The scene continues with the manager announcing that Santa is coming, which causes Buddy to scream in approval. This movie is so weird but absolutely hilarious.
The secret ingredient to Elf’s resounding success is (a very blond) Zooey Deschanel’s ever-so-sweet performance as Jovie, the cynical department store employee who eventually falls for Buddy. As it turns out, the pair have plenty in common, aside from their affinity for elf culture. Jovie, you see, loves to sing but only does so in private. After spending the night in Gimbels, Buddy hears Jovie singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the employee shower and decides to join in the fun — from a distance, of course. Eventually, his vocals grow too loud to ignore, and Jovie screams at him not to look at her and go away. Alarmed, Buddy covers his eyes and runs straight into a wall of lockers, knocking himself out. Again, the unexpected turn from a sweet-natured moment to slapstick humor is enough to make anyone laugh.
Plenty of other terrific moments are sprinkled throughout Elf — we didn’t even mention James Caan or the snowball fight — but these are our favorite bits from the now 20-year-old flick. What are yours?