The film received positive reviews from critics and earned $220.4 million worldwide on a $33 million budget. It inspired the 2010 Broadway musical Elf: The Musical and NBC's 2014 stop-motion animated television special Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas.
On Christmas Eve in 1973, an infant boy stows away in Santa Claus' sack. When discovered back at the North Pole, he is adopted by Papa Elf. Papa Elf names his son Buddy.
Buddy grows up at the North Pole believing he is an elf, but due to his human size he is unable to perform elf tasks. When Buddy accidentally learns that he is human, Papa Elf explains that he was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells, and was given up for adoption without Walter knowing. Susan died and Walter works at a children's book publisher in New York City at the Empire State Building. Santa notes that Walter is on the naughty list due to his greed and selfishness, but suggests Buddy could help redeem him, and so Buddy travels alone to New York.
Buddy has trouble acclimating to the customs of the human world. Buddy finds his father's office, but Walter has him ejected after Buddy mentions Susan Wells. After following a security guard's sarcastic suggestion to go "back to Gimbels" due to his elf outfit, the Gimbels' manager mistakes him for an employee at Santa Land. He meets Jovie, an unenthused employee to whom he is attracted. Knowing that Santa will arrive the next day, Buddy stays behind and spends the night decorating Santa Land, and buys a nightie for Walter.
The next day, Buddy is appalled that the store's Santa is not real and rips off the man's fake beard, causing them to fight, with the manager having to subdue the fake Santa. Walter bails Buddy out of prison and takes him to Dr. Leonardo for a DNA test, which confirms that Buddy is Walter's son. The doctor convinces him to take Buddy home to meet his step-mother Emily and 11-year-old half-brother Michael. Walter and Michael are annoyed by Buddy's childlike behavior, but Emily insists that they take care of him until he "recovers".
Buddy wins Michael over by helping him defeat a gang of bullies in a snowball fight and Michael encourages Buddy to ask Jovie out. Walter learns from his boss Fulton Greenway that his company is in financial trouble after publishing a failed children's book, and organizes a book pitch for Christmas Eve, for which Walter and his associates Eugene and Morris arrange a meeting with best-selling children's author Miles Finch to hire him.
One night, Buddy goes on a date with Jovie and wins her over. On Christmas Eve, Buddy bursts into Walter's office during a meeting with Finch to tell Walter about his love, and mistakes Finch, who has dwarfism for an elf. Finch loses his temper and attacks Buddy before storming out, causing Walter to harshly disown Buddy.
Eugene and Morris find a notebook Finch left that is filled with ideas for children's books. Walter pitches these ideas to Greenway, but Michael bursts in to tell Walter that Buddy ran away. Greenway refuses to reschedule; Walter quits his job and leaves to find Buddy.
Santa's sleigh crashes in Central Park, attracting a large crowd. Buddy finds him and discovers that the sleigh's engine has broken off, meaning that it cannot fly without Christmas spirit. Walter and Michael find Buddy, and Walter apologizes to Buddy for harshly disowning him and accepts Buddy as his son; Buddy then takes them to meet Santa. Michael takes Santa's list and reads it in front of the gathered TV news cameras to prove he exists. The Central Park Rangers, who never forgave Santa for putting them on the naughty list for an unidentified wrongdoing, chase his sleigh as Buddy tries to reattach the engine.
Jovie leads the gathered people in singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", helping raise enough Christmas spirit to partially power the sleigh. Walter is convinced by Michael to start singing, which restores enough Christmas spirit to allow it to fly.
By next Christmas, Walter has started his own publishing company with the first best-selling book titled Elf, an account of Buddy's adventures. Buddy and Jovie got married and have a daughter named Susie, named after his biological mother. During the film's closure, they visit Papa Elf at the North Pole.Will Ferrell as Buddy Hobbs, a human who was raised by Santa's elves
James Caan as Walter Hobbs, a children's book publisher and Buddy's biological father
Zooey Deschanel as Jovie, an unenthusiastic worker at Gimbel's
Mary Steenburgen as Emily Hobbs, Walter's wife and Buddy's stepmother
Daniel Tay as Michael Hobbs, Walter and Emily's son and Buddy's younger half-brother
Ed Asner as Santa Claus, who finds Buddy in his sack and gives him to Papa Elf to raise
Bob Newhart as Papa Elf, an elf that raised Buddy
Faizon Love as the manager of Gimbel's and Jovie's boss
Peter Dinklage as Miles Finch, a best-selling children's author
Amy Sedaris as Deb, Walter Hobbs' secretary
Michael Lerner as Mr. Greenway, Walter Hobbs' boss
Andy Richter as Morris, an associate of Walter Hobbs
Kyle Gass as Eugene Dupree, an associate of Walter Hobbs
Artie Lange as Gimbel's Santa
Jon Favreau as Dr. Leonardo, the Hobbs family's pediatrician
Matt Walsh as himself
Peter Billingsley as Ming Ming (uncredited), an elf.
Will Ferrell's brother Patrick Ferrell cameos as a security guard. Mark Acheson cameos as a mailroom workerLeon Redbone as Leon the Snowman
Ray Harryhausen as Polar Bear Cub
Jon Favreau as the Baby Walrus, Mr. Narwhal, and the Arctic Puffin
Dallas McKennon as the Jack-in-the-Box (archive audio)
Apart from snow, most of the computer generated imagery (CGI) in the film was created by Rhythm & Hues Studios. The movie makes heavy use of forced perspective to exaggerate the size of Buddy compared to all the other elves. Stop motion animation was also used. Zooey Deschanel singing was not in the original script and Favreau added it when he learned she was a singer. Buddy belches for twelve seconds, after drinking a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. The belch was real, as dubbed by voice actor Maurice LaMarche. Buddy starts singing in the middle of Santa-land at Gimbel's. The lyrics were not in the script and Will Ferrell made up the entire song on the spot. Even though Buddy is an excellent gift wrapper, Will Ferrell is not and needed someone else to wrap all the gifts in the movie. The film was not entirely shot in New York City; there are several scenes shot in Vancouver, and Coquitlam, British Columbia at Riverview Hospital.
On June 9, 2003, it was announced that Jon Favreau would direct a 2003 American Christmas comedy film, titled Elf, about one of Santa's elves who learns of his true identity as a human and goes to New York City to meet his biological father, spreading Christmas cheer in a world of cynics as he goes; which would be released in cinemas on November 7, 2003 in the United States. Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki and Shauna Robertson produced it with the budget of $33 million and David Berenbaum wrote the film. It was announced that Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Daniel Tay, Ed Asner, Bob Newhart, Faizon Love, Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Michael Lerner, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Artie Lange, Peter Billingsley, Leon Redbone, Ray Harryhausen, Jon Favreau and Mark Acheson would star in it. New Line Cinema acquired distribution rights to it. John Debney would compose the music for it. Guy Walks Into a Bar Productions co-produced it. Jim Carrey was originally attached to portray Buddy in the film, but ultimately turned down the role. Before Faverau was announced as the director, Terry Zwigoff was offered to direct the movie. He declined due to his commitment on another 2003 Christmas comedy, Bad Santa.
Elf grossed $173.4 million in North America and $47 million in other territories for a total gross of $220.4 million, against a budget of $33 million. The film opened at number two at the US box office with $31.1 million, finishing behind The Matrix Revolutions, also in its first week. It topped the box office on its second week of release, beating out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. In the UK it opened in second behind Love Actually.
On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an approval rating of 84% based on 188 reviews and an average rating of 7/10. The site's consensus reading, "A movie full of Yuletide cheer, Elf is a spirited, good-natured family comedy, and it benefits greatly from Will Ferrell's funny and charming performance as one of Santa's biggest helpers." On Metacritic it has a score of 64 out of 100 based on 38 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Roger Ebert gave it 3 out of 4 stars, calling it "one of those rare Christmas comedies that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor, and it charms the socks right off the mantelpiece."
The film was nominated for nine awards and won two.Won
2004 ASCAP award - Top Box Office Films (John Debney)
2004 Golden Trailer - Best Comedy
2004 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award - Favorite Movie
2004 MTV Movie Award - Best Comedic Performance (Will Ferrell)
2004 PFCS Award - Best Live Action Family Film and Best Use of Previously Published or Recorded Music
2004 Teen Choice Award - Choice Movie Actor - Comedy (Will Ferrell) and Choice Movie - Comedy
2005 Golden Satellite Award - Best Youth DVD
Elf is often ranked among the greatest Christmas films of all-time, and since its release has joined the many films which air annually on television during the holiday season.Empire - #11
New York Daily News - #23
about.com - #9
Digital Spy - #3
Forbes - #7
Newsday - #7
The Guardian - #4
Chicago Tribune - #17
San Francisco Chronicle - #4
Entertainment Weekly - #4
Total Film - #3
The Hollywood Reporter - #6
The film is available on DVD, VHS, and Blu-ray, the latter of which was released on October 28, 2008. It is also available for the PlayStation Portable with Universal Media Disc.
A Broadway musical based upon the film ran on Broadway during the 2010 Christmas season. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan.
The musical officially opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on November 10, 2010, after previews from November 2, 2010. The cast included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovie, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthew Gumley as Michael, Valerie Wright as Deb, Michael McCormick as Mr. Greenway, Michael Mandell as Store Manager, and George Wendt as Santa. It ran through to January 2, 2011.
The soundtrack was released on New Line Records in November 2003 in the USA and in October 2005 in the UK. It was certified Gold by the RIAA in April 2011. Having sold 695,000 copies in the United States, it is the second best-selling film soundtrack/holiday album hybrid since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991, behind only The Polar Express.
- "Pennies from Heaven" - Louis Prima
- "Sleigh Ride" - Ella Fitzgerald and the Frank De Vol Orchestra
- "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" - Lena Horne
- "Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus Party" - Ferrante and Teicher/Les Baxter
- "Baby, It's Cold Outside" - Leon Redbone/Zooey Deschanel
- "Jingle Bells" - Jim Reeves
- "The Nutcracker Suite" - Brian Setzer
- "Christmas Island" - Leon Redbone
- "Santa Baby" - Eartha Kitt and the Henri René Orchestra
- "Winter Wonderland" - Leon Redbone
- "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" - Eddy Arnold
- "Nothing from Nothing" - Billy Preston
The score to the film, composed and conducted by John Debney and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony, was released by Varese Sarabande.
Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas is an hour-long stop-motion animated musical television special based on the film and the musical of the same name. While Edward Asner was the only one to reprise his role from the film, the rest of the cast consists of Jim Parsons as Buddy, Mark Hamill as Walter Hobbs, Kate Micucci as Jovie, Rachael MacFarlane as Emily Hobbs, Max Charles as Michael Hobbs, and Gilbert Gottfried as Mr. Greenway. It was produced by Warner Bros. Animation and first aired on NBC on December 16, 2014. It uses songs from the musical.