The pleasant surprise of the holiday season so far is Elf. It's not being marketed primarily to children, but it's more suitable for general family audiences than The Cat in the Hat or Looney Toons. Elf stars Will Ferrell (a Saturday Night Live alum), and one would expect it to be a crass debasement of the Christmas holiday. While not approaching anything like a proper understanding of Christmas, the movie is funny, reserved, and unexpectedly warmhearted.
Elf (rated PG for some mild rude humor and language) opens with agreeably old-fashioned storybook illustrations and Frosty the SnowmanÐstyle stop-motion animation. This sets the tone for the rest of the film, which is filled with schmaltzy good cheer, anchored by Mr. Ferrell's sweetly goofy performance as Buddy, a human who was adopted and raised by an elf in Santa's workshop. As Buddy grows (and grows, and grows), he discovers that he's not like the other elves, and sets off to New York to find his birth father.
The ensuing elfin/human culture clash fills most of the movie's running time, as Buddy tries desperately to make his coldhearted father love him. What's remarkable, though, is that the lack of demeaning and rude material allows the audience to relax and enjoy Elf for what it is: fun, throwaway entertainment. There's nothing profound in Elf, but there's not much that's offensive either. This holiday season, that alone will go a long way.