As we enter December, it only seems right that the first article of the month focuses on one of my favorite Christmas films, Elf. The reason that Elf is so enjoyable is because it serves as a great example of what a comedy needs to be in order to stand the test of time, and not become another throwaway film. Comedy films are usually lost to time for two reasons. Either the film is either too topical in its jokes, causing it to become irrelevant as time passes, or the film only caters to a specific demographic, and is not shared as widely as a film with broad appeal would. While most comedy films struggle with overcoming these issues, Elf flawlessly sidesteps them.
For those that are unfamiliar with the film, the basic premise of it is that a baby accidently ends up going home with Santa to the North Pole, and after being raised as an elf his whole life, he finds out he is a human, and must find his real father in New York City. While this sounds like a simple story, the execution is what makes it special. Throughout the entire film, the jokes made do not rely on current pop culture references for humor. Instead, the humor of the each joke comes from within the context of the story. This factor is essential to the success of comedies because the film does not require the audience to know anything outside of what the film has presented for the joke to be funny. The idea of an elf from the North Pole traveling through New York City during Christmas in itself provides humor, and naturally sets up comedic situations. If the film had instead crafted jokes around pop culture references from 2003, the year the film was released, the audience would require an intimate knowledge of what was popular that year in order to find the film comedic. Now, while 2003 was only twelve years ago and most people today do still remember the time, that will not always be the case, as younger generations find the film and older generations forget trivial pop culture events. This issue causes most comedies to slowly lose their appeal each year, until the film is eventually lost.
The other common trope that limits the fan base for comedies is that they are unable to appeal to different demographics because the humor is designed to entertain a certain subgroup. This issue is especially apparent with Christmas comedies, as they tend to either be too family-oriented, using immature and simple jokes so children enjoy them, or use mature jokes to appeal to adults. While each of these two audiences are large enough for the film to find success in its initial run, in order for it to warrant years of viewership, it must find a way to entertain both audiences. This allows new generations to find humor in the film, and older generations to maintain interest in it.
Elf is able to walk this fine line perfectly for several reasons. First off, it appeals to families off the bat by just being light hearted and silly through its visual gags, such as Buddy, the main character, stretching across an escalator or getting overly excited for a mall Santa. However, while remaining light hearted, the film also includes sequences that appeal to a more mature audience, like Buddy becoming friends with an alcoholic coworker and getting drunk. In fact, in one sequence, the film draws on racial connotations for humor when having an African American character act as a mall Santa. While each set of jokes work towards making a certain part of the audience like the film, the real universal quality of the film is its overarching theme. This theme is the idea of finding your place in the world where you belong, which is Buddy’s driving force throughout the entire film, as he struggles with being both elf and human, but not really fitting in with either world.
As we get closer to the holidays this December, make sure that you add Elf to your Christmas film marathon. Even twelve years after its initial release, the film still holds up quite well, and a lot of laughs still remain. Honestly, the best part about the film is that because the film appeals to a broad range of people, you can gather up everyone you want to spend the Holidays with to watch the film, which is really what the season is all about.
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