Friday, December 18, 2015

Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas (Screen Novelties, Warner Bros. Animation, 2014)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Two nights ago I watched one of the ghastliest Christmas specials I’ve ever seen: an NBC presentation rerun from 2014 called Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, based very loosely on the marvelous 2003 film directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell as Buddy Hobbs, a human baby who stowed away in Santa’s sleigh and was raised by elves at the North Pole until, as an adult, like a lot of heroes in “quest” dramas, he decided to find his real father, Walter Hobbs, who’s living in New York City with a wife and another child (two other children in this badly animated version). Apparently there was a stage adaptation in between the musical and this blocky bit of computer animation, and that’s where the clunky songs by Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics) — two songwriters whose names shall live in infamy — came from. That’s also where the changes in the story came from, which relentlessly took everything edgy and satiric out of the original film and turned it into a simple-minded Christmas story in which the lead elf, Buddy (Jim Parsons), comes off — especially in his first song, “Happy All the Time” — as virtually delusional, and his real dad Walter (Mark Hamill — odd given the fooforaw about today’s scheduled release of the new Star Wars movie that Harrison Ford got to be in the new Star Wars movie and Mark Hamill is relegated to doing shit like this!) becomes just a cardboard villain whose reclamation at the end doesn’t make an emotional impact the way Scrooge’s does because we’ve been given no particular reason either to love him or hate him. If I hadn’t seen the original Elf this would probably strike me as a typically banal Christmas special, too trivial to bother with, but since I have seen the 2003 Elf it was almost embarrassing for the new creators, directors Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh (maybe it’s time to revise my general field theory of cinema to the effect that the quality of a movie is inversely proportional to its number of directors as well as writers) and writers Aaron Horvath, Michael Jelenic, Bob Martin and Thomas Meehan, to see them muff every point the original creators, director Favreau and writer David Berenbaum, nailed in their version. Obviously the creators of the new Elf were going for a family-friendly version that could be rolled out every Christmas like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman are, but in making it kid-friendly they also made it stupid and banal and almost completely lost the charm of the original film.