I have quite the internal struggle during the Christmas season. It is a constant debate that rages in my head and in my heart. I cannot ever decide what my favorite Christmas movie is: Elf or National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. The answer usually ends up being whichever one I am watching at the time. And, believe me, I try to watch both as often as I possibly can. So, I have debated which movie to review for this month’s installment. I think I will go with Elf. However, I would love to see a festive holiday discussion over the merit of each film on our FaceBook group Why do you like one over the other? (Please Note: no other movies are able to enter into this debate. This is simply because no other movies matter this time of year. KIDDING! But seriously, will someone tell ABC Family that playing The Santa Clause 12 more than 0 times a year pleases no one?
So, on to Elf. Elf is the story of a baby who accidentally creeps into Santa’s sack one year and ends up in the North Pole. Because of the brand of diapers he wears, the elves decide to name him Buddy. Buddy (Will Ferrell) is raised at the North Pole believing he is an elf until one day he overhears two real elves discussing Buddy’s inability to keep up with elf-level toy production. This sends Buddy into a tailspin which sets him on a journey of self-discovery to New York where he eagerly hopes to find his real father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan). The story then proceeds to show how Buddy, in all of his elfish innocence, wins over his father and changes the people of New York. Will Ferrell is a master of the comedy montage (and this film has roughly six of them) and leaves me rolling on the floor in laughter (which gets kind of messy with all the pine needles laying around).
There is nothing profound or philosophically significant about this movie, and that is part of its charm. This is a movie that serves one purpose: to bring Christmas cheer (by singing loud for all to hear)! And it does just that. This movie doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. It doesn’t instill some kind of “holiday guilt” on you for your “sinful materialism.” It doesn’t even impose copious amount of holiday sentimentalism on the viewer. It simply makes you laugh and warms your heart. This is a good thing.
Excuse me while I climb up on my soapbox for a minute…
I remember I saw Happy Feet a few years back. This is a cartoon that, I thought, was going to be a delightful children’s film about dancing penguins. It turned out to be an anti-global-warming film with cute dancing penguins. Film is a very effective way of raising issues and swaying our thoughts, even ever so slightly. I am not upset when Hollywood makes movies to push a cause, especially one that may draw our attention to the importance of being good stewards of God’s creation. My problem with Happy Feet was the backdoor way they got the message across. If you want to make a movie about melting icecaps, fine. But don’t tell me it is a delightful musical for my kids and then beat me up for the excesses of industrialization. Yeesh.
Hollywood doesn’t need to justify itself by making some point in every movie. There is value in entertainment for the sake of entertainment. To be sure, we run the risk of idolizing entertainment. But it is worth remembering that idolatry is often the abuse of a good gift from God. Entertainment can be good. It is beneficial. Though it is problematic to spend more time with your TV than your family, it is a wonderful thing to pop popcorn, make hot cocoa, and laugh with your kids as Buddy the Elf eats gum off of the subway rail. It can give you a much needed distraction from the hardships and difficulties of life. It is a sort of breather that can be enjoyed together as a family.
That is why I love watching Elf. Will Ferrell’s “Buddy” is pure comedy joy. You cannot help but laugh. There are times for causes, there are times for dealing with life’s difficulties. But, there are times to laugh with your family and friends. There is a place for entertainment and the chance to enjoy something silly. So, I offer no major Christological insights in this media review. To do so would be to both force this film to be something it isn’t, and quite frankly, to cheapen the marvelous and mysterious message of God in human flesh.
Disclaimer: Of course the movie promotes the belief in Santa and the notion that if you don’t believe in him he is powerless. (In the movie his sleigh won’t fly if people doubted his existence.) This is nonsensical and as Christian adults we know it and laugh about it. We know that Santa is just an evolution of Saint Nick, an actual Christian guy who helped people. We know that faith in God isn’t like belief in Santa because God’s power is real whether or not our faith is weak or strong.
As you hustle around shopping decorating and attending Christmas parties, let me simply suggest you take some time to sit and laugh. This Christmas season you can find no funnier time of rest than Elf…or Christmas Vacation. Ugh…I can never decide. Merry Christmas!