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Elf: infinifilm

These days, people would probably pay to see Will Ferrell sitting in a room staring at a wall. Luckily for the movie-going public, the versatile comedian prefers to take it up a notch or ten, throwing himself into broadly funny-yet-vulnerable characters like Old School's party-loving Frank the Tank, Anchorman's macho Ron Burgundy, and Elf's wide-eyed Buddy. Raised at the North Pole by Santa's elves after stowing away on the big guy's sled as a baby, Buddy is the living embodiment of the Christmas spirit. Cheerful, friendly, loving, enthusiastic, and about as street-smart as your average kindergartener, he has no idea he's not an elf himself — despite his comparative lack of toy-making skills and the fact that he's at least twice as tall as everyone besides Mr. Claus (Ed Asner). When his adopted father (a wonderfully droll Bob Newhart) finally tells Buddy the truth, he decides to go in search of his real dad, Walter (James Caan), a hardened Manhattan publishing exec. Buddy's experiences in the Big Apple range from hilarious (he has an unfortunate run-in with an, um, petite children's book author) to magical (he redecorates Gimbel's toy department overnight, turning it into a winter wonderland) to poignant (he helps cynical New Yorkers rediscover the joy of the season). Ferrell makes the whole journey a delight — he could easily have played Buddy as stupid or slow or ridiculous, but instead he turns his tights-and-pointy-hat-wearing alter ego into a genuine, earnest guy who sees beauty in everyone and everything and enjoys life to the fullest. Director Jon Favreau pulls off some pretty impressive work as well; his use of forced perspective and other old-fashioned special effects (rather than CGI) gives Elf an authenticity that helps ground its more fantastical elements. And both Ferrell and Favreau benefit from the strong supporting cast: Caan is perfect as the gruff, cynical Walter, and Zooey Deschanel (playing Buddy's fellow Gimbel's elf Jovie) makes us believe that someone really could fall for an eight-year-old trapped in a grown man's body. Like the old TV Christmas specials it happily steals from, Elf seems poised to become a holiday classic. The folks at New Line sure seem to agree; their two-disc "infinifilm" edition is chock full of goodies. Disc One offers the film in an anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with both English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras on this platter include separate commentary tracks by Ferrell and Favreau, a trivia-filled fact track, eight deleted/alternate scenes with optional commentary, a film dictionary, and about an hour's worth of behind-the-scenes footage (conveniently broken down into smaller, kid-friendly chunks). The second disc sports the full-screen version of the film (same audio options), as well as four Christmas-themed featurettes, music from the movie (with comments by Favreau), the trailer, Christmas carol karaoke, a read-along storybook, four interactive games, and the bonus "Secret Elevator o' Fun." Both discs also include links to additional DVD-ROM features. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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