The Development Of ‘Elf’
Elf is a Christmas comedy film that tells the story of Buddy, a human who was accidentally transported to the North Pole as an infant and raised among Santa’s elves. The initial screenplay for the movie was developed in the early 1990s, however, production didn’t begin until a decade later.
When the spec script emerged in 1993, Jim Carrey was initially eyed for the leading role of Buddy. But by the time the movie was given the green light to move forward casting plans had changed, with former Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell taking on the role of Buddy. It wasn’t Ferrell’s first time playing a Christmas character. Before his time on SNL, Ferrell played Santa Claus at an outdoor mall in Pasadena. His future A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan worked with him at the gig, playing one of Santa’s elves.
The production design was inspired by one of the ultimate Christmas movie classics, 1964’s stop-motion special, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Director Jon Favreau wanted to pay tribute to the film’s iconic visuals of Santa’s winter wonderland. The elves’ costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey the Misfit Elf and his peers in the stop-motion film. The workshop and the stop-motion animals at the North Pole were also modeled after the designs seen in Rudolph.
In addition to the nods to Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Elf includes another Easter egg that Christmas movie fans might notice. Actor Peter Billingsley, who famously played Ralphie in the 1983 film, A Christmas Story, makes a cameo appearance as Ming the elf, a supervisor in Santa’s workshop. Billingsley has collaborated with Jon Favreau on several other film and television projects, often as a producer.
Speaking of Jon Favreau, he also appears in several minor roles throughout the film. Most notably, he plays the doctor that Buddy and his father visit for a paternity test. Favreau also voiced several of the stop-motion animals that see Buddy off from the North Pole, and the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters on his journey to New York.
Much of Elf was shot on sound stages in Vancouver. However, many of the outdoor New York scenes were shot on location, including all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West. Exterior shots of Gimbels, the massive department store featured in the movie, were actually digitally altered shots of the Macy’s Herald Square location. Gimbels was once a real department store, but it officially closed in 1987, its 100th year of operation.
The Legacy of ‘Elf’
Following its release in 2003, Elf went on to earn $173,398,518 at the domestic box office. It went on to become the seventh highest-grossing film of the year at the domestic box office, following Finding Nemo, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Matrix Reloaded, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Bruce Almighty, and X2: X-Men United.
Despite its financial success, Will Ferrell has no interest in filming a sequel. He was reportedly offered $29 million to make Elf 2, but he turned it down. In 2013, Ferrell told USA Today, “I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf.”
While a sequel doesn’t seem to be in the cards, Elf was adapted into a Broadway musical. The show ran on Broadway during the Christmas seasons of 2010-2011 and 2012-2013. It has also toured extensively, often during the holiday season. The musical’s original production broke records at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre box office, grossing over $1 million in one week. It was the third highest-grossing show for the 2010 Thanksgiving weekend, following Wicked and The Lion King.
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