64 Elf (2003) Facts To Get You In The Festive Spirit

Elf is the much loved Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell in the lead role. Our Elf facts include why Elf was nearly PG-13, who wanted Will Ferrell to win an Oscar and some of John Favreau's Easter Eggs to Lord of the Rings.

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Elf is the much loved Christmas comedy film directed by Jon Favreau and starring Will Ferrell in the lead role. Elf is a Christmas film that is played across TV and streaming services every year on the run-up to the 25th of December but if you haven’t seen it before here is a quick synopsis…

One Christmas Eve, an orphan boy crawls into Santa Claus’ sack after seeing a teddy bear and is accidentally taken back to the North Pole. He is found in Santa‘s workshop and the Elves name him Buddy. Papa Elf adopts him and he grows up being accepted by the community of Elves and truly believes that he is an Elf. However, he overhears others discussing that he really is a human when he is an adult and decides to travel to New York to find his Dad. While there he meets Jovie who works at a department store and catches up with his Father who has a new wife and son Michael. At the end of the film Santa’s sleigh crashes in Central Park as it has lost the Christmas Spirit to power it. Buddy and his new family and friend Jovie help Santa boost the Christmas spirit by proving that he is real on TV.

Elf has a great cast including James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Edward Asner and Zooey Deschanel (without her fringe!).

Since the film's release there have been many other projects inspired by it including a Broadway musical called Elf: The Musical in 2010 and NBC created a stop motion animated TV special called Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas.

1. Elf Has Been Named Will Ferrell’s Best Performance By Critics

Elf was released in the USA on the 7th of November 2003 and instantly became both a critical and commercial success. It had a budget of US$33 million and grossed US$220 million. Many critics, at the time of release, claimed buddy the Elf to be Will Ferrell’s best performance.

2. Elf Could Have Been Chris Farley Or Jim Carrey

Before Will Ferrell was cast as buddy the Elf, Chris Farley and Jim Carrey were both in the running for the lead role.

3. Garry Shandling Nearly Starred In Elf

The role of Walter Hobbs was initially offered to Garry Shandling.

4. Wanda Sykes Was Lined Up To Play Wanda

Originally, Gimbel's manager Wanda what’s going to be played by Wanda Sykes.

5. Terry Zwigoff Nearly Directed Elf

Before John Favreau became the director of Elf, Terry Zwigoff was offered the position but he ended up turning it down to direct Bad Santa instead in 2003.

6. Elf Is Will Ferrell’s First Leading Role

Elf was Will Ferrell’s first film since leaving the cast of Saturday Night Live. This is actually Will Ferrell’s first leading role in the film. 

7. The Original Script For Elf Was A Lot Darker

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Jon Favreau has claimed that the initial script was a lot darker than the one we are used to seeing on screen today. It originally did not interest him so he asked to rewrite it and decided to make Buddy's world a homage to Rankin/Bass animated entertainment Christmas specials. He believed the initial script would be rated PG-13 and his rewrite allowed the film to be PG.

8. Zooey Deschanel Wasn’t Originally Meant To Sing

Zooey Deschanel sings a few times during Elf however it wasn’t initially written in the script. John Favreau decided to add in her singing scenes when he learnt that she was a great singer.

9. Will Ferrell Improvised Buddy’s Song

Will Ferrell actually improvised the lyrics when he starts singing in the middle of Santaland in Gimbels. Jon Favreau had not written any lines for this section.

10. Filming Mainly Took Place In New York City

Principal photography began on the 9th of December 2002 and much of the filming took place in New York City. The production also filmed in Vancouver and in British Columbia at the Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam. Filming wrapped on the 7th of March 2003.

Rhythm & Hues studios were responsible for most of the CGI in the film Elf apart from the snow.

11. Buddy’s Burp Is Dubbed With Another Actor

A separate voice actor named Maurice LaMarche dubbed the large burp Buddy made after drinking a 2L bottle of Coca-Cola. Maurice LaMarche is well known for voicing the cartoon character The Brain in Pinky and The Brain. He had also worked alongside Will Ferrell before in the animated series The Oblongs in 2001. 

12. The Elf Soundtrack Is Second The Highest Selling Holiday Soundtrack Album

The soundtrack for Elf was released in November 2003 by New Line Records in the USA. It was released two years later in October 2005 in the UK. Its signature song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which was sung by Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone, was released as a single. The album sold 695,000 copies in the United States making it the second highest selling soundtrack for a Christmas film since Nielsen SoundScan started tracking music sales in 1991. The first highest selling soundtrack album for a Christmas film is actually the Polar express released in 2004.

13. Elf Is One Of Two PG Rated Films Released Under Infinifilm

Elf is one of the only two DVDs to be PG rated under the Infinifilm label. The DVD and VHS version was released on the 16th of November 2004 and a Blu-ray version was released in 2008. In 2022 a 4K Blu-ray version was released and it is also available on PlayStation portable.

14. In The UK, Elf Opened Second Behind Love Actually

The film opened at number two at the box office in the USA just after The Matrix Revolutions. Both of the films were in their first week. In its second week of release, Elf actually topped the box office, beating out Master and Commander: The Far Side Of The World. In the UK, Elf opened second behind Love Actually. The re-issues in 2018, 2019, and 2020 earned over US$3 million.

15. Buddy The Elf Advertised Christmas For Asda In 2022

For Christmas 2022, Asda (a supermarket chain in the UK) used scenes from the film and Will Ferrell’s dialogue as part of their festive advert. Buddy can be seen starting work at Asda during the Christmas season and overnight redecorating the store with trees, tinsel and baubles.

16. Elf: The Musical Opened In October 2010 To January 2011

The musical version of Elf ran from the 2010 Christmas season to 2nd January 2011. It was directed by Casey Nicholaw and had music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. It officially opened at the Al Hirschfield theatre at 302 W. 45th Street and included Sebastian Arcelus as Buddy, Amy Spanger as Jovieee, Beth Leavel as Emily, Mark Jacoby as Walter, Matthre Gumley as Michael and George Wendt as Santa.

17. There Is An Elf Video Game

A video game based on the film Elf was released on the 4th November 2004 for the GameBoy Advance. The game, created by Crave Entertainment, follows the same plot as the film and the player has to collect candies while avoiding polar bears. Critics haven’t rated it very highly.

18. There Probably Will Never Be A Sequel To Elf

In 2013 it was announced by Mental Floss that John Favreau was interested in making a sequel called Elf 2: Buddy Saves Christmas but this was later found to be untrue. In September 2020, James Caan stated to Yahoo Entertainment that a sequel was unlikely because Will Ferrell and Jon Favreau do not get along. He sadly passed away in July 2002 and Ed Asner passed away in 2021 so a sequel seems unlikely. It has been rumoured online Will Ferrell actually turned down US$29 million to star in a sequel in 2014.

19. Will Ferrell Vomited Eating Candy And Spaghetti

The scene in which Buddy eats different candies and pastries with spaghetti had to be filmed twice as Will Ferrell actually threw up the first time it was filmed! He described in interviews that he spent much of the time filming Elf with a headache because of eating so much sugary food.

20. Elf Caused Minor Traffic Accidents

It was reported at the time of release that there were several minor traffic accidents in the Lincoln Tunnel when Will Ferrell walked through in his costume and drivers were distracted.

21. Buddy’s Cotton Balls Are Colourless Cotton Candy

The balls of cotton that Buddy eats while at the doctors were actually made from cotton candy but it hadn’t been dyed a specific colour.

22. Jon Favreau Controlled The Jack-In-The-Box Toys

To get startled reactions from Will Ferrell, the director Jon Favreau used remote control triggers to activate the Jack-in-the-Box toys. The laugh from the Jack-in-the-Box toys is Dal McKennan and the audio clip is taken from Lady And The Tramp from 1955. McKennan is performing the voice of a laughing hyena in the film. This laugh is also the same sound effect used by the laughing hyenas at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World Orlando Florida. It has also been used for Ripper Roo in the Crash Bandicoot video game series. 

23. A Copyright Error Allowed Elf To Use Many Elements From A 1964 Film

Internet legend claims that Elf is able to use elements from the 1964 film Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer as the copyright notice contains an error in the Roman numerals! This includes the design for Santa's workshop as well as some of the Elf uniforms. Many of the animals in the North Pole are also designed to look similar to those used in the film Rudolph. 

24. Buddy Walked Round New York City On The Last Day Of Filming

While filming on one of the last days in New York City, John Favreau, Will Ferrell and a cameraperson drove around the city looking for locations to shoot. It was reported that they would jump out of the car and ask passers-by if they would be willing to be extras in the film while Will Ferrell walked around acting like Buddy. Montage footage when Buddy first arrived in New York City was filmed then including when he was getting his shoes shined.

25. Chevy Chase Was Considered For Papa Elf

Chevy Chase was briefly considered for the role of Papa Elf by Jon Favreau. Will Ferrell actually said no to having chase in the production as he disliked working with him when he guest hosted Saturday Night Live in the 1990s.

26. Buddy And Fake Santa’s Fight Had To Be Filmed In One Take

The scene in which the fake Santa Claus is chasing Buddy had to be filmed in one take as it was too difficult to rebuild everything and shoot it again. The fight scene was filmed in front of a green screen as the production team edited in the children afterwards due to it needing to be filmed in one take and it was too dangerous having all of the children in the scene at the same time. 

27. Jon Favreau Drew Buddy’s Card

It was the director Jon Favreau who drew Buddy’s crayon drawing of himself in the card he made for his father.

28. Will Ferrell’s Brother Stars In Ef

Will Ferrell’s brother actually stars in Elf. Patrick Ferrell is the security guard at the Empire State Building.

29. Elf Is David Berenbaum’s First Script

Elf is David Berenbaum’s first ever script. Despite being raised Jewish, Berenbaum always celebrated Christmas growing up and was a huge fan of the 1964 film Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. Berenbaum’s Father sadly passed away when he was only eight years old which is poignant when you think about Elf really being about a father and son connecting with each other.

30. Buddy’s Father Lives In The Ghostbusters Apartment Building

The apartment where Buddy's father lives is actually the same building (exterior scenes) where Dana Barrett lived in the 1984 film Ghostbusters.

31. Will Ferrell Has Worked With Mary Steenburgen Again

Elf isn’t the only time that Will Ferrell and Mary Steenburgen have worked together. In Elf, Mary Steenburgen plays Emily who is Buddy’s Stepmother and Michael’s Mum but she also plays Will Ferrell’s Mother in the 2008 film Stepbrothers.

32. Bob Newhart Had Predicted Elf’s Success

It was revealed in interviews that Bob Newhart loved the script for Elf so much that he told his wife how brilliant the story and the role was. He claims he thought it was going to be like a Miracle on 34th Street, a film that would play every Christmas season.

33. Jon Favreau Favoured Forced Perspective

Many of the shots featuring Will Ferrell and Ed Asner in Santa's workshop are created using forced perspective rather than CGI.

34. There Is A Keith Hufnagel Connection

Santa gives Michael a “Real Huf” board. Real is the brand of skateboard and Keith Hufnagel is a professional skateboarder with the nickname Huf. Keith Hufnagel and Jon Favreau are actually friends as they have previously worked together on stunts. In the film Stepbrothers (2008), Will Ferrell’s character is actually named Brennan Huff.

35. Jon Favreau Studied His Baby Son For Buddy’s Character

Director Jon Favreau has said in interviews that he would watch his one year old son Max to try and work out what Buddy might do in different situations. He claimed that Max was actually his barometer for how believable Buddy’s antics were on screen. 

Jon Favreau’s son actually plays young Buddy sitting on Papa Elf’s knee.

36. Zooey Deschanel’s Hair Is Not Naturally Blonde!

Hilariously, many people believed that Zooey Deschanel’s hair was naturally blonde as seen in Elf. She had dyed it for a project that in the end was never released and did her audition and screen test for Elf with blonde hair so the team kept it that way.

37. Jon Favreau Added A Few Lord Of The Rings Easter Eggs To Elf

The line Will Ferrell says about Santa sitting on a “throne of lies” was used by Jon Favreau as it was from Lord of the Rings.

38. Buddy Builds The Philadelphia Skyline

The skyline which Buddy builds in the department store contains buildings from Philadelphia including One Liberty Place. The Elf screenwriter David Berenbaum is from Philadelphia and Gimbels was a well-known department store there. They also sponsored the first Thanksgiving Parade held there in 1920. 

39. Gimbels Was Not Filmed Outside Macy’s

The exterior shots for Gimbels department store were actually the Textile Building on 295 5th Avenue and 30th Street. Many fans have speculated that it was actually Macy’s flagship store on 34th Street in Herald Square Manhattan. Macy’s was used for all of the interior scenes but considerable CGI work was put into transforming the exterior into Gimbels. Gimbels was a main competitor for Macy’s but closed in 1986. It stood on 33rd Street in Herald Square and the site is now the Manhattan Mall.

40. Many Of The Elf Sets Were Built Twice

Many of the sets on Elf were actually built twice. One was larger for the actors playing elves and one was smaller for the other actors. In the scene where Santa is addressing his elves, he is standing on a platform on a much smaller version of the set. The elves are on another platform far behind him and lighting was used to blend the two images together.

41. Leon Redbone Is The Snowman

Leon Redbone is the voice of Leon the snowman at the North Pole. You can hear the song “Christmas Island” sung by Leon Redbone when Buddy goes to the department store to ask out Jovie on a date.

42. The Names On The Nice List Are Crew Members

Near the end of the film where Santa is showing Michael his nice list, the names read out are actually a list of people who worked on Elf. Victoria Down was the Key Make-Up Artist, Drew Davidson was the Chief Lighting Technician, Andreas Neiman was the Assistant Property Master, Nathan Tichenor was the Code Production Coordinator, Jimmy Miller was the Executive Producer and Penny Gibbs was the Unit Production Manager.

43. James Caan Thought Ferrell Was Over The Top

According to Will Ferrell, James Caan approached him at the Elf premier and said that his performance was too over the top. However when he finally saw the finished film he said that he understood the energy that Will Ferrell needed to put into his performance and actually praised him instead.

44. Jon Favreau Made Sure To Include Easter Eggs

Jon Favreau has claimed in interviews that he loves the fact that audiences keep watching Elf year-on-year despite the fact they’ve seen it many times before. He said that when filming he wanted to include several Easter eggs for people to pick up on during subsequent viewings including the shot of Buddy walking through Central Park like he is bigfoot.

45. Buddy Does The Same Pose As Bigfoot

The TV news clip showing a photo of Buddy walking in Central Park just before his Dad and brother find him closely mimics the famous 1967 film of an alleged Bigfoot from Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin.

46. The Elves Were Meant To Make Fun Of Buddy

In early versions of the script, the other elves in the North Pole made fun of Buddy for being different and being unable to work as fast as they could. Jon Favreau felt that it was better to keep the other elves kind and good spirited even though Buddy is different as it would explain why Buddy was doing all of the good things in New York if we had grown up somewhere where everybody was so nice and accepting.

47. The Ranges Are The Four Horsemen

The Central Park Rangers are a spoof on the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse.

48. Forced Perspective Gives Elf A Nostalgic Feel

Jon Favreau thought it was important to use forced perspective in Elf rather than CGI as it would create a sense of nostalgia mimicking old Christmas TV programmes and films. He compares the technique in interviews to Lord of the Rings which is also a New Line Film. One of the scenes where you can see this work perfectly is when the tree is on fire at the beginning. The top half of the tree is in miniature in the foreground and the bottom is roughly 40 feet away from the camera. The edges were then blurred to make it appear as if it was all one tree.

49. Viewers Were Confused By A Moment In The Mail Room

When the film was released Jon Favreau received notes from the studio pointing out that Mark Acheson’s character in the mailroom was clearly not 26. Favreau has said in interviews this baffled him as it was clearly a funny joke in the film.

50. Crumpet Makes A Cameo

When Jovie and Buddy first meet, she asks “Did Crumpet put you up to this?”. David Sedaris played a character called Crumpet when he worked as a Macy’s Elf as recounted in “The Santaland Diaries”. It could also be a reference to Mount Crumpit from How The Grinch Stole Christmas. David Sedaris’ Sister Amy Sedaris starred in Elf as Deb. 

51. There Is A National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Connection

The scene where the Christmas tree is too big for the living room could be a call back to the John Hughes film National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation from 1989. The main character, played by Chevy Chase, operates a tree with his car that is too big for the living room.

52. Favreau Sees Elf Like The Film Big

In interviews Jon Favreau has compared Elf to the Tom Hanks film Big claiming that both films are about a child forced to grow up too quickly and learn their way around a big city.

53. John Favreau Is The Raccoon

Jon Favreau provides the voice for the raccoon that Buddy runs into in Canada.

54. Cast Members Have Been In Another Christmas Film 

This isn’t the only Christmas film that Peter Billingsley, John Favreau, and Mary Steenburgen have worked on. They all appear in Four Christmases directed by Seth Gordon in 2008.

55. Richard Curtis Wanted Will Ferrell To Get An Oscar For Elf

Richard Curtis has said in an interview at the Oscar Wilde Awards that Will Ferrell should have received an Oscar nomination for his performance in Elf. He told the BBC that he dislikes the fact that Ferrell didn’t get nominated and added that it is the price you pay for making comedies. He claimed that comedies tend to make money but they don’t get you the prizes.

56. There Are A Few Fabrications In Elf

There is no lift in the Empire State Building that contains buttons to all floors. This was fabricated for the film Elf along with the gum the Buddy chews off the fence.

57. The Central Park Rangers Were Originally The NYPD

In original versions of the script, it was written that Buddy would be chased by the New York Police Department but John Favreau didn’t like this idea so replaced them with the Central Park Rangers. Their costumes were designed in reference to Lord of the Rings and the Rangers were mainly shot in silhouette to hide their real appearance.

58. Blu Ray Versions Have A Progress Bar Candy Cane

An interesting fact for non-Blu-ray users, the status bar on the Blu-ray version is in the shape of a candy cane.

59. Ed Asner Has Played Father Christmas Before

Elf is just one of the times that Ed Asner has played Father Christmas. He previously portrayed Santa in The Christmas Star, a Disney TV film from 1986. He was a conman masquerading as Father Christmas in order to trick some children to help him find stolen goods.

60. The Singing Outside Scene Was Reshot

The scene where we see Zooey Deschanel and Mary Steenburgen singing together was actually a reshoot. It had originally been filmed with Steenburgen’s character being overcome with joy. However John Favreau thought it would work better as a dramatic moment so it was done over while other scenes were being shot.

61. The Production Filmed At Rockefeller Centre After Midnight

To film the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Centre, the production team had to wait until the early hours of the morning and then only got four hours to film the scene. This was because a professional skater was performing the next day. The Elf premier was also held there.

62. The Elf Actors Have Worked Together Before…

  • Will Ferrell and Zoe Deschanel both appeared in Winter Passing in 2005. 

  • James Caan and Ed Asner previously worked together in El Dorado in 1966 with John Wayne co-starring with both actors.

  • James Caan and Mary Steenburgen play husband-and-wife ten years after Elf in The Tale Of Princess Kaguya in 2013.

  • Ed Asner and James Caan both have starred in Hawaii Five-0 in which James Caan's son Scott Caan also stars.

63. Buddy Mirrors George In It’s A Wonderful Life

The scene where a Buddy is stood on the bridge thinking about his life is similar to George Bailey’s scene from It's A Wonderful Life in 1946. This is one of the many callbacks to Christmas movies that John Favreau has included in Elf.

64. Buddy Names His Daughter After His Mum

Buddy and Jovie have a baby named Susie. This could be a link back to Buddy’s Mother who had passed away and was named Susan Wells.

Elf Facts - 64 Elf (2003) Facts To Get You In The Festive Spirit

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