My favorite holiday season is right around the corner. That’s right: CHRISTMAS! (Some of you just rolled your eyes, and that’s okay) In our house, now’s the time when decorations come out, and Christmas movies begin to play. While it may not be one of the top grossing Christmas movies of all time, “Elf” is undoubtedly one of the most memorable and quotable.

It burst onto the holiday scene two decades ago, bringing laughter, joy, and a heaping dose of Christmas cheer. Starring the hilariously funny Will Ferrell became an instant classic. It continues to warm the hearts of audiences everywhere, even now. As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of this holiday gem, it’s worth reflecting on the reasons behind its enduring popularity and its lasting impact on the festive season.

The Magic of Buddy the Elf

Released in 2003, “Elf” tells the tale of Buddy, a human raised by elves at the North Pole. Will Ferrell’s performance as Buddy is nothing short of magical. His childlike innocence, boundless energy, and unbridled enthusiasm for all things Christmas make him an endearing and unforgettable character. Ferrell’s comedic timing and commitment to the role elevate Buddy beyond a simple caricature. 

Because of it, we now have some incredibly well-known quotes that anyone is sure to recognize:

“Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?”

“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

“Son of a nutcracker!”


Only a few among many, and considering its 20th anniversary, the fact that these are still said and widely recognized shows just how impactful the movie was (is)!

A Fish-Out-of-Water Tale

One of the film’s strengths lies in its classic fish-out-of-water narrative. Buddy discovers his true identity and travels to New York City to find his biological father, played by James Caan. The cultural clashes between Buddy’s elf upbringing and the harsh realities of the human world provide ample comedic fodder. The juxtaposition of Buddy’s wide-eyed wonder and the cynical attitudes of those around him creates a perfect storm of humor and heartwarming moments. Some of which were totally unscripted. 

Commentary on the DVD notes that the jack-in-the-box scene, while “scripted,” Ferrell didn’t know when they would pop up, providing a genuine reaction from the actor.

They also followed Ferrell, as Buddy, around the big city. If you know Ferrell, giving him free rein is bound to provide content gold. My personal favorite is when he discovers “candy” on his stroll – it’s used gum that people would stick under the railing around the subway entrance. Blech!

In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Director Jon Favreau and Ferrell talk about the scene where the store boss announces Santa is coming. Ferrell’s excitement and subsequent scream SANTA!, is all ad-lib. This turned out to be possibly one of the most memorable moments in the entire film.

Director Jon Favreau’s Touch

Speaking of Jon Favreau, the actor/director known for his ability to blend heart and humor, skillfully helmed “Elf.” If you don’t know him, he’s been in numerous movies. He played the crazed linebacker in “The Replacements.” A restaurant chef turned food truck owner in “CHEF.” And if you’re a Marvel fan, you’d recognize him as Tony Stark’s driver, who plays a vital role in guiding Peter Parker in the post-Endgame Spider-man movies.

As a director, you’ll recognize his work for “Ironman” 1 & 2, both “The Jungle Book” and “Lion King” remake, and the TV series “The Mandalorian.”

Favreau’s direction in “Elf” captures the essence of the holiday season, infusing the film with warmth and a sense of wonder. The vibrant and visually appealing depiction of the North Pole and the bustling streets of New York during Christmas adds a touch of magic to the film. Favreau’s careful balance between slapstick comedy and genuine emotion ensures that “Elf” appeals to both children and adults alike.

Iconic Supporting Cast

While Will Ferrell steals the show, the film’s supporting cast contributes significantly to its success. Zooey Deschanel shines as Jovie, a department store elf who captures Buddy’s heart with her “elf-finity” and beautiful singing voice. Bob Newhart and Ed Asner lend their talents to memorable roles as Papa Elf and Santa Claus, respectively. Then you have James Caan as the hard-knock father, balanced with the lovely Mary Steenburgen as his wife. 

The chemistry between the cast members elevates “Elf” beyond a typical holiday comedy, creating a film with a heartwarming ensemble dynamic.

Enduring Legacy

Twenty years after its release, “Elf” remains a holiday staple, capturing the imaginations of new generations of viewers. Its memorable quotes have become ingrained in popular culture. The film’s enduring popularity has even inspired musical adaptations*, ensuring that the magic of Buddy the Elf lives on through various mediums. 

*I’ve seen Elf – The Musical, and it is awesome!


As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of “Elf,” it’s clear that the film has earned its place as a modern holiday classic. Will Ferrell’s iconic portrayal of Buddy the Elf, coupled with Jon Favreau’s masterful direction and a stellar supporting cast, has created a timeless tale that continues to bring laughter and joy to audiences during the festive season. 

“El” reminds us of the importance of embracing the holiday spirit, spreading cheer, and finding the magic in the world around us – a message that resonates just as strongly today as it did two decades ago. Here’s to another twenty years of“El” enchanting audiences and spreading Christmas joy! 

Happy viewing, nerds!

–Buddy the Elf Celebrates 20 Years of Holiday Cheer!–