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Elf: Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD Review

Elf (2003) movie poster Elf

Theatrical Release: November 7, 2003 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Jon Favreau / Writer: David Berenbaum / Songs List

Cast: Will Ferrell (Buddy the Elf), James Caan (Walter Hobbs), Bob Newhart (Papa Elf), Edward Asner (Santa Claus), Zooey Deschanel (Jovie), Mary Steenburgen (Emily Hobbs), Daniel Tay (Michael Hobbs), Faizon Love (Gimbels Manager), Peter Dinklage (Miles Finch), Amy Sedaris (Deb), Michael Lerner (Fulton Greenway), Andy Richter (Morris), Kyle Gass (Eugene), Artie Lange (Gimbels Santa), Leon Redbone (voice of Leon the Snowman), Ray Harryhausen (voice of Polar Bear Cub), Claire Lautier (NY1 Reporter Charlotte Dennen), Ted Friend (NY1 Anchor), Patrick Ferrell (Security Guard), Patrick McCartney (Security Guard), Jon Favreau (Doctor Leo, voice of Mr. Narwhal, Arctic Puffin), Lydia Lawson-Baird (Carolyn), Brenda MacDonald (Nun), Mark Acheson (Mailroom Guy), Matt Walsh (Himself), Peter Billingsley (Ming Ming - uncredited)

Buy Elf from Amazon.com: Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray 2-Disc Infinifilm DVD 1-Disc Blu-ray


I'm a big fan of Christmas films. They take two of my favorite things -- Christmas and movies -- and bring them together. It's no surprise then that I've seen more of them and given the genre more thought than the typical person. Since the holiday season arrives every year, Christmas movies seem to have a much longer and more celebrated life than their contemporaries. For me, such a thought makes me want to get all historical.

Although the 1950s appear to be the birth of modern culture today, they've got nothing on the 1940s when it comes to Christmas movies. Having not been alive then, I can only assume that the '40s were a crazy time for Christmas movies. They didn't always open in theaters during the now-standard November to December seasonal window. They also competed for major Academy Awards. I'm talking Best Picture. At least those two facts are true of the two best-known entries from the decade, It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.
They're hardly the only '40s Christmas movies remembered; chances are you've at least heard of films like The Bishop's Wife, Christmas in Connecticut, The Shop Around the Corner, Holiday Inn, and Meet Me in St. Louis. (Let's leave the "is that really a Christmas movie?" debate for another day.)

While war pictures continued to thrive after the 1940s had passed, the Christmas movie kind of faded. The 1950s had just two major contributions to the genre: the Alastair Sim Scrooge and White Christmas. That's kind of two more than the 1960s had (unless you count the camp classic Santa Claus Conquers the Martians), as Christmas moved to television in some of the still most beloved animated specials of all time. Likewise, the 1970s had their fair share of televised observations, but hardly anything theatrically (I'll give honorable mention to the Albert Finney Scrooge musical).

There is no doubt about it that the 1980s supplied a Christmas movie renaissance. There was A Christmas Story, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and, my own personal favorite, Bill Murray's Scrooged. There were Gremlins and Die Hard, fine movies prominently featuring Christmas without being traditional Christmas movies. There were also plenty of smaller productions, to which viewers developed a more personal connection to; things like Prancer, Santa Claus: The Movie, One Magic Christmas, and even Ernest Saves Christmas.

The first half of the 1990s kept the holiday magic coming in such movies as Home Alone, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Tim Allen's The Santa Clause. I'm not a big fan of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, but that is worth mentioning too. The second half of the 1990s didn't do many favors for the genre.

Moving into this century, we now have one full decade to look back on. The early 2000s definitely increased the volume of Christmas movies, but I don't think we can say they did the same for quality. The live-action Ron Howard, Jim Carrey Grinch film was a huge hit, but it had no heart or soul. Nor did Christmas with the Kranks and The Polar Express, though many would beg to differ on the latter. I was fonder than most people of several of the decade's other big traditional Christmas movies: Four Christmases, The Santa Clause sequels, even Fred Claus, but none of them earns classic status like most of the older movies I've mentioned. In fact, I think only one Christmas film from the decade does for me. It's definitely not Bad Santa (blech) and it's not even one of the other acclaimed alternative types (though Millions and Love Actually do have their charms; thank you, England). Guessed it yet? I know you have. It's Elf.

Buddy (Will Ferrell) feels like a cotton-headed ninny-muggins in reporting to Ming Ming (an uncredited Peter Billingsley of "A Christmas Story" fame) just how far behind Santa's other elves he is at making Etch-a-Sketches.

There's something very special about this 2003 comedy that stands as the best thing leading man Will Ferrell has done to date (runner-up respect, Anchorman). Ferrell plays Buddy, a human who as an infant orphan winds up in Santa Claus' bag. Back at the North Pole, he is adopted by our narrator, Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), and raised like an elf. Though he's several times taller and far less skilled than all the other elves, Buddy is well into adulthood before he discovers his true ancestry. Upon the epiphany, Buddy decides the best thing to do is track down his biological father, important children's book publisher and Naughty List occupant Walter Hobbs (James Caan).

Still dressed in his elf costume of green coat and yellow tights, Buddy passes through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and through the Lincoln Tunnel to wind up smack in the middle of Manhattan during the holiday season. Walter doesn't greet Buddy with open arms, believing him to be some kind of Christmas Gram or practical joke. A busy and jaded man, Walter doesn't have much time for games, or even his wife Emily (Christmas movie veteran Mary Steenburgen) and pre-teen son Michael (Daniel Tay). Walter has security usher Buddy outside his workplace, the Empire State Building, and the tall, brightly-fashioned man ends up at Gimbels (Macy's flagship store in everything but name, which pays tribute to Miracle on 34th Street).

Buddy takes pride in his unpaid unofficial department store job, through which he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), a pretty but also jaded co-worker. After getting Buddy a paternity test and confirming his claims, Walter welcomes him into his home, as an overgrown son to him and Emily and protective big brother to Michael. Buddy follows his father to work, shares some elf cuisine (it's big on syrup...even on spaghetti), and, of course, has to help save Christmas when Santa's (Ed Asner) sleigh hits some trouble in Central Park.

Busy book publisher and Naughty List occupant Walter Hobbs (James Caan) acts like he doesn't know the man-child inside the shop window claiming to be his son. Jaded department store elf Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) assumes love interest duties.

Very few of this century's movies are as delightful and joyous as Elf. Its story is as sturdy and universal as they come. You'd be more likely to believe it was adapted from some old children's book adored by generations than a debut spec script by David Berenbaum. That isn't to call the film old-fashioned or quaint; it is absolutely in tune with modern culture but in a timeless way we don't often see in new films.

The casting is perfect. Will Ferrell has crafted some truly distinctive protagonists over the years, many of them marked by machismo, braggadocio, and ignorance. Buddy is not like them. He's an innocent naif, with not an evil thought in his my mind. Ferrell's 6'3" stature is key to his phenomenal presence here.

The sight of a tall man in a costume designed for little people never stops being ridiculous and amusing. But the movie doesn't just rely on this image, instead giving Buddy a fast, steady stream of clever scenarios to play with.

New York City is one of the leading characters and I don't know if any film has ever put it to as marvelous use as this one. Manhattan in particular is kind of cinema's go-to location for a culture shock fairy tale. Where to place a boy in a man's body (Big), a mermaid turned human (Splash), a cartoon princess made flesh (Enchanted)? New York, New York. As in those movies, the cold, brisk manner of New Yorkers is the perfect contrast to sweet fantasy and storybook romance. Having called the city home during his long run on "Saturday Night Live" (which ended just seven months before shooting this, his first solo vehicle), Ferrell surely brought insight and appreciation for the setting, as native and prototypical New Yorker James Caan, director Jon Favreau, and NYU alumnus Berenbaum likely did too. Though the film only shot in New York for two weeks (doing interiors and soundstage work in Vancouver), the time spent on recognizable real locations was priceless. Those familiar with New York will take more from this than the typical viewer. I clearly recall the warm reception given by the theater audience in my initial viewing not far from 34th Street.

Caan is the perfect icy foil to Ferrell's sugar, playing the straight man racked by believable perplexity without softening or going for laughs. It's an excellent performance that might not be appreciated by the average viewer but does wonders for the film. The other supporting turns are as pitch-perfect and authentic: Steenburgen as the more understanding mother figure (something she'd play with as Ferrell's mom in Step Brothers), Deschanel as the hip independent love interest she's regularly reprised (just not with blonde hair), Tay as the normal kid who could use some fatherly attention. The two leading North Pole roles are also inspiredly filled by a couple of seasoned TV legends. Ed Asner has played Santa before and done his share of holiday fare, but his Father Christmas, mixing crotchetiness with just a dab of warmth, might have been his definitive film role if not for Up. Meanwhile, Bob Newhart makes for a great storyteller, his fidgety rhythms an appropriate fit for the film's slightly offbeat manner.

Buddy's adoptive father Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) acts as the film's storyteller. The Central Park sleigh troubles of Santa Claus (Ed Asner) offer just the opportunity for Christmas Eve heroism that Buddy (Will Ferrell) could use.

Elf is so full of energy and wit that when its somewhat conventional Christmas Eve conclusion arrives, the entertainment value decreases a bit. I remember feeling that way my first couple of viewings, but on my most recent few, I've anticipated it and been pleasantly surprised by how quick and painless it is.
It may not be as ingenious as the rest of the movie, when it's just the one cheery North Pole resident trying to cope in our cynical world, but it is kind of an inevitable way to end such a movie. Plus, the epilogue is pretty satisfying.

Elf was the first really big hit of Will Ferrell's movie career and its formidable $173.4 million domestic gross has still yet to be passed by any of his leading roles (DreamWorks Animation's forthcoming Megamind could change that, with an asterisk). If you've ever doubted Ferrell's artistic integrity, then perhaps you'd like to know that he turned down $29 million to make an Elf sequel because he didn't want to taint the first movie with something potentially bad. As much as I and countless others love the character, I think that was for the best, especially now that time has passed and Ferrell has more than enough worthwhile offers coming in. (Paramount, on the other hand, missed the boat by passing on an Anchorman 2.)

Also not hard up for work is Jon Favreau, a second-time feature director on Elf who has since helmed the two Iron Man movies and is presently at work on another big action epic for release next summer (called Cowboys & Aliens).

Meanwhile, those craving more Elf may be interested to know that an Elf musical will run on Broadway this holiday season. Previews start on Tuesday, with George Wendt as Santa Claus.

Six years after making its DVD debut and two after coming to Blu-ray, Elf has now been given a fancy Ultimate Collector's Edition on both formats from Warner Home Video. The studio has generally reserved the lavish gift set treatment for older films; Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Forbidden Planet, and so on. But New Line-produced Elf becomes the studio's third and latest relatively modern Christmas comedy packaged in a tin along with some nifty collectible items, following A Christmas Story in 2008 and Christmas Vacation in 2009.

Buy Elf: Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD from Amazon.com DVD Gift Set Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen and 1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned; Video Extras Captioned and Subtitled in Spanish
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.98
White Keepcase in Embossed Tin Box with Stocking, Magnetic Picture Frame,
Gift Tags, and Soundtrack Sampler CD
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($49.99 SRP)
Still available as 2-Disc Infinifilm DVD ($14.98 SRP) and 1-Disc Blu-ray ($28.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Elf is presented in both its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio and 1.33:1 "fullscreen." Though the movie studios have largely ceased bothering with screen-filling reformats (as 16:9 televisions become the norm), this DVD provides choice in the most agreeable way, making the widescreen version the default and not cramming the two presentations on one disc.

If you're young enough, 2004 might seem like a long time ago and while the home video industry has indeed been completely made over in that time, a DVD transfer of a new film from that time is apt to still look terrific. And Elf does in this clean, sharp, colorful transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack also excels, delivering solid atmosphere throughout. It also nicely distributes John Debney's fitting score, holiday standards, and unconventional but perfect song selections. The presentation leaves nothing to be desired (but should you disagree, there's always the higher resolution and less compressed audio of Blu-ray). Typical for an infinifilm DVD, there are no standard subtitles for the movie among the six text streams.

Go behind the burp with the magic of infinifilm. Not every item in the Fact Track will be news to you (like this Bigfoot spoof identification), but it's still a fun way to rewatch the movie.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Elf was one of the last of about a dozen New Line DVD titles heavily branded "infinifilm." At first glance, the DVD layout may seem overly complicated, but a 3-minute "What is infinifilm?" video makes sense of it and how best to enjoy the wealth of bonus material found here.

The infinifilm playback mode is kind of like a visual commentary with graphics appearing throughout the film offering to take you to pertinent bonus footage, which are described and their runtimes listed.
Listings typically arise two at a time about every 90 seconds and treat you to fragments of featurettes, before returning you to the part of the movie where you were.

It's a different way to view bonus features, but not a better one. This certainly isn't an enjoyable way to watch either the extras or the movie. It's one thing to view deleted/extended scenes in full context, but it's quite another to keep interrupting playback for all these other snippets. How important is it to watch a segment on North Pole production design while watching a scene set in the North Pole? Not very, I don't think. I'm guessing the vast majority of bonus feature fans would rather watch the pieces in full (as most of the clips are thankfully provided) than in 30-second pieces they have to select with remote control buttons. Infinifilm was a nice idea, but one which didn't really improve on the DVD supplement experience.

Between deleted scenes, deleted scene commentaries, and featurette snippets, I counted 94 detours. They ranged from 19 seconds to just under 4 minutes (most are a minute or shorter), for a grand total of 105 minutes and 26 seconds of material. With all the detours, replayed seconds, and disc loading, the infinifilm version requires over four hours to see everything.

While that presentation isn't ideal, the bonus content of Elf is terrific and comprehensive. And nicely, it's all presented in 16:9 (as wasn't yet the DVD standard in 2004).

Under the heading Beyond the Movie comes a fact track, which you can have activated along with the infinifilm (and with one of the commentaries, if you really want to pile on the layers) without conflict. This standard subtitle stream flows frequently enough and dispenses three types of trivia. There is information on the history of Christmas and lore, including holiday legislation and traditions. Most of this is secular Santa stuff, but a few religious facts gratefully surface as well. The second ties into the disc's film school theme, with definitions of filmmaking lingo and positions. Finally and most specific to Elf, some facts about onscreen objects, from actor achievements to the Arctic Ocean, are shared. It's not something to go out of your way to see, but the track does spruce up a repeat viewing.

Two solo audio commentaries are provided.

First up is director Jon Favreau, who is serious and informative. He explains how various effects were achieved on a production favoring old-fashioned techniques over CGI. He talks about the film's shaping from uncredited people revising drafts of the script (like Ferrell's repeat director and comedy partner Adam McKay) to the thinking behind trims and reinsertions done in postproduction. Though he briefly resorts to narrating, Favreau does a great job of letting us in on the process, sharing influences from the principal (the old Rankin-Bass TV specials) and expected (Big) to the unlikely (The Magnificent Seven) and unfamiliar (David Sedaris' "SantaLand Diaries" essay). Listening to this track, it becomes clear why the film has far more lasting value than a typical holiday family comedy; so much thought and feeling went into it.

The second commentary comes from Will Ferrell, who out of either consideration for his audience or not yet being settled into movie stardom, is unusually sincere as well. The funnyman can't resist a little sarcasm (he and Bob Newhart didn't look each other in the eye because they hated each other), but he largely keeps things austere. He earnestly addresses some of the topics everyone wants to know, regarding the subway station gum (real, but sanitary), cotton balls (candy), and getting hit by a taxi (not him; he did very few of his own stunts). Though speaking from an actor's perspective, Ferrell repeats quite a bit of the same information as Favreau. While they each fill the air of their respective tracks (Favreau more than Ferrell), they probably could and should have been recorded together.

Before he was stop-motion-animated, Leon the Snowman was just a woman in a foam suit, as this filmed version of an existing scene illustrates. Will Ferrell interrupts an interview with stunt double Mike Carpenter to make sure we know it isn't him in "Film School for Kids."

For those who'd rather not deal with the infinifilm mode, almost all of the excerpted bonus features within it can be viewed separately in full, along with some clips not offered there.

Eight deleted/alternate scenes (11:30) are presented with optional Jon Favreau commentary. There's nothing tremendous but also nothing that'd be wildly out of place in the film. There are a couple of additional moments between Buddy and Papa Elf, some more glimpses of Buddy's North Pole destruction (including a hockey game), Buddy and Leon's discussion as filmed (with a person in a foam snowman costume), and a distraught Walter walking Emily home outside Radio City Music Hall.
Among the extended scenes are Walter with the delinquent nun, Walter's tuck-in of Buddy, and Buddy's fight with short, accomplished author Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage).

In Disc 1's Behind the Scenes section, we get five featurettes that can be viewed as one big one-hour documentary.

"Tag Along with Will Ferrell" (7:00) is what it sounds like, giving us access to the star as he gets hair and make-up done, does a Central Park snowball fight pick-up shot in Vancouver, and films mail room and blue screen footage.

"Film School for Kids" (20:35) is a neat inclusion. It really deconstructs Elf's filmmaking process not just for kids but anyone who isn't entirely familiar with how movies are made (and even those who are should appreciate this). A wide assortment of crew members (assistant directors, costumers, camera operators, etc.) describe their work in on-set interviews, one of many kinds of behind-the-scenes footage shared here.

Production designer Rusty Smith explains how cardboard standees of Buddy the Elf assist in determining forced perspective scales in "How They Made the North Pole." Stephen Chiodo demonstrates the multiple mouths that give speech to the arctic puffin the Chiodo Brothers rendered in stop-motion animation for the film.

Like an extension of the previous piece, "How They Made the North Pole" (11:30) gathers more job descriptions, this time from production designers, set dressers, and laborers. As the title implies, it deals mostly with the film's opening imagery, from bright elf costumes to fake snow to forced perspective tricks.

"Lights, Camera, Puffin!" (6:36) details the Chiodo Brothers' creation of the stop-animation bits used in the film and their lifelong attraction to the medium.

Mary Steenburgen discusses Christmas motherhood while husband Ted Danson talks to a different reporter at the New York City premiere of "Elf." The filmmaking tutorial that began with the Fact Track and continued with Film School ends with this dictionary of terms.

"That's a Wrap!" (12:12) moves us to the postproduction phase, as a scene is edited, visual and sound effects are added, the film is scored by John Debney and orchestra, Buddy's long dinnertime burp is laid in, and the film has its big New York City premiere.

The section also includes a general audience film dictionary with eleven screens of moviemaking terms like "check the gate", "dolly", and "prop", covering some of the same ground as "Film School for Kids" and the fact track.

This young boy shares his holiday knowledge in "Kids on Christmas." Proving that eccentricity is key to Christmas displays, Deb Gorgens stays in this snowman outfit for the entirety of her "Deck the Halls" segment. Vince Ray carries out his favorite holiday tradition, being the Surfing Santa of South Bay, in "Santa Mania."

Plenty of additional extras accompany the fullscreen version on Disc 2. Under Beyond the Movie, we find four infinifilm-sampled featurettes that are more about Christmas than Elf.

"Kids on Christmas" (6:29) gathers cute and amusing comments from ordinary children on their holiday beliefs. It's like "Kids Say the Darndest Things" without Art Linkletter/Bill Cosby or the old "Sesame Street" interview segments without the Muppets.

"Deck the Halls" (10:24) speaks with five families and individuals who really get in the holiday spirit with elaborate, distinctive, time-consuming displays of Christmas lights and decorations. It's like something you'd find flipping around on cable television. You weren't necessarily looking for it, but the increasingly odd subjects will hold your attention as a human being.

"Santa Mania" (6:29) considers the big guy's role in some modern holiday celebrations: the Surfing Santa of South Bay, a costumer who specializes in red suits, and a large Santa statue saved by a California community.

"Christmas in Tinseltown" is celebrated in grand fashion with the Hollywood Christmas Parade offering glimpses of celebrities like Dick Van Patten, seen here with his dog, his wife, and her tiger. Director Jon Favreau explains why he chose Louis Prima's "Pennies from Heaven" to accompany the montage introducing Buddy to New York City.

"Christmas in Tinseltown" (6:50) touches upon Los Angeles' holiday traditions, particularly the Hollywood Christmas Parade, showcased and talked up by late honorary mayor Johnny Grant, other proud Angelenos, and excited tourists.

All Access Pass holds a few nice items. There is Elf's fun original theatrical trailer (2:29). Supplying a trip down recent memory lane, a "Special Announcements" page holds trailers for Secondhand Lions, The Polar Express, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and The Dave Thomas Foundation.

Finally, "Music from Elf" turns our attention to the songs featured in the film. Jon Favreau introduces the section and fourteen individual scenes, articulating why the not always obvious tunes were chosen for them. Being on the fullscreen disc, it plays the scenes in 1.33:1. In spite of that, it's a cool feature touching on an important topic that's typically overlooked. As I've been doing lately, I've included a complete list of songs featured in the movie at the bottom of the review. I won't repeat that here, but nearly every number is discussed and showcased (sadly, not Tag Team), as is the opening theme from John Debney's score. Altogether Favreau's comments run 13 minutes and 37 seconds here, though the "Play All" runs much longer since it includes the song clips too.

An Elf Read-Along feels most appropriate given the film's fairy tale quality and children's literature setting. "Snowball Fight" is simple but fun. What more can you ask of a DVD set-top game?

Fun 'n' Games kicks off with Elf Karaoke, which gives you three standard Christmas songs ("We Wish You a Merry Christmas", "Deck the Halls", and "Jingle Bells") to sing on your own or with a children's choir. Lyrics are animated next to clips from the film. A nicely-illustrated interactive storybook ("Elf: A Short Story of a Tall Tale") serves up a variation on the film as a Read-Along you can tackle on your own or have read to you.

"Buddy's Adventure" consists of four set-top games. "The Race Down Mt. Icing" has you navigate a ski slope full of obstacles. "Elf in the City" has you guessing your way to Central Park around the streets of the city, where traffic is eerily still most of the time, but occasionally moves to create a Frogger-type challenge. It's an aimless, frustrating exercise that even the map makes little sense of. "Snowball Fight" is slow but fun. "Fix Santa's Sleigh" dispenses simple holiday trivia based on the movie. If you beat them all or enough to figure out where they're going, you gain the secret code to an elevator of delights, all 21 levels of which lead to some fun animations (a Yule log, different lands journeyed by Buddy), clips (burping scenes, a loop of Buddy in the revolving doors), and interactive stations (a phone of character quips, jack-in-the-box testing, a Simon-type game with Christmas tree lights). It's way cooler than your typical DVD game reward (just being returned to the menu).

On DVD-ROM, you can "Be an Elf", but you'd probably rather not. After all, if Turtle Guy's picture is this boring, what do you think a normal person's would be like? You'll probably expect more than what you get from the DVD-ROM activity "Make Your Own Storybook." Elf's pop-up book screens are some of the best DVD menus I've ever seen, infinifilm overexplanation and all.

The extras don't end there. Five additional features are available through DVD-ROM drives and Interactual Player. "Script-to-Screen", as you'd guess, lets you compare the shooting screenplay to the film itself. In what's far from the first Interactual-related difficulty, the movie wouldn't play for me in the intended window. The script can be printed but unfortunately it's not too easy to browse and not at all outside of the buggy program. An Image Gallery holds 48 not overwhelmingly high-quality publicity and behind-the-scenes photos.
"Be an Elf" lets you put any picture onto the body of an elf, the results of which you can share. Although the e-card option doesn't work, you can save it as a JPEG, but I doubt you'll be amused enough to do that. You can "Make Your Own Storybook" using crappy clip art and your own imagination. For Printables, there are cards, activities (mazes, a word find), and even a door hanger that I'm going to need to find a color printer for this year. (Sadly but unsurprisingly a link to get more printables online leads nowhere.)

The winning menus animate pop-up books of the characters resembling the film's opening while music and sound bites play (but not indefinitely). There are even tabs on most pages you can pull for an animated pop-up effect. Infinifilm embraced the opportunity to overexplain things, but they're things that people who don't write and read DVD reviews have no reason to know. So like on the Set Up menu, you can select the question marks next to listings to learn about widescreen, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound format, and color bars (which are provided as a part of a clarified set of picture calibration tests). In addition, if you need help using DVD menus, the disc gives you a simple list of features allowing you to access every extra and option on two boring static pages.

Included alongside the DVD in the Elf: Ultimate Collector's Edition tin are a stocking, gift tags, a soundtrack sampler CD, and a magnetic photo frame with removable Buddy.

The main source of appeal for this edition are all the tangible supplements, none of which have previously been offered.

The soundtrack sampler CD (16:20) has five songs: Louis Prima's "Pennies from Heaven", Eddy Arnold's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", Earth Kitt's "Santa Baby", the "Nutcracker Suite" performed by Les Brown & His Band of Renown, and Les Baxter's "Santa Claus' Party." This is almost half of the movie's full 12-track soundtrack and, accordingly, it's semi-satisfying.
(It must be noted that Les Brown's Nutcracker Suite is neither in the film nor on the full soundtrack.) Most notable among the seven missing tracks would be Zooey Deschanel and Leon Redbone's "Baby, It's Cold Outside." That duet of the film's most iconic song is missed, but the others are welcome, especially Prima's non-seasonal number, which is great on its own and even better in the film. The disc is packaged in a standard open-faced cardboard CD single case.

Next come two sheets of gift labels with 7-8 stickers each. One sheet has a Buddy the Elf photo next to standard "To" and "From" fields against a festive design. Even better, the other sheet's labels use Buddy quotes and action poses. As usual, the dilemma may be to use these or save them. The former would make one a hit on Christmas, but the latter would keep the set intact as a collector is wont to do.

The final two items don't require such a choice. One is a 5" x 7" magnetic photo frame that reads "I just like to smile." on top and "Smiling's my favorite!" on bottom. You can put a 4" x 6" photo of you or your kids in it if you want, but it's tough to beat the removable default magnet of Will Ferrell's Buddy giving a window-fogging smile. Mine was mildly marred by a bit of adhesive residue that made it difficult to remove.

The other item is a stocking. A lesser set would have been slapped the film's title on a dinky child-sized stocking. Not this one. It measures 14 inches, not quite Buddy-sized, but not too far off. Matching the elf's attire, it's yellow with a curly black toe. An emblem of Buddy's signature elf hat adorns the top white border. It's distinctive enough to link to the movie without being a tacky ad for it.

All of this is packaged in a sturdy, title-embossed collectible tin, measuring only a bit taller and wider than a standard DVD case but with the depth of five cases. It's a really nice box, which features tall Buddy trying to fit in at the North Pole to the amazement of his much smaller fellow elves. Even the cardboard back describing the contents, which wraps around with a tasteful bow picture and the edition's name, is fitting, although you can easily remove it should you desire. Though many a DVD studio has attempted to get creative with packaging, few have put in the expense and care found here. My review copy didn't even get dinged up in transit, as often happens.

One minor note: the glittery cardboard slipcover that topped Elf's DVD when first released isn't included here. Such touches are usually limited and I doubt you'll find any copies in stores carrying one six years after its original release. Not that it's an issue if you intend to keep the DVD in this set's big tin.

New to New York City, Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) summons all his bravery for a frightening trip up the Gimbels department store escalator.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Arriving at the format's creative apex, Elf's loaded 2-disc DVD does splendidly on its own, especially at its current selling price of $10 or less. But for those who really like the movie or would like to gift something more special than just a commonplace DVD, Warner's Ultimate Collector's Edition offers some nice goodies and sweet packaging at a not unreasonable price. Are the tin box, soundtrack sampler, stocking, gift labels, and magnet worth paying $20 more than the DVD on its own? Perhaps not. But that doesn't make this set less cool for people who dig Elf and collectible sets like this.

And really, unless you're a cotton-headed ninny-muggins, how could you not dig Elf? Hilarious and even heartwarming, this is the best Christmas movie in some time and that alone qualifies it as a modern classic. One of the rare movies that plays well to all ages, Elf is something you need to see this season if you haven't already. You may not need all the bells and whistles of this new edition, but I bet you won't regret adding it to your collection in one form or another.

Buy Elf from Amazon.com:
Ultimate Collector's DVD / Ultimate Collector's Blu-ray / 2-Disc Infinifilm DVD / 1-Disc Blu-ray

Buy from Amazon.com

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Fred Claus The Santa Clause The Santa Clause 2 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause White Christmas Four Christmases
New: Mrs. Miracle Toy Story 3 Grown Ups Phineas and Ferb: A Very Perry Christmas The Hangover (Extreme Edition)
Holiday Treats: T.V. Sets It's a Wonderful Life Deck the Halls Jingle All the Way Unaccompanied Minors Santa Buddies
Peanuts: Deluxe Holiday Collection Alvin and the Chipmunks: Classic Holiday Gift Set A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!
New York Comedies: Big Enchanted Whatever Works Jungle 2 Jungle A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa 30 Rock: Season 3
2003 Movies: Finding Nemo Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl Freaky Friday Brother Bear Eloise at Christmastime



The Cast of Elf:
Will Ferrell:
Blades of Glory Step Brothers A Night at the Roxbury Semi-Pro The Wendell Baker Story
James Caan: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs The Godfather Misery Get Smart Bottle Rocket
Zooey Deschanel: Yes Man Once Upon a Mattress The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Bridge to Terabithia Surf's Up
Ed Asner: The Christmas Star Up Gus Freakazoid!: Season 1 | Bob Newhart: The Rescuers
Mary Steenburgen: One Magic Christmas Did You Hear About the Morgans? The Proposal
Directed by Jon Favreau: Iron Man | Written by David Berenbaum: The Spiderwick Chronicles The Haunted Mansion

Elf: Music from the Major Motion Picture - click to buy the CD from Amazon.com

Elf Songs List (in order of use): Louis Prima - "Pennies from Heaven", Eartha Kitt - "Santa Baby", Ferrante & Teicher - "Sleigh Ride", Les Baxter - "Santa Claus Party", The Brian Setzer Orchestra - "The Nutcracker Suite", Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschnael - "Baby, It's Cold Outside", Ella Fitzgerald & The Frank De Vol Orchestra - "Sleigh Ride", Wayne Newton - "Jingle Bell Rock", Stevie Wonder - "What Christmas Means to Me", Leon Redbone - "Christmas Island", Billy Preston - "Nothing from Nothing", Tag Team - "Whoomp! There It Is", Frank Sinatra - "You Make Me Feel So Young", Johnnie Osbourne - "Christmas Stylee", Cast - "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town", Ray Charles - "Winter Wonderland", Leon Redbone and Zooey Deschanel - "Baby, It's Cold Outside"

Elf Soundtracks:
Music from the Movie: Buy CD from Amazon.com Download MP3s from Amazon Download from iTunes

Score by John Debney: Buy CD from Amazon.com Marketplace (out of print) Download from iTunes

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Reviewed October 29, 2010.



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