There are usually a handful of new Christmas movies opening in theaters every holiday season. Most of them are rather forgettable, but every now and then one becomes an almost instant classic that you can watch over and over again. Elf seemed to land in that sacred category right out of the gate with Will Ferrell and director Jon Favreau giving audiences one of the goofiest Christmas movies ever.
The script had been floating around Hollywood for years and originally was a much darker PG-13 version, but after a re-write what emerged was a man-child destined to save Christmas, and annoy as many New Yorkers as possible in the process. Here are twelve facts you might not know about Buddy’s rampage through the Big Apple.
1. Will Ferrell had prior elf experience. Will might not have actually portrayed as an elf, but he did have experience working with them — or one in particular. In his pre-SNL days, Will and fellow SNL cast member Chris Kattan had a brief stint working as a Santa and elf at a mall in California.
“I have some experience playing Santa Claus…Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), ‘Santa’s over there, kid.'”
There’s no photographic evidence of Will’s stint as a mall Santa, but to give you an idea of what those poor kids were dealing with, here’s his Santa Apple ad from 2007.
2. Jim Carrey was originally supposed to play Buddy. The script for Elf had been floating around Hollywood for 10 years before it finally went into production, and in 1993 Jim Carrey was the biggest comedy star in America. As the years went by and Jim Carrey headlined The Grinch That Stole Christmas and A Christmas Carol, he lost interest in doing yet another holiday movie and the script made its way over to Will Ferrell.
3. Will Ferrell didn’t have to fake his surprise at the jack-in-the boxes. Will’s surprise and terror is for the most part genuine. Jon Favreau had the jacks wired so that he could control them with a remote to scare Will at the precise moment. The sound used for the laughing jacks is the same laughter used for the laughing Lion King hyenas at Disney World.
4. Will’s body suffered from Buddy’s sugary diet. Granted, Will’s body was never quite an Adonis of perfection, but all the sugar that he was shoving into his mouth as Buddy took its toll. After devouring the Elf food pyramid and nearly a hundred cotton candy balls the actor reported being stricken with headaches during the movie’s filming.
“I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I’m there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will – if that’s what the job calls for.”
5. Producers had to fire a baby. The baby in the movie was actually the second casting after the first babies — a pair of twin boys — had to be canned. The boys were reportedly crying the whole time instead of crawling, smiling, and being adorable. As a replacement, the production in brought in happy triplet girls that took their chance at Hollywood stardom far more seriously than the whiny twins.
6. The movie’s design took a cue from the 1960s version of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Director Jon Favreau wanted to pay tribute to the winter wonderland of the 1964 Christmas classic and had Buddy’s costume modeled after the costume worn by aspiring dentist, Hermey. Of course there’s also the nod to Leon the snowman looking strikingly similar to Rudolph’s Sam the Snowman.
7. A deleted scene had Buddy causing chaos on the ice. To play up Buddy’s unusual elf size, a scene was shot with him attempting to play ice hockey with the other elves, but mainly just creating havoc. The scene was eventually dropped from the final version of the film, but of course made its way to the DVD extras.
8. Buddy’s monstrous burp wasn’t Will’s own. The huge burp that Buddy lets out at the dinner table was real, but it didn’t belong to Will Ferrell. Though he was uncredited in the movie, the belch actually belonged to actor Maurice LaMarche — aka Brain from Pinky and the Brain.
9. Elf shared space with a couple of horror movie legends. While some of the movie’s iconic New York shots like Central Park and Rockefeller Center were of course filmed in NYC, other scenes were shot in Vancouver to save money. Walter’s Central Park apartment and Gimble’s extravagant toy department were actually filmed inside an abandoned mental hospital that had previously been used for the movie Freddy vs. Jason.
10. Making Buddy appear so huge was accomplished with two sets and forced perspective. The same technique that was used to make the hobbits in Lord of the Rings appear smaller was used in Elf. In order to accomplish this forced perspective and make Buddy appear so large, two sets were built with one being smaller than the other. One set is raised up and a little closer to the camera than the other and according to Jon Favreau, if you look closely at the North Pole scenes you can see where the two sets come together because CG wasn’t used to cover up the flaw.
11. Will Ferrell caused some minor traffic accidents. New Yorkers weren’t ready to see Will Ferrell walking around in bright yellow tights and many of the scenes were shot with Will and a camera crew dashing around to different parts of the city to get footage and using people on the sidewalk as extras. Jon Favreau told Rolling Stone that when Buddy walked through Lincoln Tunnel, the sight of Will actually caused a few minor traffic accidents.
“When we had Will in the Lincoln Tunnel, the tunnel was open. Same thing with the 59th Street Bridge. Whenever he was out there in his suit, we’d hear screeches and fender-benders and lights smashing. People would be looking at him walking on the side and that would cause a few minor traffic accidents.”
12. Don’t expect Elf 2 to ever happen. Or if it ever does happen, it certainly won’t be with Will Ferrell. Warner Brothers tried everything in its power to convince Will to put the yellow tights on for a second round, but the actor turned down their $29 million offer, saying he didn’t want to risk putting out a sequel that was a piece of crap.
“That’s what was on offer for it,” he says. “But I killed the idea of a sequel. I never liked it – $29m does seem a lot of money for a guy to wear tights, but it’s what the marketplace will bear.”