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When Buddy was an orphaned baby he crawled into Santa's sack one Christmas Eve and wound up at the North Pole, where he was adopted by Papa Elf, Bob Newhart. But by the time he's fully grown, Buddy is far too big to live as an elf, and far too clumsy to make toys. So he sets off for New York City in search of his Real father, Walter Hobbes, James Caan, an unscrupulous publisher of children's books. And in this strange, exciting city, Buddy meets his Dad's wife, Emily, Mary Steenburgen, his step-brother, Michael, Daniel Tay, and Jovie, Zooey Deschanel, who works in the Christmas section of a department store. The basic idea of Elf is virtually identical to that of a superb Aussie film about an Innocent who made startling discoveries about the outside world; I'm thinking of Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby. Same idea, really, but totally different treatment. There are quite a few laughs in Elf, which was directed by the talented Jon Favreau, but Will Ferrell is a rather grating lead actor; he tries too hard to be funny, and more often than not, he isn't. But he's surrounded by some very accomplished players; Bob Newhart is hilarious, so is James Caan, and Zooey Deschanel is a charmer. Elf is easy to take, but it could have been better.

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