WILL Ferrell spends much of the movie dancing and prancing his way through New York City dressed as an elf, with a perpetual idiotic grin on his face.
With his previous antics in Old School (including a drunken midnight run in the nude) and Zoolander, you expect manic chaos to erupt anytime. But not in this movie. Because Elf is all about good, clean, yuletide fun.
Buddy the elf is a little different from the other elves at the North Pole. For one, he's more than 1.8m tall.
The elves haven't been conducting weird genetic experiments on themselves. Buddy's simply a human adopted by the elves after he crawled into Santa's sack 30 years ago.
But Buddy, despite his Gulliver-in-Lilliput stature and his lone baritone voice in the choir, doesn't realise he isn't an elf.
When he finally learns the truth, he decides to head south to the 'magical city' of New York to find his real father.
Buddy's even more of a misfit in Manhattan than at the North Pole. Escalators and elevators confound and fascinate him, he waves at people hailing taxis and gobbles discarded gum, ignoring Santa's warning that it's not 'free candy'.
He finally meets his dad, children's book publisher Walter Hogg (played by a crabby James Caan), who, as Santa warns, is on 'the naughty list'.
After a DNA test, Buddy moves in with his new family, creating havoc in the Hogg household and office. He also becomes smitten with a department store 'elf', Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), after being mistaken for a store employee.
But will he be able to find any Christmas spirit in the jaded Big Apple?
(This being a happy G-rated Christmas tale, we all know the answer to that question, don't we?)
Ferrell toes the line with his wide-eyed, stranger-in-a-strange-land role, but never pushes it too far. Buddy comes across as sweet and somewhat endearing, rather than a big creep.
Jon Favreau, better known as an actor (Serendipity) and a writer (Swingers), takes a crack at directing and makes a Christmas movie that the whole family can enjoy.
Elf is no Bad Santa. The gags are clean, with only one burping scene (one!) and no naughty words. Yet it's not too squeaky Disney-clean that one cringes throughout the two hours.
Favreau also doesn't overload on the Christmas theme, unlike previous candy-coated festive films like The Santa Clause. His sets are kept simple, minimalist even. The production team stayed away from the big-budget CGI and created a classic look with muted backgrounds which bring out Buddy's bright costume.
Favreau also coaxes great performances from his cast. He leaves Ferrell with enough room to explore his 'elfness' and lets Deschanel show off her gorgeous singing voice with a rendition of Baby, It's Cold Outside. Edward Asner, an old hand at Christmas movies, plays Santa in a less-than-conventional manner -- slightly weary and wondering if he's getting too old for the job.
Ferrell describes Elf as 'a battle against cynicism. Things have gotten away from what the true spirit of the holidays are'.
But don't worry too much about the underlying message, just sit back and let the laughs roll forth.
Heck, it's fun just to watch Will Ferrell prance around in yellow tights.