This week marks the 10-year anniversary of both Elf and Love Actually. That means you've spent ten consecutive holiday seasons finding these movies on cable and deciding, well, why wouldn't you tune in?
We decided to honor the legacies of these two holiday greats by engaging in a friendly debate. Since we love both movies too much to disparage one over the other, we decided to make it more specific: while they are both fun and delightful movies, which is the better Christmas movie? Which one makes the best case for itself as a holiday-specific classic?
Don't get me wrong. I adore Love Actually. I will watch it any time it's on, starting from any part of the movie. But that's just the thing: while I could ostensibly watch Love Actually in July without feeling awkward about the fact that I am being utterly unseasonable, I can only watch Elf at Christmastime. Hence, for this and other reasons, Elf, the story of Buddy and human raised by elves who ventures to New York to find his dad, is the more perfect Christmas movie.
Elf is, in part, such a great Christmas movie because of how indebted it is to other Christmas movies. It's a wonderful mashup of tropes you know and love from the season. First and foremost, there's the use of Rankin/Bass style animation, a lovely ode to the classic Rudolph and Frosty TV specials. But even as the movie leaves the North Pole behind and becomes more about the sight gags involving Will Ferrell in an oversized elf costume in New York City, allusions continue to pop up. Buddy ends up working (and sleeping) at a Gimbels, a nod to the most famous movie about a magical New York City department store, Miracle on 34th Street. In fact, the exterior of Gimbels in the movie was Herald Square's Macy's, the setting of Miracle on 34th Street, since Gimbels itself had long gone out of business by the time the movie was released. The James Caan character—Buddy's biological dad—is the Scrooge and/or Grinch character who needs to be taught about kindness on the holiday. And! It's a stretch, but you could even say Zooey Deschanel's singing makes the whole thing a musical a la White Christmas. (Remember, this is blonde Zooey Deschanel, before you had any preconceived notions about Zooey Deschanel.)