Part of the agreement in being comedy’s ‘It’ boy seems to be the timely release of a by-the-numbers Christmas movie. Will Ferrell is no exception, having been passed the torch from Jim Carrey (The Grinch) who in turn received it from Tim Allen (The Santa Clause).
The plot is hardly original or surprising. An orphan baby is taken out of its element and brought up in a strange setting, only to be re-introduced into society to great comedic effect. This time, though, the baby is accidentally taken by Santa Claus (Ed Asner, whose big-man looks a lot like an angry father) and brought up in the North Pole among the laborious society of elves.
Likewise, Ferrell’s over-active turn as the human-turned-elf is not surprising. ‘Buddy’ steals every scene, just as we expect him to, and director Jon Favreau (who, as seen in his cameo as a doctor, seems to have inflated since his last directorial outing; Made) is wise to not turn the camera off the SNL graduate for more than a minute at a time.
What is surprising, however, is how well the film avoids the endless list of Christmas-movie-clichés. The first half of the film speeds along, never bothering to show us the parts of the story that we’ve seen in the hundred similarly-plotted films before it. When Buddy arrives in New York, dressed in his green jacket and yellow tights, we don’t get the standard scenes of New Yorkers making fun of him or taking advantage of the nioave fish-out-of-water. The action is kept to vignettes of Buddy misunderstanding his surroundings, which allows Ferrell to exercise his sketch-based comedy experience. And some of these scenes are roll-on-the-floor funny.
|""Why don’t you just say it? I’m a cotton-headed ninny-muggins.""|
Favreau clearly sees this as his career’s one Christmas movie, and he packs as many seasonal homage’s into the film as he can. The North Pole sequences feature stop-motion characters taken right out of American Christmas television specials; Santa’s costumes are taken from Coca-Cola ads from the 1940s; the plot involves Buddy meeting his father (James Caan) in the narratively-ubiquitous Empire State building; A scene on a bridge even has echoes of the ultimate Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life.
These touches, alongside Ferrell’s wild turn and the adult-friendly cast (seeing James Caan sing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ will be a highlight for ‘Godfather’ fans) make this a reliable piece of family entertainment.
The humour is accessible to all, and rather than providing the Shrek-like distinction between what kids find funny and what their parents will laugh at, Ferrell manages to crack both at once.
Sadly, the film begins to falter in the final act, where the brisk pace is maintained. A film like this would be forgiven for slowing down a little here, and letting the momentum of the first two acts carry the remainder of the film. Instead, we continue to race along, introducing new characters (the very strange, Wraith-like, Central Park Rangers) which denies us the enjoyment of watching the characters resolve their journeys naturally. It feels rushed, and just as we’re being encouraged to savour the Christmas Spirit. Scrooges.
But this is Will Ferrell’s movie, and as such, we are given every possible opportunity to enjoy his hyperactive, full-body, double-twist dive into the role. Parents can play this one on repeat for the kids throughout December and find themselves repeatedly sitting down beside them and laughing along.
Presented in a 16:9 enhanced 1.85:1 ratio, the transfer is clear and artefact free. There are no visible compression errors, and the colour detail is clear and bright. All North Pole sequences incorporate digital effects and more traditional scale effects and stop-motion animation seamlessly, without any distortion or visual areas.
The video loses points, however, for an unimpressive use of blacks and shadows toward the film’s end. When the tone changes and the main action sequence begin, the colours dry up and leave a murky overall effect. Together with the unfortunate decline in the pacing of the film toward the end, this diminishes the overall effect of the film.
I know there was a layer-change in there somewhere, because the box says it’s ‘Dual Layer’, but I’ll be hum-bugged if I noticed it.
Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 mixes do a good job of filling the room with sound. The score is spread perfectly through all 5 speakers, and seems to hover in the middle of the viewing room. While the DTS mix gives the front, left and right speakers more to play with in the lower end, the Dolby Digital mix lets the Sub-woofer handle the brunt of the work. This can cause an imbalance in parts, but certainly not enough to suggest that the it will disappoint.
The 2.0 mix is nice, but not different enough from the ‘Stereo’ setting on your DVD player to warrant much more of a mention.