One of the best holiday movies to come out in the last twenty years has to be Elf. The movie was Will Ferrell’s first solo film outside of Saturday Night Live and went way beyond anyone’s expectations. The film is celebrating its 15 year anniversary in 2018 and it’s hard to believe we’ve been saying “Cotton Headed Ninny Muggin” and following the three main elf codes for that long.
Whether it’s the 15 or 50 year anniversary, Elf will always remain a timeless holiday movie that people of all ages can enjoy. Now, you can enjoy it more with these behind the scenes secrets.
Will Ferrell Had Way Too Much Sugar While Filming
Buddy the Elf was known for giving kids around the world the wrong idea of what the four main food groups are: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.
Canadians might be used to pouring maple syrup over everything, but Ferrell was not. He reportedly suffered from headaches and a lack of sleep from all the sugar and candy he ate on set. Hasn’t Ferrell ever heard of a spit bucket? You don’t have to actually eat all that candy.
Jim Carrey Was The Original Lead
Considering the fact that the script for Elf has been in the works since 1993, it’s understandable why Carrey was originally eyed for the role. Carrey was at his absolute peak in 1993 filming movies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask.
Obviously, now it’s hard to imagine anyone but Will Ferrell in the role. Everything worked out in the end though because Carrey went on to make the perfect live-action Grinch.
The North Pole Was Inspired By Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
One of the ways Elf has become such a classic holiday movie is that the North Pole set reminds viewers of the traditional television specials they would watch, most notably Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.
That was a purposeful move by director Jon Favreau. He said if he could give it the vibe of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials that he grew up watching, then the film would have the right tone.
There’s A Long-Lost Elf Hockey Scene
Like in many movies, a few scenes don’t make the final cut. In Elf, there is a long-lost scene where Buddy and the other North Pole elves engage in a friendly game of ice hockey.
The scene was meant to encapsulate Buddy wreaking havoc on the other elves. The friendly game of ice hockey gets violent quick when a super competitive Buddy takes the ice. Luckily, you can find the deleted scene on YouTube.
Will Ferrell Has Santa Experience
Before he was playing an elf, Ferrell took on the role of Santa…but not in a film. It was actually in a mall! Ferrell and his Saturday Night Live co-star Chris Kattan worked in a mall before they made it big.
Kattan was a mall elf while Ferrell put on a big, white beard for the kids. We’re sure Ferrell took some notes from Kattan and used it a decade later for the film.
They Tried To Use As Little CGI As Possible
Since Favreau always had the idea of a Rankin/Bass Christmas special in the back of his mind, he wanted it to be true to the classic style. That meant using “motion-control, models, matte paintings” and of course, stop motion.
Favreau’s desire to use as little CGI as possible was actually a challenge with executives that thought it would make the film look cheap. We’re glad he fought so hard for his vision because it totally worked out.
One Iconic Scene Did Get Some Help From Computers
Despite trying his best to leave CGI out, Favreau did cave for one scene in particular. The epic snowball fight between Buddy, Michael, and the bullies used CGI snow and snowballs.
It’s probably not that shocking to hear that the perfectly round snowballs that Buddy launches on target at high speed were added in with CGI. Still, there’s a chance that viewers might think it was the magic of Christmas, not computers, that made the snowballs so perfect.
The Jack-In-The-Box Scene Was Genuine
One of the early hilarious scenes in Elf is when Buddy gets demoted to the toy-testing department and has to manually test hundreds of jack-in-the-boxes. In the scene, Ferrell is scared over and over by testing boxes and his reaction was 100% genuine.
Favreau used a remote control to manually pop the jack-in-the-boxes whenever he wanted in order to best surprise Will Ferrell. That’s just plain evil, but we’re glad he did it.
The Actor Who Played Ralphie In A Christmas Story Makes A Cameo
A Christmas Story has to be one of the most iconic holiday movies of all time. I mean, who can ever forget the BB Gun or the Leg Lamp? The actor who starred as Ralphie Parker makes his return to Christmas films as Ming Ming, the elf in charge of Santa’s workshop.
The actor, Peter Billingsley, went uncredited in the role and it took a while for fans to realize who he was.
Will Ferrell Broke James Caan
Ferrell was known on SNL for being the one actor who could make all his co-stars break character, and the same thing happened on the set of Elf. In the scene where Walter takes Buddy to the doctor, Caan breaks down laughing when Buddy screams out in pain after being pricked with a needle.
If you look closely you can see Caan turn around in the scene to hide his laughter so he doesn’t ruin the take.
The Epic Burp Is Real
That lengthy, dare I say it…iconic, burp that Buddy lets out at the dinner table after chugging a two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola was a real burp. Well, it was real, but it wasn’t Will Ferrell’s. The burp was actually dubbed over the scene by a voice actor who could burp on command.
That actor actually voiced Brain from Pinky and the Brain. Among his many talents is being able to let out a 12-second burp.
There Was Going To Be A Sequel
Even though Ferrell seems pretty open to other sequels (hello, Anchorman 2 and Zoolander 2) he’s always refused to do an Elf sequel. Ferrell was even reportedly offered $29 million to reprise the role and still said no.
Why? He says that it would “look slightly pathetic” if he tried to “squeeze back in the elf tights.” I think Buddy the middle-aged elf could work. The fans will take anything they can get.
In 2010, Elf Made Its Way To Broadway
It’s not always easy to turn a hit movie into an equally successful Broadway show, but Elf lent itself perfectly. The Broadway show ran from November 2010 to January 2011 and received critical and commercial success.
The musical boasted songs with hilarious titles like “World’s Greatest Dad,” and “Nobody Cares About Santa.” The musical made $1.4 million in its opening week and has returned to Broadway frequently, proving that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.
You Can Thank Zooey Deschanel For All The Singing
The original Elf script didn’t include much singing, which was hard to believe since the number one rule of being an elf is knowing that “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
Jon Favreau only added the singing and Christmas carols after Zooey Deschanel was cast as Jovie. He realized what a great singer she was and wanted to showcase it in the film.
The Fight Buddy Has With Santa Had To Be Done In One Shot
Both Buddy and the Santa Claus that sits “on a throne of lies” and smells “like beef and cheese” had to be on top of their game during their infamous fight scene. The brawl had to be filmed in one take because it would take too much time and be way too expensive to clean up and reshoot.
It took long enough to build one Empire State LEGO Building, so just imagine having to do it three or four times.
No CGI Makes For Amazing Souvenirs
Not using any CGI meant that Favreau had to essentially create two identical sets. One set was small to make Buddy look like a massive elf, and another was large to make the elves look small.
The perspective work was hard, but Favreau says it was worth it for the hilarious souvenirs he ended up with. He has a four-and-a-half foot long Louisville Slugger in his office that the elves were building in one scene.
Favreau Played Multiple Roles In The Film
Director Jon Favreau is known for slipping into a few scenes in each of his films. You’d definitely recognize him as the doctor who pricks Buddy for a DNA sample, but we bet you didn’t notice his other roles.
Favreau also voiced the narwhal who hopes Buddy finds his dad, the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off, and even the rabid raccoon that attacks Buddy on the way to New York.
Buddy Was Supposed To Be Bullied
In the early version of the movie script, Buddy only left the North Pole because he was being bullied so much by the other elves. Favreau made a point to remove that element because it didn’t seem to make sense. North Pole elves are supposed to be incredibly cheerful, so why would they be bullies?
Plus, it would be hard to explain why Buddy was so positive. It was necessary for him to grow up in a “world where everybody was so sweet.”
They Actually Shot Scenes In New York
Most films don’t even think about filming scenes in busy locations like New York or Los Angeles, but that isn’t Jon Favreau’s style. He tries to make everything as authentic as possible. He packed up the cast and crew and went to iconic New York landmarks when necessary.
That means all the scenes you see at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West were actually filmed on location, which only adds to the authenticity of the movie.
Yes, Gimbel’s Is Just Macy’s
One of the most iconic parts of New York City is the Macy’s department store on 34th Street. One of the major plot points of the film is Buddy getting a job at the largest department store in the city, Gimbel’s.
If you’ve been to New York City then you’d know the two stores look mysteriously alike, and that’s because it was filmed in Macy’s. Favreau couldn’t get the rights to call it Macy’s, so they changed the name and digitally altered the signs.
Real New Yorkers Turned Into Extras
On the final day of shooting in New York City, Favreau wanted to film Buddy exploring on his “first” day in the city. Favreau, Ferrell, and one cameraman walked around the city with Ferrell in full costume eating gum, spinning through revolving doors, and hopping across the street.
The confused people you see in the background are genuine New Yorkers who had no idea why an adult in tights was being filmed in front of them.
Some Of The Sets Were Built In A Horror Factory
Elf is definitely not a horror movie, but some of the sets used were built in a facility called Riverview Hospital. It’s an old abandoned hospital in Vancouver, Canada that has been the backdrop for multiple horror films like The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Freddy Vs Jason, and See No Evil 2.
The sets for Watler’s apartment, Gimbel’s toy department, and the prison cell that Buddy briefly visits were all shot at Riverview.
Baby Buddy Is A Girl
The little elf that crawls into Santa’s toy bag was originally supposed to be played by twin boys with curly blonde hair. The only issue was that they were terrible at acting. They couldn’t smile on cue and apparently cried the entire time.
Favreau fired the twins (sorry kids, them’s the breaks) and hired a brunette set of female triplets to play the young version of Buddy. Showbusiness is tough, no matter what your age is.
Don’t Forget About Peter Dinklage
Before Peter Dinklage was busy murdering his father and conquering kingdoms with Khaleesi on Game of Thrones, he played a major part in Elf. Dinklage had the role of author Miles Finch.
Walter’s publishing firm hires the author to write them a children’s book, but Buddy ruins it by mistaking his short stature for a North Pole elf. That’s one joke they definitely wouldn’t be able to get away with today.
Will Ferrell Caused Accidents
Remember how we said the last day of filming was all about those shots of Buddy walking around New York City? One of those iconic shots is when Buddy walks through the Lincoln Tunnel.
Apparently, people were so shocked to see Will Ferrell in an elf costume walking out of the Lincoln Tunnel that several traffic accidents were reported. We hope Ferrell or Favreau at least paid for some of the repair bills.
Does The Snowman Look Familiar?
If you think the snowman who gives Buddy advice at the beginning of the film looks familiar, that’s because it’s the exact same snowman that appears in Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Favreau got permission to use the snowman in the film and made a touching tribute to the character.
In Elf, the snowman finally receives a name. They chose the name after Leon Redbone, the actor who voices the character. Oh, and Leon is Noel spelled backward. How’s that for Christmas cheer?
Will Ferrell Wasn’t Actually Eating Cotton Balls
In the scene at the doctor office, Buddy shows off his incredible elf digestive system by eating all the cotton balls in the office (and annoying Walter in the process). Those weren’t actually cotton balls, they were cotton candy balls.
It sounds like a fun scene to film until you remember that Ferrell got sick from all the sugar he ate in the film. Now, the only question left is which elf food group does cotton candy fall into?
There Aren’t That Many Buttons In The Empire State Building Elevators
That scene where Buddy presses every single elevator button in the Empire State Building to make it look like a Christmas tree is totally fake. In the actual elevators at the Empire State Building, there aren’t nearly as many buttons.
The elevator they used was just a set piece that Favreau built to have enough buttons that it looked prettier than the basic three-rows of buttons you might usually see.
The Bridge Scene Pays Tribute To It’s A Wonderful Life
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer isn’t the only holiday movie that Favreau took inspiration from for Elf. The scene toward the end where Buddy is walking across the bridge after leaving Walter’s apartment is a homage to a similar scene in It’s A Wonderful Life.
The original bridge scene is one of the most chilling and meaningful scenes in Christmas movie history, and we think Will Ferrell did a pretty good job paying tribute.
Will Ferrell’s Brother Has A Small Role
First of all, we didn’t even know Will Ferrell had a brother. Patrick Ferrell is also an actor, but admittedly much less famous than his brother Will.
Patrick mostly plays small parts and cameos in Will’s films. In Elf, he plays the security guard that removes Buddy from the Empire State Building. Patrick has also had roles in Night at the Roxbury, Anchorman, and The Other Guys. I guess the Ferrell’s have good acting genes.