Scott Hardie: “It sucked.”
My instinct to skip this when it came out two decades ago was right. I'm just not the kind of person who enjoys broad Christmas comedies. I consider the Jim Carrey How the Grinch Stole Christmas to be torturously unpleasant and a desecration of everything that made Dr. Seuss special, and while the brief parts of Home Alone where Macaulay Culkin acts like a recognizable human child are good, that movie's overarching focus on punitive castle-doctrine violence feels like some kind of frightening parody of American values.
Elf is better than both of those films, but not by much. For every good element like Bob Newhart's paternal warmth or the Rankin/Bass-teasing production design of the North Pole, there are several things that are either disturbing (Zooey Deschanel dating a man who's either developmentally disabled or a sexual predator who broke in on her naked), nonsensical (a random army of park bullies attacking Ferrell with snowballs only for him to throw back with machine-gun rapidity despite his human arms), or both (the entire sequence of sexual debasing and delegitimizing of the on-the-scene TV reporter by her own colleagues).
It's one thing for a Christmas movie to lay on the cruelty thickly, so I don't mind the heavy-handedness of Fulton or Finch or the other jerks from the publishing-business sub-plot. But I do need comedies (even those for kids) to make a certain sense, because a joke can only follow its path from premise to punchline if there's an internal logic that makes sense. This movie takes way too many unjustified leaps, and fails its own talented cast with comedic material that just doesn't work. Bah humbug again.