It never fails that as soon as the holiday season begins, Elf can be found airing on just about every television network. Since its silver screen debut in 2003, the Christmas comedy film is now widely considered a seasonal classic.
The prominent cast, comprised of funny-man Will Ferrell, James Caan, and Mary Steenburgen, helps the film deliver a dominant Christmas story that not only induces roaring belly-laughs, but also simultaneously pulls at the heart strings. Despite making its appearance well over a decade ago, the film still continues to receive lavish praises. Its success from viewers and critics alike has launched a Broadway musical inspired by the film and Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, a stop-motion animation special televised by NBC in 2014.
While each Christmas season recruits new viewers to the holiday comedy, many faithful fans would be surprised to learn facts of the beloved film that they didn’t already know. With every great movie, there is always undiscovered trivia that goes unnoticed by viewers regarding behind the scenes secrets that are not easily exposed. But since the comedy has been entertaining fans for many years now, these facts are now public knowledge.
So for all you Elf fans out there wanting to learn more about this favorite Christmas feature, round up your holiday cheer and maple syrup to enjoy as you discover 15 things about Elf that you didn’t know.
15. The Christmas Story Cameo
A Christmas Story has been regarded as a classic holiday film since it made its debut in 1983. The child actor, Peter Billingsley, best known for his role as Ralphie in the movie makes a surprising appearance in Elf. While it was a cameo that was missed by many viewers, his short uncredited scene brings the Christmas film genre full circle. Billingsley plays one of Buddy’s supervising elves at the North Pole workshop when Buddy was still working as a full time elf for Santa. Seeing as Buddy was a human and lacked the talent to make toys like the elves around him, he had several run-ins with his supervisor. Despite not having a large role on screen, Billingsley has been doing most of his work off-camera as a producer. He and Elf director, Jon Favreau, have worked on other projects together, including Iron Man.
14. The Shower Duet Scene Was Added
When Buddy makes his way into New York City, he receives quite the culture shock. In his elf village located in the North Pole, there are many situations that may be appropriate there, but not in a city comprised entirely of humans. One of these scenarios in which he gets a rude awakening is when he sits outside the shower stall and joins in with Jovie’s rendition of Baby It’s Cold Outside. While that scene brings on many laughs with his antics, it almost didn’t appear in the film. When Elf was first written, the duet scene was not included into the screenplay. It was later added during production when the director learned that Zooey Deschanel was an accomplished singer and he wanted to add that element into the comedy. The shower scene then provided Buddy and Jovie the opportunity to break the ice and slowly begin their journey of a potential romance.
13. The Truth Behind The Belch
Seeing as Buddy gladly participated in eating the core groups of the elf food pyramid, he experienced many gassy moments due to his unhealthy intake of food. During one particular scene of the film, Buddy is eating dinner with his newly acquainted family and downs a two-liter bottle of soda pop. Following his drink, Ferrell’s character lets out an extremely lengthy belch. While Buddy is shown expressing the loud burp, the actor cannot be credited for the noise. That recognition belongs to voice actor, Maurice LaMarche. Best known for his work as Brian on Pinky and the Brain, LaMarche shared his secret of creating the belch in an interview. The voice actor states, “I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp.” A strange talent, but evidently useful in the film industry.
12. Influenced By Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer
To many viewers of the film, the classic stop-motion of the North Pole may look very familiar. The production design was influenced by the classic Christmas film, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. The director, Favreau, wanted to pay tribute to the 1964 holiday special by bringing the beloved winter wonderland of Santa to life. In addition to the animation, the costumes of the elves in Elf was heavily inspired by those worn by Hermey and his fellow elves in the older Christmas movie. The only noticeable difference of the costumes is the color. Instead of a blue coat, Buddy rocks a green and yellow outfit. In the North Pole, Santa’s workshop in the comedy was also influenced by the designs of the classic movie television special. In order to avoid legal issues, the production team received permission to model the designs of the sets, costumes, and stop-motion animals for the film. They even secured the privilege of using the signature snowman that was originally seen in the earlier holiday feature.
11. The Director Makes Cameos
If directing Elf wasn’t already a big enough job, director Jon Favreau had a few cameos in the Christmas comedy. As a fellow actor who had a supporting role in the Iron Man film, Favreau is no stranger of being in front of the camera, despite choosing to work many projects behind the lens. Viewers are able to catch a glimpse of the director as he played the doctor in the holiday film who confirms Buddy as Walter’s son. On the DVD commentary for the flick, Favreau also revealed that he provided the voices and sounds for two animals. As Buddy embarks on his journey from the North Pole to New York City, an animated narwhal provides the human-elf with a friendly farewell. That voice for the animated character was provided by Favreau. He additionally, voiced the sounds for the rabid raccoon that Buddy comes across when walking through the woods to get to the city.
10. The Movie Became A Broadway Musical
Since its 2003 debut, Elf quickly became a popular holiday film. With its large success, the film went from the big screen to Broadway in no time. Just seven years following the release of the movie, Elf: The Musical finally hit the musical scene from November 2010 to January 2011 at the Al Hirschfield Theater. With hit songs such as The Story of Buddy the Elf and World’s Greatest Dad, the play brought to life Buddy’s beloved journey as he travels from the North Pole to New York City in order to meet his real dad. With a strong debut in the first week, the musical became just as popular as the inspired film. According to the New York Times, it’s “A splashy, preppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment.” With the accomplishing reviews from fans and critics, another run opened during the Christmas season the following year.
9. Baby Buddy Was Female
It’s not always easy working with child actors, or just about any actor for that matter, but it seems that the younger ones cause more problems. When casting for the role of baby Buddy, the film was able to cast a set of twin boys who had light curly hair that was identical to Ferrell’s. What seemed like a good addition to the cast, quickly went downhill as the babies became extremely difficult to film with. The twins and the production staff were unable to work well together, as the young duo cried relentlessly, rather than happily crawling around. Since they were unable to get the shots they needed, the boys were ultimately let go. In their place, the film was able to cast brunette triplets, who happened to all be females. Despite being the opposing gender, the girls proved to be excellent candidates for the role as baby Buddy with their playful actions and personalities.
8. Ferrell’s Fear Was Real
Elf is filled with an array of laugh out loud moments, however, this particular scene was completely unscripted in order to capture an authentic reaction to the menacing jack-in-the-boxes. Which means that the terror and anxiety that is clearly written on Ferrell’s face is completely real. While filming this scene, the director controlled the moment in which the toy would unexpectedly pop up by controlling it with a remote. Manipulating the timing in which the jack-in-the-boxes would react, allowed Ferrell to have an accurate response to the toy’s suspenseful arrival. And if the laughter of the toy sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s the same sound used for the laughing hyenas at the Magic Kingdom park in Disney World. By knowing this, it makes the scene much more entertaining to watch knowing that the fear is extremely real for the comedic actor.
7. This Scene Had To Be Filmed In One Take
Watching the pure joy that Buddy expressed when learning that Santa would be making an appearance still continues to be a fan-favorite moment. And the fight scene that follows? Equally entertaining. However, it was a very stressful scene to film seeing as it had to be shot in one take. Due to the extra expense that it would cost in order to reset the set, the crew decided that this scene had to be shot once and only once in order to keep the film’s allotted budget. The set of Gimbal’s toy department was already costly to build, but once it was decorated to incorporate Buddy’s late night festive remodel, the expense to reset the set increased. Seeing as scenes are often filmed multiple times, Ferrell and his fellow cast mates had the task of nailing their lines and movements in only one take.
6. Ferrell Roamed Around NYC In Character
In the last few days of filming Elf, Ferrell and the film’s director ventured around New York City to capture Buddy’s first moments in the city. Dressed head-to-toe in his elf garb, the actor turned many heads with not only his outfit, but also his actions. From Central Park to the Lincoln Tunnel, Ferrell acted out several Buddy scenarios. He hopped across cross-walks and collected multiple store flyers and promotions. All the while, his actions were so distracting that several traffic accidents were reported in regards to the filming. Rather than hiring extras for these scenes, real life pedestrians were paid for their exposure during the used footage. So that moment where Buddy walks out in front on an incoming Taxi? Real. While it may look like bystanders in the scenes were turning their head in confusion at Buddy’s actions, they were mainly confused as to why Ferrell was participating in such elf-like games.
5. Ferrell Became Sick While Filming
An elf’s core food groups and diet may be made up entirely of sugar, but for humans, it’s not a component that sits well with us. So, when Buddy was confessing and illustrating his love for maple syrup, soda pop, and chocolate, Ferrell was suffering the consequences of his character’s beloved choice of caloric intake. Throughout filming, the forty-nine-year-old actor experienced several health conditions. He experienced many sleepless nights and painful headaches. In addition to filming multiple takes of scenes consuming eats of the elf food pyramid, Ferrell also ate cotton candy on set as well. During the doctor visit scenes, Buddy is shown eating cotton balls. As he throws backs the un-dyed cotton candy rounds, Ferrell was aiding to his sugar hangover that was exposing him to many uncomfortable side effects. Unfortunately for Ferrell, there was no body double to step in and consume all the sugary sweets and eats.
4. Sets Were Built In A Horror Factory
The film may embody the Holiday spirit with sugar plums and happiness, but many fans of Elf will be surprised to learn where the sets were actually stationed. In an abandoned mental hospital, the sets of Gimbel’s toy department and Walter’s lavish Central Park West apartment was constructed in the freaky building located in Vancouver. The facility, known as Riverview Hospital, has also been home to sets for suspense and horror films such as Final Destination 2 and See No Evil 2. The decision to host some of the sets in this location was based on keeping production costs as low as possible. Another way the film attempted to save was to only film in New York City when they really needed to for a few specific scenes that required the city’s backdrop, such as the Central Park and Rockefeller Center scenes. When not filming in the city, the movie was shot on location in Canada.
3. Macy’s Stood In For Gimbels
When it comes to shopping for the best Christmas gifts during the holiday season in the world of Elf, Gimbels is the go-to department store. Located in the heart of New York City, Buddy eventually finds his way in the toy section of the large shopping mall. Reminding him of his home at Santa’s workshop in the North Pole, the human-elf finds comfort being amongst the toys. He even proceeded to decorate the entire section of the store with his own seasonal flair that represented his elf roots. In order to represent the prominent reputation and downtown location of the store, the production team used Macy’s as the inspiration for Gimbels. The sprawling Manhattan location was digitally altered in order to represent Elf’s Gimbels. Awkwardly enough, Gimbels was in fact once a real department store that was a large rival of Macy’s. Despite its competitive streak with Macy’s, Gimbels ultimately closed its doors after 100 years of business in 1987.
2. Ferrell Refused A Sequel
Apparently Buddy the Elf is staying on the shelf. Despite the large success that Elf has received from the box office and audiences, Ferrell shockingly turned down an offer for a sequel. According to reports, the comedic actor flat out denied the opportunity to bring back Buddy the Elf in a follow up film. In fact, rumor has it that he was offered $29 million dollars to reprise his role. Gasp! While Ferrell has agreed to sequels for his roles in the Anchorman and Zoolander franchises, it’s shocking to learn that he has no interest in further developing his character’s story. In a 2013 interview with USA Today, Ferrell finally spoke out regarding his refusal to film a second film. The actor stated, “I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf.” Son-of-a-nutcracker!
1. Jim Carrey Was Initially Eyed For The Role Of Buddy
It’s hard to imagine anyone other than Will Ferrell portraying the lovable human-elf Buddy, but there was a moment when all eyes were on Jim Carrey to take on the role. Before the film’s release in 2003, the Christmas comedy was already in development for a decade. When the script for Elf was originally written in 1993 by its screenwriter David Berenbaum, Carrey was strongly in mind for Buddy. However, the comedic actor turned down the lead role in order to film other projects that were flooding in after Ace Ventura: Pet Detective launched the actor into a prime moment of his career in Hollywood. With Carrey out, the production team knew that they needed an equally funny man to lead the film. Nearly a decade after being placed on hold, the film finally got the attention of Favreau and he was able to get Ferrell on board for the Christmas flick as the actor wanted an opportunity to pursue more comedy that differed from his Saturday Night Live roles.