The holiday movie season officially gets under way with "Elf." Will Ferrell of "Saturday Night Live" fame plays Buddy, an lumbering manchild raised by Christmas elves who leaves the North Pole for New York City to find his biological father (James Caan), an unprincipled book editor who somehow found his way onto Santa’s "naughty" list.
Can Buddy’s bubbling yuletide enthusiasm redeem his dad and, for that matter, save Christmas as we know it?
Lynn Roberts, owner of Lynn Roberts Enterprises in Phoenix, is one of the Valley’s leading brokers of shopping mall Santas. Occasionally, he’ll strap on a beard and play the Jolly One himself.
Tribune: As somebody who makes his living spreading Christmas cheer, what did you think of "Elf" as a holiday movie?
Roberts: I thought it was just a real delight. Lots of laughs — I laughed all the way throughout, in fact. A lot of slapstick, of course, and some more subtle humor, and a dash of the completely bizarre.
Tribune: Demonstrably more than a dash, I would say. Could Will Ferrell have played this character any weirder? The things he ate . . .
Roberts: Like the syrup and spaghetti. Yeah, that was out there.
Tribune: Yes. And he was just so infantile. What is it about these "Saturday Night Live" guys? Why can’t they be cool anymore, like Belushi? Why are they all such baby-talking freaks?
Roberts: He was really naive — society was so new to him. And, of course, Bob Newhart was great.
Tribune: As the Buddy’s adoptive father elf. Doing that dry Bob Newhart thing.
Roberts: Deadpan humor, unemotional, going along with the scene.
Tribune: I liked Newhart, too, and I thought the scenes at the North Pole were cute. It reminded me a little of Tim Burton, with the stopmotion narwhal and the lowtech forced perspective tricks. But when Buddy heads south, I think the movie goes with him. It looses a lot of that Christmas "magic."
Roberts: From the viewpoint of somebody who works in the Christmas industry — I sort of stumbled into it right around 1979 — for someone who’s been exposed to so much of it, I thought the farcical stuff was refreshing. That blonde actress who plays Buddy’s squeeze . . .
Tribune: Zooey Deschanel. Lupus girl.
Roberts: Great voice.
Tribune: Yes, but she’s so doughy and listless. I buy her in a trailer park, but not in New York City.
Roberts: She actually kind of reminded me of my niece.
Tribune: Whoops. Sorry. You said that you found the farcical part of "Elf" refreshing. Have Christmas movies gotten too serious, in your opinion?
Roberts: Oh, I don’t know. I really didn’t care for the Tim Allen movies . . .
Tribune: Yeah, those blew.
Roberts: This one kept enough reality in it for everybody to enjoy, toddlers to adults. It was cartoonish, and then it took some time to point out cynicism.
Tribune: Sure, but all Christmas movies say that: "Oh, we’re all so materialistic. Blah, blah, blah." It’s become boilerplate. I find that cynical.
Roberts: For you, I was being a lot more critical on this one than I usually am when I watch movies. There were lots of cute laughs.
Tribune: What would you give "Elf," out of four stars?
Roberts: Well, is there such a thing as two-and-a-half? Not a masterpiece, but pretty good.
Tribune: I gave it two stars. Give Will Ferrell a beer bong, put him in a frat house, that’s funny. But he’s miscast here. I mean, the guy’s in his mid-30s and they have him acting like a 12-year-old. It was creepy. Sometimes, it did feel that way. But you just have to consider he led a very sheltered life. As far as kids go, almost all of them will get a hoot out of it.