11 Things You Never Knew About the Movie Elf

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Christmas wouldn’t be the same without a rewatch of Elf. But how much do you really know about it? Here are 11 facts that should surprise you.

1. Will Ferrell Once Played a Mall Santa

Actor Will Ferrell didn’t need to do any research before taking on the role of Buddy the Elf – he’d already spent one Christmas in character playing Santa at a Pasadena shopping mall back when he was starting out with comedy troupe The Groundlings. Bonus trivia: Chris Kattan, who’d later star alongside Ferrell in Saturday Night Live, played the elf to Ferrell’s Santa.

2. That ‘Throne of Lies’ Scene Was Shot In One Take

Speaking of mall Santas, one of the film’s most iconic scenes sees Buddy attack a department store Santa for impersonating the real Saint Nick. The fight is pretty spectacular, as Ferrell and the fake Santa (Artie Lange) smash their way through tables, Christmas trees, and Lego cities. Because it would’ve taken too long to restore the elaborate set to its pre-fight state, the whole thing had to be done in one take. Impressive.

3. Inspired By Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

Director Jon Favreau wanted his movie to have a classic Christmas feel, so he took his cues from the Rankin/Bass Christmas special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The stop-motion sequences in Elf are packed with visual references to it – Elf’s Leon the Snowman looks identical to Rudolph’s Sam the Snowman!Even the costumes worn by the elves are based on the ones worn by Rudolph’s stop-motion elves.

4. There’s No CGI In It (Well, Barely Any)

To fit with that classic Christmas aesthetic, Favreau wanted to avoid using CGI in the film. He managed to achieve most of the film’s special effects using timeless effects, such as matte paintings, models, and, of course, stop-motion animation. For the North Pole scenes, where Buddy needed to look much bigger than his fellow elves, Favreau used forced perspective, the same trick they used to make the Hobbits look tiny in Lord of the Rings. About the only thing that couldn’t be done practically was the snow.

5. Legendary Animator Ray Harryhausen Makes a Cameo

It’s basically impossible to use stop-motion animation without acknowledging the pioneering work of Ray Harryhausen, the special effects genius behind Clash of the Titans and Jason And the Argonauts. So when Favreau realised Harryhausen was in town during filming, he quickly signed him up for a speaking role. Harryhausen provides the voice of the polar bear cub in the scene where Buddy bids goodbye to the animals at the North Pole.

6. A Christmas Story (1983) Star Makes an Appearance

There’s another nod to classic Christmas movies in Elf, if you know where to look. A Christmas Story's Peter Billingsley makes an uncredited appearance. He plays Ming Ming the Elf – Buddy’s supervisor in the toy factory who inadvertently lets slip the reason Buddy doesn’t fit in (because he’s human). You’d be forgiven for not immediately recognising him, though – Billingsley was only 12 when he played Ralphie!

7. Eating All That Sugar Took Its Toll

Elves try to stick to the four main food groups: Candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. But while an all-sugar diet might be great for elves, it can wreak havoc on human digestive systems. Will Ferrell ended up eating a lot of sweets while filming – even those cotton wool balls were really made of candy floss – and suffered headaches and insomnia as a result.

8. Buddy’s Burp Was Supplied By the Voice of the Brain

In one particularly sticky scene, Buddy chugs an entire two-litre bottle of Coca-Cola at dinner with his real family and then lets out an incredible 12-second burp. But that burp wasn’t performed by Will Ferrell. Nope, that was Maurice LaMarche: A well-known voice actor, LaMarche has provided the voices for hundreds of animated characters over the years, including Yosemite Sam in Looney Tunes, Egon in The Real Ghostbusters, the King in Disney’s Frozen, and The Brain in Pinky And the Brain.

9. The Original Script Didn’t Involve Any Singing

Before Zooey Deschanel was cast as Jovie, there weren’t any songs in the film. But when Favreau heard her voice, he saw the potential to add even more Christmas spirit to the film by having Jovie and Buddy sing classic Christmas songs. Deschanel clearly enjoyed herself – she went on to record a whole album of Christmas songs with her band, She & Him.

10. Buddy Caused Accidents

Now that Elf has become such a beloved Christmas classic, the sight of Will Ferrell in an elf costume doesn’t seem particularly weird. But during filming, it caused accidents. Favreau has admitted that while filming on location at New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and 59th Street Bridge, the crew caused more than one minor traffic accident, because drivers were so distracted by the 6’3” actor’s outlandish appearance.

11. Ferrell Turned Down $29 Million To Make a Sequel

Elf was a box office smash when it was released in 2003, so you’d think making a sequel would be a no-brainer. But it never happened, mostly because Will Ferrell said no. Fearing bad reviews, he turned down a whopping $29 million offer to put Buddy’s yellow tights back on.

There was a follow-up of sorts, though. In 2014 directors Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh made Elf: Buddy’s Musical Christmas, a stop-motion animated TV special that’s since been released on DVD. So if you fancy a change this Christmas, you could always watch that instead of Elf. Or as well as Elf. No one's judging.