Can we call Elf a Christmas classic at this point? I know it still feels like a new movie (especially when compared to other holiday staples) but it came out in 2003, which means we only have a few years until we get a sobering reminder about the inevitable passage of time when it celebrates its 20th anniversary. You know what? Things are already too complicated as it is right now. Let’s just call Elf a classic and be done with it.
With that bit of business out of the way, I think it’s time to take a closer look at some of the characters in Elf, because a lot of them kind of, well, suck. Now, there are definitely more than a few with some incredibly redeeming qualities. There’s no doubt Emily Hobbs (Walter’s wife and Buddy’s stepmom) is the nicest character in the movie, the dude in the mailroom who relies on ample amounts of “syrup” to make his menial job more bearable is the realest of the real, and young Michael is far too kind and innocent to be subjected to the pain that comes with being a Jets fan, a curse that brings an amount of heartbreak and misery into your life no amount of candy-filled spaghetti can ever compensate for.
Santa is cool too. The same goes for Leon the snowman and the narwhal, but that’s really it. Elf may be a sweet and heartwarming movie at its core, but that core is surrounded by a giant hazardous moat filled with toxic personalities. There are ten particular ones I want to focus on but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the others who didn’t make the list but still deserve some scorn, including:
- The nun in the orphanage who didn’t take the time to make sure Buddy’s crib was secure, which led to him escaping fairly easily before hitching a ride to the North Pole in Santa’s sack (which was honestly the best outcome considering when you consider the darker alternatives).
- Walter Hobbs, who managed to turn things around when everything was said and done but who wasn’t exactly the best father in the world and probably deserved the spot he initially earned on the Naughty List.
- Whoever told Zooey Deschanel she should dye her hair blonde. This was arguably her breakout role, so while it wasn’t too weird at the time, after seeing what she looks like with black hair on New Girl, you can’t help but look back at Elf and think, “Really? Blonde? With that skin tone?”
However, they’ve got nothing on these.
10. Ming Ming The Elf Supervisor
Ming Ming tried to be a good boss. He really did. He attempted to put Buddy in a position to succeed and we should applaud him for his efforts. Motivating and empowering employees can be a challenge—especially when one of those employees so obviously doesn’t belong because he’s a human who’s incapable of doing elf things, which is an issue even the most seasoned middle manager would have trouble dealing with.
However, Ming Ming was also kind of a dick. This was most likely a result of spending years trying to fit the square peg who was Buddy into the round hole that was the elve’s workshop culture, but you’ve still got to be professional. If you’re going to talk negatively about one of your subordinates, do it somewhere where the subordinate in question can’t possibly overhear you.
Get your act together, Ming Ming.
9. The Security Guards At The Empire State Building
As was the case with Ming Ming, the two security guards at the Empire State Building were just doing their job, and like Ming Ming, they were sort of dicks about it. I personally found their conduct unprofessional and a touch too aggressive, and if Buddy had been injured as a result of them manhandling him before literally tossing him down the sidewalk, he probably would’ve won handily if he took them to civil court.
Have you no decency, sirs? I don’t care if he’s a grown man wearing an elf costume or not, he’s still a human being and should be treated like one. Hell, I doubt that’s even the strangest thing they’ve encountered given the nature of their job, but if this is how they deal with unruly characters on a regular basis, they need to reevaluate their approach.
8. The Raccoon
My issues with raccoons aren’t limited to Elf but this one is the encapsulation of everything that makes them the terrible animals that they are.
A lot of people seem to give raccoons a pass because they think they’re kind of cute, but I am not one of them. I hate raccoons. Why do they even exist? I also hate bees but understand the important role they play in our delicate ecosystem, but raccoons? Their raison d’être is to get into your trash, freak out your dog, and make you afraid to go outside if you see one in your backyard when the sun is still up in case they react the same way the one in Elf does.
I also wish we’d gotten more details concerning how this fight ultimately came to a close. Now, I like to think Buddy and the raccoon ended things like two hockey players mutually agreeing to disengage before giving each other a pat to acknowledge a job well done. However, Buddy appears to have escaped relatively unscathed, which begs the question: did he…kill that raccoon? Sure, he’s impossibly kind and innocent but he’s also human, and when that primal instinct kicks in when you find yourself in a situation like this, there’s only so much you can do to exercise restraint.
With that said, his costume wasn’t stained with blood when he emerged from the woods, so I’m just going to assume it was a draw.
7. Miles Finch
I’m sensing a bit of a pattern here, as we have yet another character whose actions are somewhat understandable but also fails to exercise the amount of restraint you’d expect in a professional setting.
Miles Finch had every right to be pissed when Buddy repeatedly referred to him as an “elf.” Situations like this are probably part of what made him as jaded as he is; while everyone else looks forward to Christmas, he’s spent decades being subjected to similar comments whenever December rolls around, so I can understand why this is a bit of a sore spot.
However, the level of physical violence on display here is simply uncalled for. Unless you’re a professional wrestler, leaping off of a table and dropkicking someone is simply something you don’t do in a place of business. Again, what if Buddy had been seriously hurt here? Can you imagine how many personal injury lawyers would be clamoring to get a piece of the fortune Finch amassed as a prolific author of children’s books?
I’d also add that Walter could have done a better job defusing the situation, but at the same time, I don’t know if there’s really anything anyone could’ve done to talk Miles down. He doesn’t really seem like the most understanding guy out there, and when you consider he was paid upfront and already got a car from the airport with the temperature set at exactly 71 degrees, he really doesn’t have much to lose.
In the end, you can’t really reason with a literary mercenary as ruthless as he is.
6. The Jack-In-The-Box
Here, we have even more evidence that Ming Ming is actually a sadistic monster hiding behind an overly-cheery persona. When you think about it, it seems like moving Buddy to the Testing Department was less a gesture of good faith and more a way to psychologically torture him.
Damn. Maybe Ming Ming should be higher on this list.
Regardless, this scene illustrates exactly why I think Jack-in-the-Box are the raccoon of toys. Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to make something seemingly designed to scare the shit out of the kids who play with it? Shouldn’t Buddy’s reaction here be a huge red flag? If a pure soul like him recoils at the sudden appearance of the cackling clown that lies within but you still decide to ship them out, why bother testing them in the first place?
I know Santa’s a busy guy but he really needs to reevaluate the people he’s tapped to help lead his operation.
5. The Central Park Rangers
The Central Park Rangers look like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. I’m not sure if that was a purposeful artistic choice or simply a coincidence, but when you’ve got a quartet of foreboding figures intent on some sort of retribution galloping around, it’s not hard to make the connection.
These guys already gained national notoriety due to the infamous and “unconventional” tactics they employed to handle the crowd at Simon and Garfunkel’s Central Park concert, and while I know the whole point of that joke is to let the viewer’s imagination run wild as far as the details are concerned, I really wish we could’ve gotten some specifics on exactly what the fans of the storied folk duo did to set them off.
If Simon and Garfunkel fans (of all people) were capable of setting them off, it’s safe to say the Central Park Rangers are constantly looking for an excuse to employ some excessive force. If they did indeed chase Santa’s sleigh because they somehow knew they were on the Naughty List, you’d think they might’ve done some self-reflecting to try to figure out how they ended up on that side of the column in the first place.
You ever think about that, Central Park Rangers? No. Of course not. Instead, you simply dug yourselves a deeper hole and ensured this vicious cycle will only continue until you realize the error of your ways.
4. Matt Walsh
I’m a big Matt Walsh fan. He’s an incredibly entertaining guy who’s done a fantastic job in basically everything he’s appeared in (especially Veep) since cutting his teeth as one of the founding members of Upright Citizens Brigade. However, Elf is one very notable exception.
Walsh shows up toward the end of the movie as a member of the crowd who gets interviewed on the news after Santa crashed in Central Park. According to IMDb, Walsh is playing himself and I can’t help but wonder why someone with a background in improv didn’t just quickly dream up a fake name in order to distance himself from this truly awful dude.
It might be a fairly brief appearance but it’s very apparent that he’s an absolute creep. He makes me incredibly uncomfortable so I can’t even imagine how the reporter must’ve felt after getting sexually harassed on live television. C’mon, Matt. She’s just trying to do her job and you’re basically cat-calling despite presumably knowing it’s being broadcast to the masses.
If he’s like this when the cameras are on him, I can’t even imagine what he’s like the rest of the time. Not cool, Matt. Not cool.
3. Eugene & Morris
These two clowns are a disgrace. Children’s book authors everywhere should be appalled by this portrayal of their profession. Simply put, Eugene (Kyle Gass) and Morris (Andy Richter) are hacks. How these no-talent ass-clowns managed to get as far as they did in this industry is beyond me.
These are really Walter’s two top guys? The best you can do is a duo that comes to the table armed with nothing but half-baked pitches highlighting their unhealthy obsession with vegetables? When you tap some supposedly creative people with a task like this and the best idea they come up with is bringing in someone else, maybe it’s time to reconsider why you’re employing them in the first place.
I’m also baffled that these guys could somehow pursue a career in writing when you consider they don’t seem to be familiar with the concept of plagiarism. When Miles storms out of the office, he leaves behind a notebook that’s filled with ideas he previously said he’s “particularly psyched out of his mind about.” Ethical and professional standards dictate that anyone who found that notebook would promptly return it, but when Eugene and Morris find it, they become psyched out of their minds because they’ve stumbled upon a treasure trove of ideas that are far superior to anything they could dream up.
Do you know who’s not going to be psyched? The lawyers that anyone who works in the publishing industry knows take a look at everything to make sure it’s above-board before the copies start to be printed. I find it hard to believe Miles wouldn’t have written down his ideas somewhere else or discussed them with his agent, and based on what we know about his temperament, he would not hesitate to unleash his legal team on Greenway if he discovered they released a book about a peach who lives on a farm.
As far as intellectual property violations go, that’s about as open-and-shut of a case as you’ll ever find. If Walter got fired, I can only hope these two morons got the same treatment, and if he ended up hiring them when he started his new company, he’s even dumber than they are.
2. Those Punks In Central Park
I’m talking about these guys:
You’ll never find a bigger group of cowards than the anonymous trio who start pelting Buddy and Michael in Central Park. From a strategy standpoint, you can’t blame them for taking advantage of having numbers and the higher ground is, but employing these guerilla tactics against unsuspecting innocents is as effective as it is shameful.
However, I think they resorted to those tactics because they needed to use the element of surprise to compensate for their miserable aim. As you can see from the picture above, these jokers have a direct bead on Michael but never even come close to hitting him.
They’re like the Eugene and Morris of snowball warfare and I’m glad Buddy was able to give them the comeuppance they sorely deserved.
1. Fulton Greenway
I can understand why Fulton was pissed when he discovered Walter signed off on a final manuscript that still had empty pages. As his boss and the owner of the Greenway publishing empire, he has every right to be upset. That carelessness lost him money and pissed off his granddaughter, which is a one-two punch that’s hard to bounce back from.
I would commend Fulton for giving Walter a second chance, but it’s tough to do that when one of the caveats was assembling the troops for a brainstorming session on Christmas Eve. When you consider Walter is a bit of a Scrooge himself, the fact that he questioned that decision highlights how objectively unreasonable it is but Fulton made the fatal mistake of going Full Ebenezer.
I get it, Fulton. Walter screwed up and put Greenway in a shitty spot, so I understand the need to regroup as soon as possible. But Christmas Eve? Really? What’s the point? Even if the meeting births the most brilliant concept the children’s literary world has ever seen, I find it hard to believe all of the other departments that play a vital role in the publishing process are also burning the midnight oil.
If you’re lucky, you might be able to kick things into motion on the 26th, but if we’re being realistic, it’s probably going to be the 27th. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask your team to come up with some options over the holiday break and can maybe understand having them hop on a quick conference call, but forcing everyone to make the trek to the office on the 24th seems like overkill.
Oh, he was also mean to Michael, which is simply not cool. There’s no excuse for someone his age making someone that young feel bad. As I said, he’s a Jets fan, which means he’s already dealing with more misery than any kid should be subjected to.
I kind of want to go back and watch Elf again to see if there are any other clues I’ve overlooked that suggest Ming Ming is actually a malevolent manipulator who feeds on the misery of others, but until then, Fulton is easily the worst character in a movie filled to the brim with them.