Movie review by
Nell Minow, Common Sense Media
Elf Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Peppy holiday favorite for both kids and parents.
  • PG
  • 2003
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 70 reviews

Kids say

age 7+
Based on 176 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids might learn the words to a few Christmas songs.

Positive Messages

The movie suggests that although people sometimes lose sight of what's important in life, they can find their way back. It also says that the holiday spirit is based on faith believing rather than seeing and that generosity, kindness, and earnestness can win over even the most cynical and humorless individuals. All of that said, some of the film's humor comes from references to bodily functions: pooping, burping, peeing, throwing up.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Buddy is cheerful, well-intentioned, creative, and grateful for what he has. He brings laughter and joy to others and is a loyal and giving friend. After a storybook upbringing in Santa's workshop, Buddy brings his unique and trusting nature to New York City. At first an object of ridicule, he later becomes a stellar example to the people he encounters, even the most jaded and self-involved among them. Characters learn and demonstrate curiosity, compassion, gratitude, and integrity.

Violence & Scariness

Cartoonish action in several instances: Santa wrestles with an elf; park rangers look ominous as they chase Santa and his reindeer-driven sleigh on Christmas Eve; Buddy is hit by a taxi but immediately springs up, uninjured; a near attack by a ferocious-looking raccoon.

Sexy Stuff

One sweet kiss between main characters. A reference to nakedness in the shower.


Infrequent swearing/potty language includes "pissed," "pee," "hell," "damn," "crap," and "up yours." Comedy at the expense of a little person who is called an elf and takes offense.


Lots of product placement, including numerous toys in Santa's workshop and the store where Buddy works: Monopoly, Etch-a-Sketch, Lego, etc. Other scenes feature Chanel, Kodak, Clinque, Pop Tarts, Coca-Cola, Tamiflu, and more.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In one scene played for laughs, two important characters add whiskey to coffee and later are shown to be quite drunk. Wine is consumed during dinner on more than one occasion. A burping gnome is said to have been drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that although Elf has some potty language and mild swearing ("pissed," "hell," "damn," etc.) and a few references to bodily functions, it's family friendly at its core. Even young kids will appreciate the humor inherent in this fish-out-of-water tale, although some might be upset that Buddy's mother died and that his father never knew about him. The few action sequences (galloping rangers chasing Santa in Central Park, a brief confrontation with a scary raccoon, and some scuffles in a department store) aren't really threatening, and no one is injured. Although the movie is 100% on board with the magic of Christmas, some characters shake their head and roll their eyes at the notion of Santa, and kids talk about the possibility of parents being the ones behind the presents. But the movie's overall message of the value derived from honesty, acceptance, and affection for all humanity is clear and positive. Under the CCPA law you have the right to protect your personal information. Make a Do Not Sell request to ELF.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bybarbkeith April 9, 2008

"Some people think the parents do it ..." (!!)

Liked this movie, overall.
But as a parent of children who still have a strong belief in S.C., I was disappointed with the discussion of there not being a Santa... Continue reading
Adult Written byJosh Calder December 15, 2018

How to avoid the doubting-Santa scene

Reviewers have expressed concern about the scene in which Papa Elf says that people doubt that Santa exists and that they think that it is actually the parents... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byilovecookiez April 7, 2011

A little iffy for kids, more safe for mature tweens

My entire family loves this movie! It's pretty edgy though. I'd say it's for tweens that are pretty mature. It's weird though... This has mo... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bygloriacrystal December 22, 2013

What's the story?

In ELF, Will Ferrell stars as Buddy, a human raised as one of Santa's elves who discovers at age 30 that he has a real father named Walter (James Caan) who lives in New York City and is on Santa's "naughty" list. Buddy leaves the North Pole to find Walter, knowing only what he's learned from the elves. (Thus, he's a whiz at making snowflake decorations and spreading good cheer, and he always assumes the best about everyone -- not especially useful skills in Manhattan.) Walter, who's in publishing, is in trouble because he has to find a successful new children's story by Christmas Eve. At first, he doesn't believe that Buddy is his son, but after Buddy passes a DNA test, Walter reluctantly brings him home to meet his wife (Mary Steenburgen) and son. Meanwhile, when Buddy stops by the Santa display at Gimbel's, he meets pretty Jovie (Zooey Deschanel). On his way to saving the day and ensuring a happy ending for everyone from the North Pole to NYC, Buddy gets many chances to do silly things as he experiences New York and gets to know Jovie and his family.

Is it any good?

This movie is sweet and funny, though it can't quite seem to make up its mind whether people should need proof of Santa's existence or not. Some of the jokes in Elf work better than others, and the talents of Caan, Steenburgen, Bob Newhart (as Buddy's adoptive father), and Ed Asner (as Santa) are neglected. But director Jon Favreau shows some verve and keeps the story moving quickly enough to keep it from feeling like a series of skits.

Deschanel nicely shows us the way that Buddy appeals to Jovie's longing for a place where singing and sweetness are encouraged. Peter Dinklage has a marvelous cameo as a haughty author of children's books, making his appearance much more than a sight gag. And Ferrell? His lanky cluelessness has a slightly muddled but imperishable sweetness that gives an endearing quality to all the characters he plays, including Buddy, who's a sort of human Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Buddy's naive pleasure in the world around him is ultimately almost as endearing to us as it is to (almost) everyone he meets.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether Buddy is a role model. Do you think Elf intends for him to be someone people admire? Why or why not? Are you more likely to laugh at him or with him? Why? What's the difference?

  • If you arrived in your town after 30 years at the North Pole, what do you think might surprise and delight you the way that the escalator and revolving door surprised and delighted Buddy?

  • How does this movie compare to other Will Ferrell comedies? Why do you think he doesn't make more movies for kids?

  • How do the characters in Elf demonstrate curiosity and integrity? What about compassion and gratitude? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love the holidays

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

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