Elf out of 5 The Christmas regulars are well-discussed and well-adored by movie fans of any religion: It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and (in my house anyway) Scrooged. They're good (or great) movies that manage to tap into the Christmas Spirit in a way that the also-rans couldn't pull off. (My apologies to fans of Santa Claus: The Movie.) With the arrival of Jon Favreau's adorably sweet Elf, you can add a new family favorite to your annual Xmas Movie Night. You don't need to look far to find Will Ferrell being very, very funny. Check out his Alex Trebek or James Lipton parodies on the Saturday Night Live repeats or his maniacal Leprechaun Dance from Conan O'Brien's talk show or the numerous movies he's enlivened thanks to some small and insane contribution (Old School, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Zoolander, etc.) and you'll find a big likeable lug who will clearly do any ol' silly thing in the name of comedy. Ferrell's salvaged his fair share of cinematic duds, so it's good news indeed to announce that he not only earns a big, fat starring role - but he also delivers a character so goofily lovable and innocently amusing that moviegoers won't be able to stop themselves from adoring the nut. The plot screams 'high-concept' all the way: after inadvertently stowing away in Santa's sack as an infant, Buddy the Elf grows into a massive human among the diminutive elves who populate the North Pole workshop. Not unlike Steve Martin's Navin Johnson in The Jerk (and numerous other comedies), Buddy comes to the conclusion that he must "find his way in the world" and search out his true family. Not surprisingly, Buddy's father ends up a no-nonsense New Yorker with a heart of stone and Buddy finds himself in a series of somewhat-familiar Fish Out of Water scenarios. While Elf succeeds in the humor department thanks to Ferrell's bizarrely endearing performance, the film as a whole repeatedly earns points by consistently tipping the familiar on its ear. The humor ranges from silly-sweet to actively arcane, and the schmaltzy stuff is offset by a hipness that could only come from the guy responsible for Swingers. And that's Jon Favreau, an actor and filmmaker who's respected by everyone and particularly admired by guys between the ages of 20 and 30. From his fan favorite presence in Rudy to his screenplay and performance in Doug Liman's Swingers to his own directorial debut Made to his brilliant Dinner for Five television series...this is a guy that movie fans love to love. And behind the camera for his first big-budget studio flick, Favreau acquits himself quite impressively. Elf's early scenes at the North Pole are a wonder of colorful set design and clever forced-perspective effects; Favreau's Christmastime in New York is a quaint and lovely place. So Elf has a wonderfully funny performance from its leading man and boasts some astute directorial touches. But the real treasure of the movie is to be found in its supporting cast. The entirely hug-worthy indie gal Zooey Deschanel brings a well-received tone of drollness to the goofy proceedings, legendary cool-guy James Caan offers some great moments as Buddy's unwilling Papa, Bob Newhart steals his every scene as Buddy's adopted elf-dad, and Edward Asner (against all odds) delivers one of modern moviedom's greatest cinematic Santas. Special kudos are worthy to "little" actor Peter Dinklage (of The Station Agent) for his uproariously inspired cameo as a disgruntled author; his performance marks one of the movie's funniest and most memorable sequences. Elf is also worthy of praise for the way it straddles the line between "family flick" and "plain ol' comedy". Teens and adults who admire Will Ferrell will find a whole lot to enjoy, while parents with six-year-olds in tow will find precisely ZERO offensive material to take exception with. (OK, there's a few loud burps, but six-year-olds already know that loud burps are hilarious.) It was only a matter of time before a project came along suited to Will Ferrell's expansive comedic talents. It may have taken a lot of bad movies and glorified cameos in the process, but the guy's about to hit the big-time with Elf...and you'll probably revisit his Xmas-themed breakthrough many times over the next several Decembers.