ELF: Christmas Cheer and the Faith of a Child | FCC 83

Spreading Christmas cheer and having the faith of a child are just two of the Christian themes we found in the 2003 smash hit Elf starring Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. In this episode of the Finding Christ In Cinema podcast, we discuss how you can pinpoint these and other themes in order to use them to talk to your friends and family about God, Jesus, and Christianity.

For your convenience you will find each podcast segment at the time referenced below:

  • 00:00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:09:23 – Movie Discussion
  • 00:28:45 – Christian Themes in ELF
  • 01:09:00 – Listener Challenge and Feedback
  • 01:17:00 – Reel News
  • 01:13:25 – Well-mannered Frivolity
  • 01:21:15 – Lightning Round 
  • 01:23:45 – Upcoming

Faith, Works, and Christmas Cheer

According to Elf, the Elves of the North Poles live by a strict code of three rules: “1. Treat everyday like Christmas; 2. There’s room for everyone on the Nice List; and 3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” Now, as joyful as the first rule is, and as merciful as the second rule is, it is the third rule in which we find our first “double-decker couch” moment for this film.

As Buddy the Elf is traversing the magical land of New York City, he isn’t encountering a lot of genuine Christmas cheer. He sees all the trimmings and trappings and outward appearances of Christmas all around the city, and yet he can sense the lack of genuine Christmas cheer as keenly as the Claus-o-Meter on Santa’s sleigh. The plain and simple truth that Buddy quickly realizes is that New York City is not the North Pole, so he tries to do the next best thing and bring as much of the Christmas cheer from the North Pole to life in the Big Apple.

This image from ELF shows Zooey Deschanel as Jovie while in her work uniform.

Initially, only one other person shares Buddy’s enthusiasm, though, and that person is his quirky coworker Jovie. She is the first person he hears actually singing and spreading Christmas cheer, and it is her singing that draws him closer to her. Buddy then tells Jovie the Code of the Elves, and Jovie takes them to heart for herself and not a moment too soon.

The next thing we see is a crashed sleigh and a disgruntled Santa, disgruntled because his sleigh can’t fly. Christmas cheer is the only thing that can propel Santa’s sleigh, and at the most crucial moment, it is nowhere to be found. Nowhere, that is, except within Jovie, and she then begins acting on that Christmas cheer by singing loudly for everyone to hear and thus imparting that genuine cheer onto them. The crowd joins in – even the stingy, old Walter Hobbs – and is able to empower Santa’s sleigh so much so that it no longer needs Papa Elf’s engine.

This is what is looks like when we share our faith in Christ by doing what He tells us to do. Just as Jovie was affected by the Christmas cheer which Buddy impressed upon her, we are affected by the faith that Jesus has impressed upon us. And just as Buddy needed Jovie to spread to others the Christmas cheer with the singing that drew him closer to her, Jesus needs us to show our faith not by the outward appearances of it but by actually obeying Him and working for the benefit of those in need.


Buddy the Elf and the Faith of a Child

What makes Buddy such an endearing character – and we can monitor this through the reactions of those “real life” characters who encounter him within the film – is his childlike worldview. He always assumes the best intent in others, he trusts everyone upon first meeting them, and he doesn’t hold back his feelings in the slightest. This, of course, is only the social norm of the North Pole, so we can’t be mad at him.

As we’ve already discussed, though, New York City is not the North Pole, and Buddy’s childlike persona is as out of place as his green and yellow elf clothes in a crowd of suits and ties. The hustle and bustle of NYC has no room for Buddy’s immature antics; they only get in the way of getting work done. That’s why he can’t stay on good terms with either his biological father or his manager at work.

This image from ELF shows Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf in a schoolhouse with other elf children.

But Santa Claus himself is indeed coming to town, and Buddy cannot contain his excitement. He explodes into fits of joy and cheerfulness just like all the other kids and cannot wait to meet the Big Man Himself. By this time, Buddy has been in New York City long enough to know how much he misses his home up north, and Santa would be a great remedy for his homesickness. At least, that’s what Buddy hoped for, until he discovered that the man sitting on the throne of lies was in fact an impostor.

Maybe another aspect of having the faith of a child, as exemplified by Buddy the Elf, is being so acutely attuned to the Truth that you can automatically discern a fraud when you encounter one – and not only stopping at the inward discernment but taking the necessary outward actions in order to stop the fraudulent atrocities in their tracks. Instead of being fettered by our own fear and doubt of doing the right thing, then, we just do it.


Key Texts

James 2:14-20 NLT

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well” – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

1 John 5:1-5 NLT

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

Mark 10:13-16 CEB

People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.


Finding Christ In Cinema is the show where we discover Christian themes in movies past and present. Join us and together we’ll dig deeper into the silver-screen classics of yesteryear as well as the box-office hits of today. Brought to you by the Great Commission Transmission Network. View the complete show notes, including links to articles discussed, by clicking here.

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About Brenden Taylor

Brenden is an educational assistant and tutor by day and a theatre practitioner by night. He has his M.A. in Theatre Arts and is always looking for a way to use good stories to soften people’s hearts.

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  • Philip Heard

    Great film, great episode, guys! Elf is one of our family favorites, and I think Will Ferrell’s sincerity and commitment to the role is what made it work. Anything short of that would have crippled the movie. Two of my other favorite films of his are Stranger Than Fiction, and Everything Must Go, both of which are a departure from most of his other work, especially the latter, where the humor is scarcer and darker. Buddy the elf’s earnestness is such a good example of 1 Corinthians 13, I mean- what does that character ever do in the film that has not love? Verses 4 through 7 from the NKJV are great: ” Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What a great movie!

    And Brenden’s comments about Cloud Atlas and his thoughts were so good. John Wilkerson’s voice mail is so thought provoking. It’s such a good thing for us to hash this stuff out, and he really pushed us to do some pondering. What I love is how this show helps me to clarify and articulate my own thoughts about movies. When I saw Cloud Atlas, I thought to myself “That was amazing, I’m not sure what I just saw, but it was amazing”. I like to watch things through Christian lenses, and this podcast helps me to gather my thoughts more coherently and engage with media in a more meaningful way, so thanks again guys! Love the show! #muhweeladgimli

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