Elf: 17 things you might not know about the Will Ferrell Christmas movie

Don't be a a cotton-headed ninny muggins

Will Ferrell as Buddy with Ed Asner as Santa in 2003's Elf. (Alamy)

When it comes to Christmas movies, you’d have to be a hard-hearted creature not to have just the faintest whiff of affection for Jon Favreau’s 2003 classic Elf.

Like those great festive movies of yore, it’s stuffed with good, old fashioned Christmas cheer, as Will Ferrell’s super-keen Santa helper Buddy goes in search of his real dad after being raised by elves in the North Pole.

Alongside veterans like James Caan, Bob Newhart and Ed Asner (and with a breakout role for Zooey Deschanel), Buddy’s love of Christmas is thoroughly infectious.

Read more: The best Christmas movies of the 21st century

In celebration, then, here are 17 things you quite possibly didn’t know about Elf.

1 | Could have been Jim Carrey

US actor Jim Carrey arrives for the world premiere of his latest film 'A Christmas Carol' in London's Leicester Square on November 3, 2009. AFP Photo/ Max NASH (Photo credit should read MAX NASH/AFP via Getty Images)
Jim Carrey arrives for the world premiere of A Christmas Carol in, 2009. (AFP via Getty Images)

Because screenwriter David Berenbaum had been developing the script since 1993, Will Ferrell’s wasn’t the first actor to be up for the role of Buddy. Jim Carrey came closest, but turned it down to make Ace Ventura, the movie that would make his name.

2 | The amazing voice cameo

In the scene where Buddy is saying goodbye to a range of stop-motion creatures, the polar bear club is voiced by none other than animation legend Ray Harryhausen (director Favreau voiced the Narwhal). Favreau collared Harryhausen while he was at a speaking engagement, to which he took a contract and a DAT player to record his line.

3 | The first babies were feral

The baby who plays Baby Buddy was in fact triplets girls. They did have a set of twin boys, who seemingly looked just like Ferrell with blond curly hair, but they wouldn’t stop crying during takes, so were eventually replaced.

Read more: Will Ferrell reacts to Asda's Elf advert

4 | Classic elf outfits

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER -- Pictured: (l-r) Front Row: Hermey, Rudolph, Head Elf, Yukon Cornelius, Sam the Snowman, Santa Claus  (Photo by NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)
Hermey, Rudolph, Head Elf, Yukon Cornelius, Sam the Snowman, Santa Claus in Rudolf The Red Nosed-Reindeer. (NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

The outfits for the elves were modelled on those from 'Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ (see above), a stop-motion US TV special which has been repeated every year in the US since 1964.

5 | Ferrell turned down MASSIVE pay cheque for Elf 2

Will Ferrell reportedly turned down $29 million to star in Elf 2. “That’s what was on offer for it,” he told The Guardian. “But I killed the idea of a sequel. I never liked it - $29m does seem a lot of money for a guy to wear tights, but it’s what the marketplace will bear.

"It’s insane, but it’s not my call. The studios perpetuate it and they make it hard to say no. I remember asking myself: could I withstand the criticism when it’s bad and they say, 'He did the sequel for the money’? I decided I wouldn’t be able to.”

6 | The niche Discworld reference

When Buddy pronounces that his favourite colour is 'Ocatrine’, it’s a reference to Terry Pratchett’s famous Discworld series of novels, notably The Colour of Magic.

Read more: Is Elf the most overrated Christmas movie?

7 | Ferrell kept it in the family

Will Ferrell’s brother Patrick plays one of the security guards at the Empire State Building.

8 | Zwigoff bogged off

Ghost World director Terry Zwigoff was offered the movie, but he passed. But he went on to make another of the truly great Christmas movies, Bad Santa.

9 | Another nod to the classics

Peter Billingsley looks on at Will Ferrell's Buddy in Elf. (Alamy)
Peter Billingsley looks on at Will Ferrell's Buddy in Elf. (Alamy)

Peter Billingsley, who as a child actor starred as Ralphie in another festive classic A Christmas Story, appears in an uncredited role as a supervisor elf in Santa’s workshop.

10 | Tunnel vision

Will Ferrell's Buddy is a fish out of water in New York. (Alamy)

Ferrell caused several minor road traffic accidents during his stroll through the Lincoln Tunnel, many seeing the actor in an elf costume and taking their eyes off the road.

11 | Jack in the box shock

When Buddy is testing the jack-in-the-boxes at the North Pole, one of his many menial tasks, Jon Favreau wanted the last shock on camera to be genuine, so controlled the box with a remote device off-screen so Ferrell wouldn’t know when it was about to pop open.

12 | Sugar daddy

Will Ferrell as Buddy in Elf. (Alamy)
Will Ferrell as Buddy in Elf. (Alamy)

The sugar Ferrell had to consume in the movie didn’t agree with him at all. He suffered severe headaches throughout the filming, and often insomnia at night.

13 | No CGI for elves

ELF 2003 New Line Cinema film with Will Ferrell Buddy the Elf
Will Ferrell's Buddy the Elf is simply sat closer to the camera. (Alamy)

Rather than use CGI or dwarf actors, Favreau went for the old movie technique of 'forced perspective’ instead, building two sets – one for the normal sized actors that was normal sized, and one that was much smaller for Ferrell. With smart use of lighting, the sets are then merged.

14 | Caan on the old joanna

In the movie’s final moments, that really is James Caan playing Auld Lang Syne on the piano. He’s multi-skilled.

Read more: James Caan says Ferrell/Favreau tension killed Elf 2

15 | Santa’s list is real

When Santa shows Michael his 'good list’, it’s made up of the names of crew-members on the movie, and what they wanted for Christmas.

16 | Life imitated art

Will Ferrell and Faizon Love in Elf. (Alamy)
Will Ferrell and Faizon Love in Elf. (Alamy)

Will Ferrell did actually once work as a shopping mall Santa when he was part of the famous Los Angeles-based improv group The Groundlings. One of his elves was Chris Kattan, who also went on to be part of the Saturday Night Live crew with Ferrell.

17 | The belch

The massive belch, after Buddy necks a two-litre bottle of Coca-Cola, was performed by Maurice LaMarche, a voice-actor on cartoons like Animaniacs and Futurama. He also played Egon in The Real Ghostbusters.

He’s said that he’s been belching like that since he was a kid, and notably did so on Animaniacs. A crew-member on Elf recalled his windy skills on the cartoon show, and the rest is gassy history. Ferrell lip-synced accordingly.

Watch: Will Ferrell responds to Asda's Elf advert