23 Elf movie facts – from who nearly played Buddy to who really did the 12 second burp

We've rounded up our favourite Elf movie facts that you may not know

Elf, Will Ferrell (BA)

Making snow angels, ice skating and eating a whole roll of Tollhouse Cookiedough – must be time to watch Elf.

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For many the festive movie is a must see during the festive period – at least for those of us that aren’t cotton-headed ninny muggins.

We’ve rounded up a few things you may not know about the comedy starring Will Ferrell.

1. Will Ferrell’s reactions to the jack-in-the boxes were genuine

That memorable scene where Buddy is put in charge of testing jack-in-the-boxes in the workshop was genuine. The DVD commentary reveals one of the crew had a remote control to trigger the last one Buddy tested to get just the right scream. Ferrell’s anxious look is real as he had no idea.

2. Jim Carrey was originally lined up for the lead role

When screenwriter David Berenbaum wrote Elf back in 1993 he had another comedian in mind – Jim Carrey.

Carrey was even attached to the movie – this pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It took the team ten years to get the project up and running and a lot of things had changed by the time filming had started. In the end Carrey had other plans and Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell snapped up the role.

3. Music was added because of Zooey Deschanel

Director Jon Favreau said much of the music in the film was added when he realised what a good singer Zooey Deschanel is.

4. Will Ferrell unsurprisingly stopped a lot of traffic

Ferrell stopped traffic, quite literally. As he walked through the Lincoln Tunnel in his costume it ground traffic to a halt, reportedly also causing a few minor accidents.

5. The tiny elves weren’t CGI

On the DVD commentary they reveal the teeny elves weren’t made with CGI instead an old trick was used called ‘forced perspective’.

Director John Favreau said he wanted to use practical effects so opted for “old techniques”.

The film also used stop animation in the North Pole scenes. Two sets were built, a larger one for the elves and a smaller one to make Buddy and Santa look larger. The two were then overlaid and lighting was used to blend them together.

6. The snow was CGI

While Favreau decided to steer clear of CGI for the elves, he opted to use the technique for snow. The snowflakes that open the movie were computer generated and those snowballs in the fight scene were also fake. We’d probably have guessed the snowballs were CGI as Ferrell is way too good at throwing them.

Extra fact – Favreau asked composer John Debney to give it a Western feel like The Magnificent Seven.

7. It wasn’t really Buddy’s burp

That wasn’t Will Ferrell burping. The elongated 12-second burp after he demolishes a bottle of pop was actually performed by Pinky and Brain’s Maurice LaMarche. LaMarche later said: “I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp.”

8. Will Ferrell once worked as a Mall Santa

During his days with LA-based comedy group The Groundlings, Will Ferrell once dressed up as Santa for an outdoor shopping mall.

A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf at the time. Of course, this was pre-Saturday Night Live.

Ferrell said: “I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), ‘Santa’s over there, kid.'”

9. They fired baby Buddy

The baby elf was going to be played by blonde curly haired twin boys. The only issue was they couldn’t perform. The crew wanted them to smile and crawl on cue, but they wailed. All. the. Time. Brunette triplet girls were brought in as replacements.

Buddy couldn’t make any slip-ups during the chase scene

Ferrell couldn’t afford to make any mistakes as he filmed the scene where Buddy is being chased by Santa. It had to be done in one take, as it was too hard to rebuild the set.

10. All that sugar took its toll

All that sugar made Ferrell ill. Buddy loves his sweets, but all of the sugary goodies took a toll.

Ferrell suffered from headaches and struggled to sleep. He said later: “That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I’m there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that’s what the job calls for.”

11. There were influences from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

Favreau was influenced by the stop motion Christmas special from 1964 who wanted the same wintery feel. The elves costumes were also inspired by the elves in the Reindeer movie.

The Elf workshop was modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs too. The crew got permission for the similarities and were even given permission to use the signature snowman.

12. Some of the sets were built in an abandoned mental hospital

The old mental hospital in Vancouver provided the set for Walter’s apartment and some scenes from Gimbals toy department.

The Riverview Hospital may have looked familiar, that’s because it’s been used in other films and TV shows including The X Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer’s Body and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy’s stood in for Gimbels toy store

The iconic department store takes up a whole block in Manhattan. In Elf it was digitally altered to look like Gimbels. Gimbels was actually a real department store years before and a rival for Macy’s. Ouch.

Gimbels is seen here as well as in Miracle on 34th Street. The store closed its doors in 1987 on its 100th anniversary.

14. There’s A Christmas Story cameo

Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in the classic Christmas movie in 1983, made a cameo as Ming the Elf, but he’s not credited.

Billingsley had worked with Favreau before, and even produced several of his TV and film projects.

15. Favreau also cameoed

It’s common for Favreau to appear in his own films. He was in Made with Vince Vaughn as well as Iron Man.

Favreau starred as the doctor but he also provided voices for some of the stop-animation characters too. That rabid raccoon? Him too.

16. Shooting on location in New York

Most of Elf shot in Canada on sound stages in Vancouver, except when Buddy comes to New York. Favreau thought it was important to be on location as much as possible. The Manhattan shots as well as Rockefeller Center, Central Park and General Park West are all real locations.

17. The storyline changed

Buddy was bullied in early storylines, which became his motivation for seeking out his dad.

Favreau wanted this removed, and pushed for it to be cut. He said the North Pole elves were better as warm and kind – like the traditional tales.

In the DVD commentary he said: “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

18. Ferrell even cracked Caan

The Godfather star plays Walter, mostly thanks to his stern persona. Favreau sought out someone who wouldn’t crack when Ferrell went full funny Elf on them.

Caan took it very seriously, but when it came to the blood test scene Caan couldn’t help but laugh.

You can still see the moment. If you look carefully he turns away from the camera as Farrell is pricked by a needle so he doesn’t ruin the take (again).

19. There was a joke the studio didn’t get

The last set piece on the Elf shoot was the mailroom sequence, but the studio wasn’t sure about it. Mark Acheson, who plays Buddy’s drinking buddy, says: “I’m 26 years old” – the studio said he didn’t look it…

Favreau cast Acheson before, in a role that was cut, so pushed back saying that was part of the joke.

20. There were a few deleted scenes

Buddy causes a lot of mess, but there was even more, it just ended up on the cutting room floor.

Buddy plays hockey on a frozen pond in a friendly game in one scene, but things go quite violent…

21. Ferrell walked around as Buddy

When in New York Ferrell walked around as Buddy. When the shooting came to an end it was just Ferrell, Favreau and one cameraman. The trio travelled around to get Buddy into mischievous situations for extra footage. He leapfrogged across a pedestrian walk, accepted flyers and got his shoes shined. You see it all in the montage.

22. Will Ferrell turned down Elf 2

No sequel, sorry. Ferrell turned down $29million to star as Buddy again. He said: “I killed the idea of a sequel. $29m does seem a lot of money for a guy to wear tights, but it’s what the marketplace will bear.”

Ferrell has reprised roles before, Ron Burgundy in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and Mugatu in Zoolander 2, but Elf is something else entirely.

He said: “I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf.”

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23. Elf the Musical

From November 2010 to January 2011 Elf the Musical ran on Broadway, it also came to the UK with Kimberly Walsh starring. It’s toured since gaining the movie even more fans.