I only have a few iron-clad rules of movie watching, and one of them is that the kids movie trope of “the dad who works too hard has to learn to love his family” is always inexcusable. Yes, there are parents that aren’t emotionally available for their kids, but they aren’t going to see a movie and suddenly change their lives around. The far more likely situation is that the parent is working as hard as they are not in spite of their child but because of their child. A movie about a bad parent that works too hard is going to serve to make that parent feel guiltier about something they probably already regret but can’t avoid, and it’s going to play into kids most emotionally selfish tendencies because they probably don’t understand real-world economics.
From the instant that James Caan’s character showed up in Elf I knew it wasn’t going to get a pass from me, even if Will Ferrell was really funny in it, even though it really is sweet natured, because I can’t abide by the guilt trip that his character represented. But the longer the movie went on, the more other parts of it unsettled me. This is a movie about a kid who was given up for adoption who decides to track down his dad and make his dad love him, and through the sweetness and goodness of his heart he pulls it off. That is an astoundingly horrible message for a kids movie, because you absolutely shouldn’t tell kids that there’s something they can do to win the love of an absent parent. You don’t want to burden them with the feeling that their parents inexcusable behavior is because of something they failed to do.
I’m not going to argue that this movie is a total waste of time. I get how it could be a fun movie for the whole family. My problem is that I think it’s an atrocious movie for an incomplete family, and when you put a movie out in a theater you have no idea who is going to see it. I can’t recommend a movie about how great holiday cheer is when it left me really bummed out, and thinking about how bad the holidays are for a lot of kids that don’t have this Elf’s luck in repairing their family really bummed me out.
Winner: The Cat