‘Elf’ Director Jon Favreau Totally Changed the Ending of the Will Ferrell Christmas Classic

Elf is such a Christmas classic, it’s hard to imagine it any differently. However, when Jon Favreau first got the script, the ending was much different. Will Ferrell stars as Buddy the Elf, who’s journey to find his father brings Christmas spirit to New York. In the end, Buddy’s Christmas cheer saves the day. 

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Elf.]

Jon Favreau
Jon Favreau | Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

Favreau and Ferrell discussed the original script to Elf and the changes they made during the film’s 2003 press junket. Good thing they did, too, or we wouldn’t have the Elf we love this Christmas.

Will Ferrell was attached to ‘Elf’ for a long time 

If you watch The Holiday Movies That Made Us episode on Elf, you’ll learn that before Ferrell, producers thought of Chris Farley for Elf. Ferrell had been attached to Elf for some time before he made it in 2003. 

Christmas classic Elf
Will Ferrell | Moviestore/Shutterstock

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“I had it for a while,” Ferrell said. “If we could find a way to handle it correctly and shoot, the appeal of it was to be able to shoot a film that would be funny but also heartfelt and be a different type of thing for me to do in terms of something that a family audience would see. As opposed to some of the other projects that I have gotten to work on which have obviously been for a different audience. That was the appea, to have the potential to be in something like this.”

The entire ending to ‘Elf’ was Jon Favreau’s idea

When Santa Claus (Ed Asner) comes to New York on Christmas Eve, his sleigh is low on Christmas spirit. Buddy helps generate enough spirit to save the holiday by encouraging his father Walter (James Caan) and friend Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) to lead the city in Christmas carols. 

L-R: Will Ferrell, Jon Favreau | Sylvain Gaboury/FilmMagic

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“The original script that I had read, Buddy had been riding on the reindeer and putting magic dust on them,” Favreau said. “There was nothing to do with Christmas spirit in the original draft and it was all very much like an action sequence. And in rewriting the script, it became more about the city coming together and the spirit being elevated. So we sort of took the emphasis off of the reindeer and put it more on what was going on around the park.”

The Christmas spirit tied the script together 

Buddy was always going to be about the Christmas spirit, but Favreau was happy to thread that theme through the entire film. It clearly worked, since Elf is always on at Christmas ever since. 

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“It certainly is nice to believe in the spirit of Christmas and certainly in the values that Buddy espouses and how innocence and enthusiasm and perseverance could bring people together and make people change,” Favreau said. “You can change somebody who’s cynical. Innocence will always win out and life always wins out over darkness, light over darkness and death and cynicism. And shows how powerful Buddy is even though he’s an incredibly flawed, naïve character and how he sort of turns everybody else around.”