“Elf” mocks disabled adults via Buddy – whether on purpose or not

Will Ferrell in “Elf”.New Line Cinema

  • “Elf” is a modern Christmas classic despite making fun of people with intellectual disabilities.

  • Buddy’s (Will Ferrell) handicap isn’t explicitly mentioned, but it’s heavily implied.

  • To make a fun movie with characters with disabilities, just include people with disabilities in the joke.

“Elf” became a modern vacation classic almost instantly after it premiered in 2003. But almost 20 years later, I still don’t understand how offensive it is to cognitively disabled adults.

It stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a man raised as an elf at the North Pole and ignorant of the human way of life. When he accidentally hears that he’s human, he travels to New York City in search of his biological father, Walter Hobbes (James Caan), a cranky editor who needs lessons in love and kindness.

Buddy’s enthusiasm for Christmas is extreme, even compared to his elf “peers”, so it’s understandable that the film’s festive spirit oozes from the screen and into the hearts of moviegoers. In fact, the film grossed over $ 223 million worldwide, per Box Office Mojo.

But I couldn’t sit on “Elf” for more than 10 minutes without feeling offended. After forcing myself to sit still the entire movie, I’m even more convinced that, on purpose or not, “Elf” is making fun of cognitively disabled adults through Buddy.

“Elf” tells the story of a man raised by elves struggling to exist in a world that was not made for him

Will Ferrell at the “Elf” New York premiere.Theo Wargo / WireImage

We are told very early in “Elf” that there is something that sets Buddy apart from other elves beyond the fact that he is human.

Although Buddy’s body does not fit on the elven furniture, his physical body is not the issue. It is clearly established that there is a cognitive difference between Buddy and the other Elves.

He was called “special” several times while at the North Pole. His skills as a toy maker are inadequate and he must occupy a position reserved for “special” elves.

“Special” is a term often used to alter people with physical and cognitive disabilities. It is often code for “different and less than” everyone.

He is also the only “elf” in the North Pole who does not realize that he is human. Thus, Buddy’s intelligence is not that of a “normal” elf, otherwise he would not be so blinded by the revelation.

It only gets worse from there.

When he arrives in Manhattan, Buddy’s own father, Walter, never stops using derogatory terms against him. At the doctor’s office where he forces Buddy to do a paternity test, Walter tells Doctor Buddy is “certifiable insane”. Addressing his wife later in the film, Walter says his son is a “deranged elf man”. Even at the end of the movie, when Walter tells Buddy that he loves him, he mentions that Buddy is “chemically unbalanced”.

“Elf” can’t really be a heartwarming acceptance story if Buddy is never truly adopted for who he is by one of the most important people in his life.

If Buddy has a disability the movie never says so explicitly – and it would’ve been stronger if he had.


“Elf.”New Line Cinema

I’m not trying to destroy a modern Christmas classic, but as a physically disabled woman who spent part of my childhood with cognitively disabled children and adults, “Elf” offends me.

It is never explicitly stated that Buddy has a disability, only strongly implied. If “Elf” had indicated a cognitive difference, he should have taken responsibility for his offensive language. That would mean erasing a lot of the verbal and physical comedy we’re supposed to laugh about – but none of that is funny to me.

My buddy eating cotton balls, running to moving taxis and even exposing a Santa Claus from a department store like a fake doesn’t make me laugh. Instead, those moments made me wish he had a real support system in his life.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to joke about disability. All you need to do is let people with disabilities know that they too are involved. The easiest way to do this is to choose actors with disabilities in roles with disabilities.

Or the movie could have at least had a character confronting Walter about the harsh words he constantly throws at Buddy. But that moment never comes.

By the end of the movie, luckily Buddy is able to defend himself. If writer David Berenbaum was truly committed to empowering Buddy, it would have been a rare and important gesture of support for the disability community. Instead, “Elf” falls back on tired tropes for laughs.

Someone’s Differences Should Never Be the Heart of a Joke

elf on netflix with friend with will ferrellelf on netflix with friend with will ferrell

Bob Newhart also starred in “Elf”.Netflix

Like Buddy, some adults with cognitive disabilities believe in Santa Claus and the magic of Christmas. Their joy brings joy to the people who love them. They would probably never be blatantly insulted by people who understand the value they bring to the world.

Buddy is a hero and Christmas savior in “Elf”, there’s no denying it, but he could also have been his own champion. Instead, her implicit disability is an afterthought in the film, which is perhaps a sad metaphor for how people with disabilities are often treated as an afterthought by society.

In the future, filmmakers should take a close look at how characters with disabilities are portrayed in film and television, even when making a supposedly fun Christmas movie.

And they should also remember that it’s never funny to make someone’s disability the heart of a joke. The sooner we come to terms with this as a society, the sooner someone can create a modern Christmas classic that is truly worthy of the love “Elf” receives.

Read the original article on Insider


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button