Elf, the beloved Christmas comedy starring Will Ferrell as a human raised at the North Pole who goes to New York City to find his family, is a certified holiday classic. If you’re like a lot of movie fans, you’ve probably already seen the film dozens—if not hundreds—of times. Which means you’ve hand plenty of time to pick apart every detail of the film, and that means internet theorists have as well. Put all of that together and Elf has had plenty of time to live in the realm of the fan theory.
So, as we revisit this Christmas classic, we're taking a look at some intriguing, amusing, and just plain weird Elf fan theories covering everything from Buddy the Elf’s origins to the film's secret sequels.
1. Buddy the Elf Is Actually A Creep.
One of the things that endears Buddy to so many people throughout the film is his innocence and his way of seeing everything in the world of humans with such wonder and excitement. But according to one theory, that may all be a clever ruse. In perhaps the most popular Elf fan theory of all time, Reddit user Batfan54 posits that Buddy’s innocence is actually an act to hide his creepier tendencies. The chief evidence here is the scene in which Buddy walks into the women’s locker room at the department store where Jovie (Zooey Deschanel) is singing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” in the shower. Buddy joins in, then flees when she screams for him to leave. When Jovie confronts him later, Buddy says “I didn’t know you were naked,” and his childlike innocence seems to win Jovie over. Buddy clearly knows what a shower is, though, as we see him using one at the North Pole earlier in the film. So why does he suddenly play dumb about Jovie being naked? According to this theory, he’s not dumb, he was just trying to get out of trouble after peeping at her in the first place. Shame on you, Buddy.
2. Buddy Is A Secret Mutant Elf Operative.
While some fan theories focus more on Buddy’s social interactions in the human world, others spend time looking at his various physical attributes. Buddy is a human, but his time in the elf world has granted him a number of skills that seem superhuman, including his ability to decorate an entire department store floor overnight, his apparent reliance on just 40 minutes of sleep each night, and his diet of candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup. Throw in his machine gun speed with snowballs and his often uncanny physical resilience, and something doesn’t add up. The explanation, according to Tibbsy, is that Buddy is actually a mutant created for the specific purpose of being sent to Earth to spread Christmas cheer and save Santa Claus (Ed Asner) from losing all of his believers. Of course, he doesn’t know this, so he thinks he’s a human, but it was a secret elf plot all along.
3. Elf Is A Prequel To Step Brothers.
There are a handful of theories which attempt to tie Elf into other films—specifically, other films starring Will Ferrell. A few years back, a blogger named Trent over at Barstool Sports was watching Elf as part of his annual Christmas tradition when he had an odd thought: Buddy’s stepmother is played by Mary Steenburgen, who also plays the mother of Brennan, Will Ferrell’s character in the 2008 comedy Step Brothers. A closer examination reveals that the characters of Buddy and Brennan have a lot in common, from their difficulty dealing with the outside world to their love of animals. So, what if Steenburgen is actually playing the same person in both films, and after Elf she adopted Buddy as her own, changed his name, and remarried? It’s a stretch, but it’s founded on Ferrell’s knack for playing lovable man-children, so once you see it, it’s a little hard to shake.
4. Buddy Is A Hybrid Creature.
Here’s another theory designed as an attempt to explain Buddy’s strange elf behavior, including his candy-based diet, very brief sleep schedule, and superhuman feats of snowball-throwing and travel (remember, he got from the North Pole to New York City on foot without a scratch). We’re told in the film that Buddy is the child of Walter Hobbs (James Caan) and the now-deceased Susan Wells, but what if there’s more to Buddy’s ancestry than we think? What if, somehow, past Christmas elves made their way out into the human world and just started breeding with the human population at some point, if only in a very limited way? Then they might produce some human-elf hybrid creatures with elf-like qualities. If Buddy is the product of this genetic line, it could explain a lot.
5. Miles Finch Is A Con Artist.
A key subplot in Elf involves Walter and his publishing company underlings trying to put together a pitch for a new children’s book by Christmas Eve in order to appease his boss. At one point in the film, his head writers (Andy Richter and Kyle Gass) pitch the idea that they bring in “golden ghost” writer Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage). Finch arrives and, after accepting a hefty cash payment upfront, leaves following an argument in which Buddy assumes he’s not a human little person, but an elf. Finch leaves behind his notebook of ideas, which Walter and company then use to craft a pitch.
Of course, we never get to see this pitch, and Walter leaves the company shortly after to form his own publishing group, so there’s no indication of how successful it was. According to one theory, it was never intended to be a hit, because Finch’s notebook wasn’t where he kept his good ideas. It was a red herring, left behind just so he could pocket the cash and get out of the place without having to do any real work.
6. Elf Is A Prequel To The LEGO Movie.
Another attempt to tie Elf to a different Will Ferrell performance posits that the film is actually a prequel to The LEGO Movie, a film in which Ferrell both voices the evil LEGO character “Lord Business” and plays a father who builds elaborate LEGO sets in his basement and intends to glue them all together to make them permanent, much to the disappointment of his young son.
According to littleblue42, the father in The LEGO Movie is meant to be Buddy, who’s now lost his Christmas spirit after years of life as a parent and publisher in the adult world. To have some sense of order and control, he’s taken to crafting LEGO sets (still a form of toys) and grows frustrated when his son tries to play with them in his own way. The father’s ultimate realization that he’s being too strict with his LEGOs is meant to represent Buddy rediscovering his old Christmas spirit. Is it a stretch? Maybe. But you’ll think of The LEGO Movie differently the next time you watch it.
7. Buddy Caused Santa’s Sleigh To Crash.
This theory focuses more on the inner-workings of the film than any connection to other media, and it’s actually a fascinating interpretation of the order of events in the film. It’s established early on in Elf that Santa’s sleigh used to run on Christmas spirit alone, but since fewer people believe in Santa Claus now, the sleigh is assisted by an engine crafted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). Late in the film, the sleigh crashes in Central Park, and Santa remarks that the Claus-O-Meter dropped down to zero right before the crash. Why did this happen? Well, according to one theory, it’s because—during his first shift as an elf at Gimbel’s department store—Buddy declared the Santa on duty (Artie Lange) to be a fake, and ripped his beard off, horrifying the group of children there to see “Santa.” By doing this, Buddy shattered the image of Santa those several dozen children had, and lowered Christmas spirit just enough to cause the failure of Santa’s sleigh. Of course, he didn’t mean to do that, but it still created a ripple effect.
8. Buddy Was The Last Person With Christmas Spirit.
There’s another, bleaker theory for why Santa’s sleigh went down on Christmas Eve during the film, and it has to do with Buddy’s own emotional journey. Throughout the film, Buddy is doing his best to join the world of humans, and with most people he wins them over through his sincerity, kindness, and enthusiasm. That all wears thin on Walter when Buddy ruins an important presentation, though, and Walter yells “Get out of my life, now!” which sends Buddy out into the streets. After writing a goodbye note to his family, Buddy leaves, and is walking alone in Manhattan when he sees Santa’s sleigh fall out of the sky. According to Freakazette’s theory, the two events are very related. Buddy, in this version of events, was the only person left on Earth with Christmas spirit. When his father pushed him away, that spirit left him, and the Claus-O-Meter dropped to nothing. It feels like a stretch to say that no one left on Earth had any Christmas spirit, but perhaps Buddy’s was the strongest and it dimmed in that moment. Either way, it’s a darker take on the film.
9. Buddy’s Mom Was Killed in Central Park.
It’s established early in the film that Buddy’s mother, Susan Wells, gave him up for adoption and later died. What we don’t actually know is how or when she died, but AustinJacob claims to have the answer. Late in the film, we’re introduced to the Central Park Rangers, an elite group of police who are tasked with tracking down Santa. The news report mentions that the Rangers are still under investigation for their “controversial” crowd control tactics at the 1985 Simon and Garfunkel concert. Now, Simon and Garfunkel’s concert in Central Park actually occurred in 1981, but that discrepancy aside, why would the Rangers still be under investigation for that? Could it be because their crowd control caused someone to die? Could that someone have been Buddy’s mother? The film, of course, does not elaborate on this, but it’s an interesting idea that only deepens the menacing aura of the Rangers.
10. It’s part of a larger shared Santa universe.
Elf is a film that spends quite a bit of its runtime establishing its own rules and traditions within its little Christmas movie universe, but what if there’s more to the story than even this film is telling us? What if it’s all part of a bigger, longer tradition of Santa Claus on film, and Buddy the Elf’s story is just a small part of it. That’s the theory posited by AdamGreenwood1072, who laid out a complex web of story that connects the Leslie Nielsen comedy Santa Who to Ernest Saves Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, and yes, Elf. According to this theory, each of those films represents a different version of Santa as various men step in and out of the job over the years. In Elf, Buddy is first discovered at the orphanage by the confused, tired Santa Who version of the character, but adult Buddy is actually interacting with The Santa Clause version of Santa, as evidenced by the change in costumes Santa undergoes. Buddy doesn’t realize this because, to him, it’s all one Santa Claus, but if you believe this theory, there are subtle nods to a changing of the guard at the North Pole.