10 Bizarre Elf Fan Theories

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

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 celebrating its 15th birthday this year. If you’re like a lot of holiday 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 on its 15th anniversary, 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 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.

John C. Reilly, Will Ferrell, Mary Steenburgen, and Richard Jenkins in Step Brothers (2008)
Columbia/TriStar

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.

    Will Ferrell in Elf (2003)
    Warner Home Video

      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.

        Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

        Cheerble
        Cheerble

        No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

        Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

        Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
        Cheerble

        The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

        Cheerble cat board game.
        Cheerble

        Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

        At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

        HBO Max: Everything You Need to Know About the New Streaming Service

        What will you binge-watch first?
        What will you binge-watch first?
        WarnerMedia

        This week, WarnerMedia launched HBO Max, the long-awaited streaming platform that the company hopes can compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney+. But with HBO GO and HBO NOW already in existence, the addition of a third platform for HBO content has caused no small amount of confusion among both prospective customers and current HBO subscribers. Here are answers to all your burning questions about the buzzworthy new service.

        What is HBO Max?

        HBO Max is a direct-to-consumer streaming platform that you can download as an app or access through your cable or internet provider. Just like Apple has Apple TV+ and Amazon has Prime Video, WarnerMedia now has HBO Max.

        How is HBO Max different from HBO NOW and HBO GO?

        hbo max streaming platform
        This user's viewing habits are eclectic, to say the least.
        WarnerMedia

        Before HBO Max, WarnerMedia had two different apps with the same library of HBO series and certain Warner Bros. films. HBO GO is for viewers who already pay for HBO through their cable TV provider, which is why you have to log in through your TV provider. HBO NOW is for independent subscribers who pay $15 a month for access to the same content. In other words, HBO GO is for customers with cable, and HBO NOW is for those without it.

        Like HBO NOW, HBO Max is an independent subscription service that you don’t need a TV provider in order to access. The main difference comes down to content: While HBO NOW and HBO GO only include HBO series and some films, HBO Max offers tons of additional shows and films licensed from other distributors—plus new, exclusive originals (more on that in a minute).

        How much does HBO Max cost, and how do I get it?

        You can sign up for HBO Max here. Your first seven days will be free, and it will cost you $15 per month after that.

        Do I already have access to HBO Max?

        If you’re already an HBO NOW subscriber, your app should have automatically updated to the HBO Max app (if you don’t have automatic updates enabled, make sure to update it manually), and you can log into HBO Max using your existing HBO NOW credentials. Your recurring monthly payment of $15 will also now automatically start applying to HBO Max instead of HBO NOW.

        If you watch HBO through your TV or mobile provider, there’s a good chance you can access HBO Max at no additional cost, too. Apple TV channels, AT&T TV, DIRECTV, Hulu, Spectrum, Verizon FIOS, Xfinity, and many other providers are included—you can see the full list here.

        Which platforms will HBO Max be on?

        You can stream HBO Max on your desktop on HBOMax.com, or you can download the app through the Apple app store, Google Play, or Samsung TV. You can also access HBO Max content on your TV through any of the providers listed here.

        What's playing on HBO Max?

        hbo max channel hubs
        Elmo and James Dean in the same place, at last.
        WarnerMedia

        HBO Max boasts 10,000 hours of content that includes all HBO shows, many Warner Bros. films from the past century, new Max Original series, and other programs from CNN, Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, TCM, Adult Swim, and more.

        To name a few highlights, the service currently offers all eight Harry Potter films, all 10 seasons of Friends, an exclusive selection of Studio Ghibli classics like Howl’s Moving Castle (2005) and Spirited Away (2002), and 2019’s Joker. The first few episodes of some highly-anticipated Max Originals are also available, including Anna Kendrick’s rom-com series Love Life, the voguing house reality competition Legendary, and Sesame Workshop's The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo (featuring guests Kacey Musgraves, John Mulaney, the Jonas Brothers, Lil Nas X, and more—so far).

        Will I get to see the Friends Reunion?

        Yes, the Friends reunion will definitely debut on HBO Max, but no air date has been confirmed yet. Production was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re tentatively hoping to film it sometime this summer. (But hey, at least you have access to all the other Friends episodes to help you pass the time.)