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Elf Mocks Disabled People Through Buddy's Character

Elf mocks disabled people through Buddy's character. Sounds very controversial doesn't it? But this is actually what some individuals feel about the movie 'Elf". Whether it is on purpose or not, the said movie definitely sparked arguments to some viewers. Especially these days, making fun of disabled people is a no-no.

This topic is trending on the internet, and has drawn all of the people's attention. It has become a serious topic of discussion for all of them, and now, "Elf" has grown-up as a trendy holiday masterpiece nearly immediately after it was telecasted in the year 2003, but it still puzzles how awful it is to cognitively disabled adults nearly 20 years later. So does this movie really make fun of them? Let's talk about the movie first briefly.

The Elf Movie

Buddy The Elf with some kids and adults laughing together in one scene of the movie
Buddy The Elf with some kids and adults laughing together in one scene of the movie

Elf is a 2003 American comedy film starring Will Ferrell, James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, Mary Steenburgen, Edward Asner, and Bob Newhart, directed by Jon Favreau and written by David Berenbaum. It follows Buddy, a human who was raised by Santa's elves and discovers his true identity when he visits his biological father in New York City.

In the United States, Elf was released on November 7th, 2003 by New Line Cinema and went on to gross $220 million worldwide against a $33 million budget, making it a critical and commercial triumph. One of Ferrell's finest performances, critics and audience alike lauded Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. Elf: The Musical and Elf: Buddy's Musical Christmas were both based on the film, which was released in 2010. One of the best Christmas movies of all time, according to many.

The Movie Plot

On Christmas Eve, an orphaned infant sneaks into Santa's sack and is unwittingly transported to the Pole. The elves name the child Buddy after his diaper's brand and Papa Elf adopts him. Buddy gets adopted by the elf community and grows up believing he is an elf. Buddy was born to Walter Hobbs and Susan Wells, and Susan gave him up for adoption before she died. Now a children's book publisher at the Empire State Building in New York, Walter has forgotten Buddy. Walter is on the naughty list owing to his selfishness, but Buddy can help Walter. When Buddy visits Walter in New York, he is mistaken for a Christmas-gram messenger and is evicted. Buddy visits a local Gimbels department store and meets Jovie, an unenthusiastic employee. Buddy redecorates the store overnight, knowing Santa will be there the next day. Then Buddy unmasks him, causing a store melee that manager Wanda breaks up.

Bud gets out of jail and Walter brings him for a DNA test, confirming Buddy is his biological son. To meet his stepmother Emily and half-brother Michael, Walter is persuaded by Dr. Leonardo. Emily insists that Walter and Michael care for Buddy until he "recovers". After beating a band of bullies with snowballs, Michael urges Buddy to ask Jovie out on a date, which she accepts. On the date, they kiss and fall in love. The publishing company owned by Walter is bankrupt. Walter's boss, Fulton Greenway, wants a new book by Christmas. Buddy interrupts Walter and his team's meeting with best-selling children's novelist Miles Finch, mistaking him for an elf. Then Finch hits Buddy and exits the meeting, causing Walter to lose his rage and disown Buddy. Buddy tears up an apology message on an Etch A Sketch and leaves Walter's.

In the wake of Finch's ideas, Walter and his team rush to write a pitch book. Michael arrives just as Walter is about to pitch the novel to Greenway. Walter quits his job and walks with Michael to find Buddy. A crowd gathers in Central Park to see Santa's sleigh crash. Santa reveals that the sleigh's engine is missing owing to a lack of Christmas enthusiasm. The engine leads Buddy back to Walter and Michael. Walter apologizes to Buddy and embraces him as his son. Michael reads Santa's list in front of the television news cameras gathered outside the park, demonstrating Santa is real. As Buddy tries to repair the motor, a bunch of enraged Central Park Rangers chase the sleigh. Santa Claus is coming to town, and Jovie is leading the crowd and those watching on TV in singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." By Christmas, Buddy has written a memoir that becomes a hit, allowing Walter to start his own publishing company. Buddy marries Jovie and brings their baby Susie to Papa Elf.

The Controversial Plot

Buddy the Elf eating weirdly in one scene of the elf movie
Buddy the Elf eating weirdly in one scene of the elf movie

Several times while at the North Pole, he is referred to as "special." His toy-making abilities are inadequate, therefore he must accept a position reserved for "special" elves. The term "special" is frequently used to stigmatize people with physical and cognitive limitations. It's frequently code for "different and inferior to" everyone else. Buddy's physical physique does not fit on elf furniture, but that is not the issue. Buddy and other elves plainly have a cognitive difference, which has been demonstrated in the movie.

He is also the only "elf" at the North Pole who is unaware he is human. Buddy's intelligence isn't that of a "normal" elf, otherwise he wouldn't have been so taken aback by the realization.

When Buddy finally makes it to Manhattan, his own father, Walter, never stops calling him insulting names. Walter informs the doctor at the doctor's office where he pushes Buddy to take a paternity test that Buddy is "certifiably insane." Later in the film, Walter tells his wife that his son is a "deranged elf man." Even towards the end of the film, when Walter declares his love for Buddy, he says that he is "chemically imbalanced."

Viewers' Perspective

A woman told the report,

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 kids and adults, "Elf" offends me.

Buddy's impairment is never directly stated, simply strongly hinted. If "Elf" had claimed a cognitive difference, it would have been forced to accept responsibility for its inflammatory words. That would imply removing a lot of the verbal and physical comedy that people supposed to enjoy. The woman earlier also added,

None of it is funny to me. Buddy eating cotton balls, running toward moving taxi cabs, and even exposing a department store Santa as fake doesn't inspire me to laugh. Instead, these moments made me wish he had a real support system in his life.

Contrary to popular assumption, you can actually make fun of disabilities. You just have to let disabled people in on the joke. Casting impaired actors in disabled parts is the easiest way. Or at least have a character approach Walter about his continual snide remarks towards Buddy. But it never comes. The message would've been stronger if Buddy could stand up for himself by the end of the film. To fully empower Buddy would have been a rare and significant gesture of support for the disabled community by writer David Berenbaum. Instead, "Elf" relies on stale jokes.

But you may ask if Buddy in Elf has a disability.

Did Buddy In Elf Have A Disability? - Expert's Perspective

Buddy The Elf smiling while wearing his iconic costume
Buddy The Elf smiling while wearing his iconic costume

So we heard what other people have to say about the movie, now let's try to hear the experts' side.

As per experts, some opinions on the internet are a little problematic because it makes a significant and destructive assumption without looking at the facts. They think Buddy the Elf is disabled because he consumes cotton balls and believes in Santa Claus as an adult. That may make sense out of context, but not if you've seen the film and evaluated it. It's easy to presume someone is on the spectrum or has developmental disabilities these days. Adults are increasingly being diagnosed with ADHD, Aspergers, and other abnormalities. We know more about autism now than we did 10 or 15 years ago, but not as much as some would want to believe.

Identifying certain traits as “disabled people do” is hurtful and judgmental. A better choice would be to dig deeper before accusing a film or, worse, a real-life person. Buddy the Elf is a human elven hybrid. He isn't crippled or mentally ill. People use Buddy and the word special to describe him, not because he has a disability, but because he is unique.


People have different takes in this movie. In the modern world, people may get offended for something that we are not aware of. On the other hand, we need to be very careful and at the same time, make sure we are understanding the context of the whole story before we make any judgments.

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