What does it take for a Christmas movie to become a classic? As screenwriter David Berenbaum, who penned “Elf,” notes in “The Movies That Made Us” episode dedicated to the 2003 film, it requires a “big, big heart.” And the Jon Favreau-directed feel-good comedy (streaming now on HBO Max) is certainly not short on that! So it is no surprise that the flick promptly won over audiences everywhere, despite its modest budget and then relatively unknown leading man, Will Ferrell. Playing the role of the perenially upbeat Buddy, a human raised by elves at the North Pole, who, upon learning his true heritage, ventures to New York City at Christmastime to connect with his biological family, Ferrell managed to truly capture the magic of the season, thereby cementing the film’s status as a holiday staple.
Though set in the North Pole and Manhattan, production designer Rusty Smith and his team largely utilized the Vancouver area to create “Elf’s” magical Rankin/Bass-inspired backdrop. It is at Coquitlam’s oft-filmed Riverview Hospital that Santa’s (Ed Asner) sleigh breaks down at the end of the movie. As Favreau recalled to Rolling Stone, “To double for Central Park, we used a grassy field that was on the grounds of a mental hospital. Some of the hospital was closed down and used as a lot. I think they were doing ‘Freddy vs. Jason’ in the same building where we were filming the apartments and Gimbel’s. And one of the buildings, I think, was still open and had patients in it. How weird it must have been for them to look out their window and see Santa Claus and a guy in an elf suit running around with reindeer. It may have been counterproductive to their treatment.” Along with the apartments and Gimbel’s department store sets, Riverview also housed the scenery for the movie’s jail, orphanage and Greenway Press offices, where Buddy’s father, Walter Hobbs (James Caan), worked.
Other Vancouver locales used include the PNE Agrodome sports arena, where the North Pole sets were constructed. The exterior of Jovie’s (Zooey Deschanel) apartment can be found just a few miles west of there at 261 E. Pender St. in the city’s Downtown Eastside area. And right around the corner from that spot at 20 E. Hastings St. is the supposed Big Apple café where Buddy is thrilled to discover the World’s Best Cup of Coffee!