I have always loved to laugh, but I didn’t cackle so hard that tears ran down my face until I discovered Will Ferrell. Just look at this incredible run of movies:
2001 – Zoolander
2003 – Old School
2003 – Elf
2004 – Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
2006 – Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
2006 – Stranger Than Fiction
2008 – Semi-Pro
2008 – Step Brothers
And that’s just his movies. If you add in his iconic SNL run, with sketches like “Celebrity Jeopardy,” “The Lovers,” “The Cheerleaders,” “The Music Teachers,” “The Guy Yelling Get Off the Shed”… the list goes on and on and on. Ferrell could tell me I had cancer in that particular deadpan of his and I would probably laugh.
The interesting thing about those films is that he was never THE man all by himself. In Anchorman the ensemble crushes it. Old School has more established comedic stars and in Step Brothers and Talladega Nights, he bounces off of John C. Reilly.
Then there’s Elf, about a human raised at the North Pole thinking he’s an elf and later going to find his real human father in New York City. I cannot imagine that movie working with anyone else in that role. There are a dozen other comedic actors who could try, but none of them would have embodied all the traits that make it work. Ferrell’s ability to capture that earnestness and pure joy necessary for a human/Elf hybrid truly sets him apart and allows him to land just about everything. He also has the physical size and slapstick chops to make it a truly unique performance. Owen Wilson would have been too sappy. Dave Chappelle (in 2002, relax) would have been too cynical, Adam Sandler would have played it too dumb, and Maya Rudolph would have made it feel too performative (OK, she might have crushed it. I could be wrong there).
The supporting cast is good, but only Mary Steenburgen is irreplaceable in my opinion. The rest of them hit their marks and deliver some good jokes. Still, none of it matters without the engine that drives it all.
This brings me to October 2021. That was when Ferrell, while promoting his most recent project, The Shrink Next Door, revealed–apparently offhandedly–that he turned down $29 million to star in Elf 2. He cited the script as being terrible as one of his reasons.
However insane that story is, I found myself relieved that they never brought back Buddy. But still! How bad must the concept have been to turn down that kind of money? I mean, I think I’ve established that I love the man, but he did do Holmes and Watson. That is so much money!
I was so curious that I did some digging and I actually found the transcript for the pitch meeting for Elf 2. In the document, several people, whose names I have omitted for legal reasons, throw out some ideas for the plot. I’m very pleased to bring you an MMH exclusive release of the plot ideas for Elf 2.**
Producer: Hey Will come on in.
Ferrell: Hey there. Nice to see you all again.
Executive Producer: I’m impressed that you’re early. What did you do, drive here in a NASCAR?
Ferrell: *forced laughter*
Executive Producer: …Like in Talladega Nights.
Director: Well, why don’t you have a seat and we can get right down to business, shall we?
Writer: I just want to jump in and say, I’m a huge fan.
Ferrell: Thanks, me too.
Ferrell: Uh, yeah, sure. Totally.
Writer: Wow, thanks man.
Producer: I won’t keep you in suspense. We’ve done it. The minds in this room have come up with the best ideas possible for Elf 2. We had think tanks across the globe churning out stories. It turns out all we needed were the people in this room.
Ferrell: I was pretty clear I’m not interested. I thought this was a meeting about my work with Cancer for College?
Writer: Should we just dive right in? I couldn’t be more excited about this.
Ferrell: I thought this meeting was about–
Executive Producer: OK, let’s dive baby. All the way in. Like Lou Gehrig.
Ferrell: The baseball player?
Executive Producer: Shit, no, what’s that guy’s name?
Executive Producer: The diver. Lou Gehrig, right?
Writer: Greg Louganis?
Executive Producer: Yeah! That guy! We’re diving all the way–
Ferrell: I’m just thinking that maybe we should not have this meeting.
Director: Will, baby, it’s OK. Just hear us out. I’ll start. When we last left Buddy the Elf, he had married Jovie, had a kid, written a successful children’s book about his ordeal, and it was all happy-happy times. Now, our movie rewinds that clock. It’s a prequel. A time travel prequel.
Ferrell: Alright, but about what? We covered how Walter met Susan Wells, we covered how Buddy grew up in the North Pole…What happens?
Director: That’s the catch! It’s a prequel and a time travel movie! Set in the 90s. We get to really play with the look of the city. And the soundtrack would be dope. In the present day, people not believing in Christmas is gonna kill Santa again and so Buddy goes back in time, using some Santa Claus tech, to make sure some famous politician or TikTok person believes in Santa so they can reach everyone–change hearts and minds–I don’t know, whatever. They gotta go back to the 90s to do it.
Writer: That’s terrible. It’s the same movie–
Executive Producer: That’s exactly what I told him. Here’s my idea. Buddy has been living this charmed life. Everything is good. Then Cupid shows up.
Executive Producer: Well it’s Cupid’s son or something. He says that he’s Buddy’s brother. He starts making Buddy’s life miserable because he’s like a bad-boy Cupid, you know?
Director: How is he Buddy’s brother?
Executive producer: Well Buddy’s mom had sex with Cupid like soon after she had sex with Santa.
Ferrell: That’s not what happens.
Executive Producer: Look, that’s what my kid said when I asked him if he’d seen it.
Producer: Ok, Ok, Ok, all jokes aside, we do have some real winners here. Let me paint you a picture. It’s a grittier world out there now. Buddy’s book about the Elf was great. But that was years ago. His spirit is fading. Walter’s publishing company is on the rocks. They need another hit. Buddy takes his family to a remote mansion so he can focus on writing his next big seller. He starts to lose that Christmas cheer…and maybe his mind. It’s the *Shining* meets *Elf*. It’s the movie people want to see.
Director: I got it! Buddy goes to pick up little Susie from her first semester at college. Their flight gets stranded. Road trip home with Buddy learning how to be a dad. And they bring holiday cheer to every stop along the way. Some shit like that would be dope.
Ferrell: I’m gonna go. It was very nice–
Writer: Perhaps it’s the writer’s turn to do what I do? *throat clearing* Santa is in trouble. Big Bad Bezos is taking all the magic away from Christmas. In a lot of ways, Santa is like many small businesses, except for the size and scope. But that’s all been shrinking because of 2-day shipping and poor labor practices. Santa needs Buddy to take down Amazon. Christmas is about joy, not capitalism. Buddy must assemble a ragtag team. Maybe he gets Rudolph. It’s a heist film.
Ferrell: Thanks for inviting me.
Writer: We could change the names if that’s–
Executive Producer: I’ll give you $29 million. Just pick any of them.
*Ferrell pauses with his hand on the door.*
Ferrell: 30, with the final million going to charity.
Executive Producer: You’re out of your mind!
As you can see, the movie business is a complex place. In reality, Ferrell turned down the project because he felt he could not promote it honestly if he was just doing it for the paycheck. I appreciate that. I think we all benefited from that level of honesty in this case. I think having just one Elf also makes it feel…special.
Happy Christmas Eve to those that care, TGIF to everyone else. Either way, pour some syrup on spaghetti and celebrate something.
**This is not an actual transcript of a real meeting for Elf 2.