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Whether Intentional or Not, ELF Movie Disabled Adults Through Buddy
After its initial release in 2003, “Elf” quickly established itself as a modern holiday classic. But even now, almost two decades later, I don’t understand why it’s so upsetting to folks with cognitive impairments.
Buddy, played by Will Ferrell, is a man who was reared as an elf at the North Pole and knows nothing about the human way of life. After learning through hearsay that he is indeed human, he travels to New York in quest of his birth father, Walter Hobbes (James Caan), a grumpy publisher in need of some parental guidance.
To be fair, Buddy’s love of Christmas is unabashedly unbridled, even among his elf “peers,” so it’s only natural that the movie’s viewers would feel similarly enraptured by its joyous vibes. According to Box Office Mojo, the picture has made more than $223 million around the world. However, I could not tolerate “Elf” for longer than ten minutes before I was deeply insulted. After suffering through the entire movie, I’m even more convinced that Buddy is meant to be a stereotype of adults with intellectual disabilities in “Elf.”
‘ELF’ is the Story of a Guy Raised by Elves in a World Not Made for Him
Early on in “Elf,” we learn that being human isn’t the only thing that makes Buddy different from other elves. Buddy’s physical form doesn’t work with elf furnishings, but that’s not the problem. It has been discovered that Buddy has a higher level of intelligence than average elves. During his tenure at the North Pole, he hears the word “special” used about him on multiple occasions. Since his toy-making abilities are subpar, he has been assigned to work with the “special” elves. The term “special” is commonly used to stigmatize those with mental and bodily impairments. It’s a euphemism for “other” and “lesser” in most contexts.
Moreover, he is the only so-called “elf” at the North Pole who is completely unaware of the fact that he is actually a human being. If Buddy were as bright as the average elf, he wouldn’t be taken aback by the news. From then, things can only get worse.
When Buddy finally arrives in the Big Apple, his own father, Walter, does not stop calling him names. In order to get Buddy to take a paternity test, Walter takes him to the doctor and has him declared “certifiably insane.” Walter, in a subsequent conversation with his wife, refers to his son as a “deranged elf man.” In the final scene, when Walter tells Buddy he loves him, he still says that Buddy is “chemically unstable.” If Buddy isn’t fully accepted by one of the most important persons in his life, “Elf” can’t be a heartwarming narrative about acceptance.
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Buddy’s Impairment is Never Directly Stated in the Film, Which Would Have Made It Stronger
I’m not out to ruin a modern Christmas classic, but “Elf” hurts my feelings since I’m a disabled woman who grew up around people with cognitive impairments. Buddy’s impairment is only strongly hinted at and never stated. Elf” would have had to own up to its insulting words if it had acknowledged a cognitive difference. That would require getting rid of a lot of the verbal and physical humor that is supposed to make us laugh, but I don’t find any of it amusing.
I’m not amused by Buddy’s antics, which include chewing cotton balls, rushing in front of driving taxis, and exposing a department store Santa as a phony. In fact, it was during times like these that I wished he had a genuine network of people who cared about him. Disability can be the subject of humor, contrary to popular assumption. You need to make sure persons with disabilities understand they are also part of the gag. In order to achieve this goal, it is most straightforward to cast actual impaired performers in those roles.
The movie could have had a character approach Walter about the insults he continuously directs at Buddy. However, that time never appears. The film’s message would have been more powerful if Buddy had been able to stand up for himself at the conclusion. A genuine commitment to empowering Buddy by writer David Berenbaum would have been a welcome and significant show of solidarity with the disabled population. Instead, “Elf” relies on cliches to generate laughs.
Never Joke About Someone’s Differences
Some persons with cognitive disabilities, such as Buddy, share his enthusiasm for Santa and the holiday spirit. Their happiness brightens the lives of those closest to them. People who appreciate them for what they are unlikely to ever openly criticize them. We can’t disagree that Buddy is the film’s hero and saviour of Christmas in Elf, but he also has the potential to be his own champion. The film largely ignores his suggested impairment, which may be a tragic metaphor for the way disabled people are typically treated in society.
In the future, even while crafting a lighthearted holiday film, creators of media should think again about how they portray disabled individuals. They should also keep in mind that making light of someone’s disability is never amusing. Until we as a culture come to terms with that, no one will ever create a modern Christmas classic deserving of the adulation that “Elf” has received.
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