The Reel Story: As any good elf should, the absurdly towering Buddy (played with pure genius by Will Ferrell) returns to our world this holiday season as "Elf" hits store shelves on DVD. With the release, viewers get another chance to chuckle at Ferrell's portrayal of Buddy, a human raised by Santa's elves in the North Pole. The gigantic (by elf standards) Buddy lives a happy — if somewhat unsuccessful — life as a toy-making elf, at least until his father (the fabulously dry Bob Newhart) sits him down and explains that he is adopted.
Buddy doesn't exactly take the news well, especially when he learns his biological father is perennially on Santa's "naughty list." He travels to New York to search for his real family, and along the way pays a visit to mega-department store Gimbel's (which also appeared in the holiday classic "Miracle on 34th Street") and its Christmas-themed Santa Land. Outraged at the shoddy décor, he works his elfin magic all night long (elves need very little sleep) and transforms Santa Land into a magical place, suitable for the big bearded man himself.
Buddy's pilgrimage begs the question, is there really a Gimbel's, and do they have a Santa Land?
The Real Story: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Land ... sort of.
The real-life Gimbel's chain is no longer in business, but the store is essentially a Hollywood stand-in for Macy's flagship store in New York's Herald Square ("Miracle on 34th Street" was shot there, and a digitally altered version of the store's exterior provides "Elf" its Gimbel's). And yes, Macy's has a whole section devoted to the North Pole's most popular resident. Granted, there are a few tweaks Buddy might want to make, but for the most part, the real Santa Land is a pretty amazing place.
"Macy's SantaLand" is stylistically different than what is seen in the movies. It feels more like the entrance to a ride at Disneyland or Universal Studios. Children of all ages enter the "interactive show experience" through a doorway near a giant train on Macy's eighth floor.
Waiting for a turn on the big guy's lap, children stroll through an enchanted forest, the Sweetery, Tastytown and the North Pole Toy Works Inc., where they can watch the elves at work. There are plenty of Santa's helpers on hand to guide them through the process (a job detailed in all its horror by humorist David Sedaris' short story "The Santaland Diaries").
When you finally reach old St. Nick, he's about the best-looking Santa you could ever hope to see. We're pretty sure that beard is real, kids, so no pulling. Macy's offers digital photos for a fee, but camera-toting parents can take all the photos they want for free (a gesture Buddy would appreciate). However, Buddy might not be very excited about the wait to meet the big guy, as lines can get long to see "the only real Santa Claus."
However, if sitting on Santa's lap isn't on the agenda, there is a back-door entrance for those who wish to "take a peek" at Father Christmas. We're not sure Buddy would appreciate the slightly scary peep-show vibe: Interested viewers pass by a small window and stare at Santa as he goes about making his list and checking it twice.
While it's not exactly like what you see in the movies, Santa Land is pretty amazing and ingenious. If we had to call on Buddy and Santa's elves to make any changes, the most important would be getting that line moving a little faster. We don't want anyone getting on the wrong list.
Check out everything we've got on "Elf."
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