Seventeen years after its release it seems almost impossible to imagine someone else playing the part of Buddy in the Christmas classic Elf than Will Ferrell, but it could have happened. As revealed in The Holiday Movies That Made Us (a Christmas variant of the Netflix series "The Movies That Made Us") an episode focused entirely on the making of the film reveals that the first company to option the screenplay wanted to cast another Saturday Night Live alum in the part, thinking none other than Chris Farley should take the part. Writer David Berenbaum recounted the tale of the version of Elf that almost was in the episode.
MPCA (Motion Picture Corporation of America) was the originally studio behind the film, picking up the option for the script for one year from Berenbaum. "They wanted to make this a Chris Farley movie, which would have been a different movie, a very different movie," the screenwriter says in the episode. Not agreeing with that approach, Berenbaum waited out the option and then took it to New Line Cinema, where it eventually became the movie that we all know and love today.
After New Line got involved though there were other ideas for casting in the film that would have made for a different movie. The episode confirms that director Jon Favreau originally wanted Garry Shandling to play James Caan's part of Buddy's father, Walter, but he passed on the part (Favreau would go on to get him for a minor role in Iron Man 2 though).
Another major alternate was New Line's hope to cast Katie Holmes as Jovie, the part that eventually went to Zooey Deschanel. The best difference however is that production revealing that they were convinced they had comedian Wanda Sykes down for the role of the department store manager in the movie, so convinced in fact that they had the nametag for her already made up. Sadly though she had to pull out at the last minute, which is why Faizon Love's character is not only named "Wanda," but wears the same Wanda nametag in the movie.
"Will's performance IS this movie," Berenbaum adds in the episode. "He is literally the engine and heart and soul of the movie. Without Will there is no Elf....It happened to be the right idea with the right producers, with the right star, with the right director."
Elf is available on all movie platforms for your Christmas viewing, just try to picture it with Chris Farley the next time you watch it.