The 2003 movie Elf was a perfect storm of circumstances that lead to it becoming the classic Christmas feature that we all know and love. Apparently mid-way through production though it was almost put on pause and at one point considered un-releasable, all because of some legal uncertainties. 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 influence of the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," put the film in legal hot water.
"We got in trouble with clearance," Production Designer Rusty Smith recounted. "They got nervous that we had stolen too much from Rankin/Bass. And all of a sudden we had lawyers in our midst. Lawyers with you on the set, lawyers with you in the art department. Lawyers saying like 'Where's your reference? Where'd you get this idea? Where'd this come from?'....The producer came to me and said 'The film might not be releasable.'"
Ahead of this specific revelation, the producers for the film revealed that the first of three rules that director Jon Favreau had for the movie was that it had to look like Rankin/Bass. This is no more clear than in how the movie constructs the North Pole, dresses its elf, and not to mention its own stop-motion "Leon The Snowman."
"(The lawyers) were like 'How influenced are you?' And we said to them, 'really influenced,'" Producer Jon Berg (prior to his DC Films days) reminisced. "Favreau came in and threw the book on the freaking table in his first meeting."
For a brief time, when it was unclear what the legal ramifications of the Rankin/Bass influence might be, the production redesigned Buddy's costume to be blue instead of the green that we know. In fact, while shooting scenes with star Will Ferrell, the movie would shoot the scene in one costume then have him change to film in the other. They also considered a digital alteration for the suit for the scenes that they'd already shot, luckily for them it didn't come to that.
"Basically, legally, we thought we had made a deal and everything was so cool, so we went off and made the movie," Executive producer Cale Boyter said. "Some fast legal work had to be done. Thankfully we had some pretty smart people that could figure it out."
Elf is available on all movie platforms for your Christmas viewing with The Holiday Movies That Made Us now streaming on Netflix.