Though we all know Will Ferrell as a movie star by this point, when he was attached to the lead role in Elf in 2003 it came with some battles at the studio level. At the time the comedian was fresh off his time on Saturday Night Live and his only major film credits at the time were in SNL spin-off movies like the disastrous Night at the Roxbury and Superstar. Between starting filming on Elf and the release of the film though Ferrell found himself in the spotlight as the release of Old School propelled him to household name status, and as a result, the producers of Elf considered re-editing the film to fit that image of Ferrell.
As revealed in The Holiday Movies That Made Us, (a Christmas variant of the Netflix series "The Movies That Made Us") which has an episode focused entirely on the making of the film, following the release and success of Old School, producer New Line Cinema got the idea that this charming family Christmas movie wasn't going to work for the audiences that showed up to that R-rated comedy. Director Jon Favreau apparently turned in his cut of the movie but then had it taken away from him as New Line worked to re-edit it to their own liking. The crew only found out about this after a friends and family screening resulted in an ending that was....not what they were expecting.
"I got a call from Jon, he was in the editing process, he basically delivered his cut and he let me know that New Line took the movie away from him," Production Designer Rusty Smith said. "They tried to re-edit it into something else. We had been so committed to Jon's vision and his way of executing that film that they couldn't do it. They couldn't re-edit it that the studio thought was better."
"Suddenly we had a movie starring Frank the Tank wearing yellow tights," Executive producer Cale Boyter added. "People started to question whether or not Elf jokes were going to work for the Old School audience....You couldn't abandon the roots of the movie, you could never really change that."
To prove their point, Favreau and company assembled a test screening populated by fans of Old School and played his cut of the movie....to a roaring success. New Line realized that this was the version that was going to work and released it as the film you know and love today, and they're probably glad they did since the movie would go on to gross over $220 million at the worldwide box office and become a staple of the Christmas season.
Elf is available on all movie platforms for your Christmas viewing with The Holiday Movies That Made Us now streaming on Netflix.