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Monday January 21st 2019

Elf | 2003

Elf location: Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Elf location: Buddy finds his father's office: Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue, Manhattan

15 years since its release, Elf has turned out to be a Christmas classic (even if the main song featured has fallen out of favour), boasting a smart script, snappy direction by Jon Favreau, top-notch supporting cast and an irresistibly winning performance from Will Ferrell as Buddy, the human changeling raised by elves at the North Pole.

On discovering his true lineage, Buddy sets off to find his biological father in the legendary land of ‘New York City’.

There’s plenty of real New York on display of course, but most of the interiors were filmed in an abandoned mental hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia.

It's Riverview Hospital, 2601 Lougheed Highway, in Coquitlam, east of Vancouver, which has been used in plenty of other movies and TV shows, including Deadpool, The Butterfly Effect and Final Destination 2.

Did you spot the cameo, as Ming Ming the Elf, by Peter Billingsley, who played Ralphie in that other seasonal classic, A Christmas Story?

After journeying from the North Pole, Buddy finally reaches New York by walking through the Lincoln Tunnel. Don’t even think about it – this is not allowed and, more importantly, there is no footpath though plenty of carbon monoxide.

Buddy discovers the delights of the big city in the famous montage, which was mainly improvised and filmed on-the-hoof, guerilla-style.

He waves enthusiastically back at a guy hailing a cab on Park Avenue at East 38th Street, with Grand Central Station in the background, and it’s in the station’s Concourse that he gets a fit of the giggles while having his elf boots polished.

Buddy is crazily delighted to be handed – totally free – flyers outside the luggage store on the southeast corner of West 46th St at 7th Avenue, still just about recognisable.

He hops across the pedestrian crossing on 5th Avenue between East 22nd and East 23rd Streets, thinks he sees Santa nearby on 5th Avenue at East 23rd Street and, despite warnings, eats the delicious free chewing gum left on the Uptown & Queens Subway Station entrance on the north side of East 23rd Street just east of Broadway.

The revolving door, which provides endless entertainment, is the main entrance to the 12-story office block at 10 West 33rd Street at 5th Avenue. Please don’t be tempted to try this, although I suspect that it might be profitable for the owners to hire a full-time doorman and charge $10 a pop for a photo op.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to learn that the offices of ‘Greenway Press’, the publishing company managed by Buddy’s father Walter Hobbs  (James Caan), are in the Empire State Building, 20 West 34th Street at 5th Avenue, which Buddy instantly recognises from his snow globe. Once you're nearing the city's most famous landmark, don't forget to look up – it can be surprisingly invisible when you're up close.

Naturally you'll be heading up to the Observation Deck, but take time out to admire that beautiful art deco lobby.

‘Gimbels Dept Store’, where Buddy redecorates the toy department overnight, is the Textile Building, 295 5th Avenue at the northeast corner of East 30th Street, embellished with CGI.

Gimbels was a real department store chain – at one point the largest in the USA – until its stores closed in 1987. The New York branch was near to Herald Square, a block now occupied by the Manhattan Mall, 33rd Street at Avenue of the Americas.

Elf location: Central Park West, New York
Elf location: the Hobbs family apartment: Central Park West, New York

As I’m sure you recognised, the Hobbs’ family apartment is 55 Central Park West at West 66th Street, yes, ‘Spook Central’, home to Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters.

Despite his best intentions, Buddy has a hard time fitting in. The school, where he embarrasses his brother Michael by greeting him in his elf outfit, is York Prep School, 40 West 68th Street. It’s on the steps of 41 West 68th Street, directly opposite, that he patiently waits.

Buddy immediately goes on to redeem himself in Michael's eyes with his awesome snowballing skills, seeing off the “bad news” kids at the elegant cast-iron Pine Bank Arch Bridge in Central Park at West 62nd Street.

There are still plenty of wonders left to discover in New York, including the giant Christmas tree towering over the skating rink at the Rockefeller Center.

Although Walter tries hard to accommodate his unconventional offspring, one well-meaning faux-pas too far sees Buddy finally given his marching orders.

Dejected, Buddy walks across the Queensboro Bridge – briefly contemplating the dark waters of the East River – before the unexpected appearance of Santa’s sleigh streaking across the sky and plummeting into Central Park restores his will to live.

And of course, the Park is where everyone gathers for the finale.

The ‘unexplained falling object’ causes Central Park to be closed and draws the attention of the fearsome mounted Central Park Rangers.

The extravagant fortification where the Rangers assemble isn’t an Art Director’s fantasy but the Belvedere Castle, a purpose-built folly, the kind of pre-distressed ruin commissioned by Victorian British landowners to give their estates a touch of Gothic Romanticism.

It was designed in 1865 by Calvert Vaux, one of the original designers of the Park, to sit atop Vista Rock, the second-highest natural rocky outcrop in the Park, which overlooks the Ramble near 79th Street. It was previously seen in the 1984 Merchant-Ivory production of Henry James’s The Bostonians, with Vanessa Redgrave and Christopher Reeve.

With a little help from Buddy, Santa’s sleigh becomes tentatively airborne once more, struggling to gain height over the familiar Bethesda Terrace, where it clips the statue atop the famous fountain.

Fear not. A rousing chorus of Christmas cheer from famously touchy-feely Manhattanites powers up the sleigh to carry Santa back to the North Pole.